Five For Friday: Workplace Films

Five For Friday is an ongoing weekly series in which I pick five of my favourite things along the same theme. Last week we took a page from High Fidelity in examining Side One, Track Ones. This week, a salute to the 9 to 5 ratrace.

Top Five Workplace Films 

There are a lot of people out there who actually do like their jobs. I’m one of them. But in the entertainment world you don’t get far by making stuff about what people find satisfying. Even in the most secure and stable of personalities, there has to be an itch to scratch.

Many people don’t like their jobs. And they are the ones who get films made about them. From record shops to offices, here are my favourite workplace films; starring quirky characters and with scripts that manage to turn the humdrum and mundane working existence into an existential crisis.

In order of release:

Clerks (1994)

Clerks was made for under $30,000 and launched the film career of its writer and director, Kevin Smith. It’s a pretty amazing story captured in full on the Clerks X DVD extras, and it inspired me to start writing many a film script before jacking it in a full ten pages later. The film itself is, of course, a fantastic comedy highlighting the plight of full-time shop monkey Dante, struggling between getting a real job and the comfortable existence he enjoys at the convenience store alongside best friend and primo antagoniser Randal.

clerks kevin smith

That’s Kevin Smith. Originally he wasn’t even supposed to be (here today) in the film, but if I remember correctly he had to take this line from Jay because Jay kept messing it up and they were running out of film. That’s indie filmmaking for you, and this film in particular helped bring about a huge resurgence in low-budget straight-talking films…

Empire Records (1995)

…kind of like this one. Released just a year later for what I imagine is also not much money, Empire Records is just one of those very, VERY quotable films that anyone who’s seen it can incorporate into their daily geek language.

empire records review

It starts with what appears to be an employee stealing company money and frittering it away at the casino, but ‘bad apple’ Lucas is just misunderstood for reasons that become clear later. In contrast to what I said earlier, most of the people here at Empire Records do like their jobs, but it’s very much a stopgap for some who are trying to work out what to do with their lives, too.

Oh, and also the events of the film take place on Rex Manning Day – the greatest made-up holiday ever.

It’s surprising how many of the cast are, while let’s not go mad and say they’re all A-listers, still knocking around on TV. Aside from Mizzes Tyler and Zellweger, Anthony LaPaglia (Joe) and Rory Cochrane (Lucas) went on to long-term gigs in Jerry Bruckheimer crime dramas, while Johnny Whitworth was quite recently seen in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – the less said about that though, the better. (He does follow me on Twitter though – if only because I tweeted about Rex Manning Day a while back.)

Joe is a superb manager though, let’s not forget that.

Office Space (1999)

Office Space is the absolute go-to film for anyone who has a begrudging indifference towards their job – not so resentful of it that they are encouraged to seek alternative employment, but not so buoyed by it that they can throw themselves into the working week with wild enthusiasm.

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Not unless they’re destroying office equipment, anyway; but writer-director Mike Judge has done very well in drawing from his own history in soul-destroying office jobs to come up with not only this fantastic film, but also in creating Silicon Valley, which takes a similar approach in magnifying the cracks which appear in California tech culture.

High Fidelity (2000)

I remember being unsure that this would work as a film. How wrong I was. At one point in my life, working at Championship Vinyl would’ve been my dream job, despite even its owner Rob’s near-despair at how he’d merely rattled along all those years without embracing his lot in life. His own business, a regular crowd of hip young gunslingers and the love of a good woman…who he’d managed to drive away partly because of his own reluctance to cling onto something.

high fidelity review

Man, I love John Cusack. Between Rob Gordon, Lloyd Dobler and Martin Blank he ran the entire length of the emotional spectrum – all amazing characters and all somewhere in my own Top 5 of pretty much anything. These characters are at the same time so relatable and so distant – while I’m most inclined to identify with Rob’s love of music and Lloyd’s romantic naivety, even hitman Martin Blank offers that coldness which all of us must wish we could sometimes have to get out of a bad way of feeling.

Waiting… (2005)

Finally, this one took me a bit by surprise when I first watched it at university. I liked Ryan Reynolds well enough from Two Guys & A Girl but wasn’t too struck by the rest of the cast so gave this a miss first time around. Then when I realised the film had been misrepresented by the UK press and was, in fact, a bloody funny film, I became a big fan.

waiting john francis daley

It reminds me a lot of Empire Records in that whole ensemble-cast-of-wacky-kids way, but the humour is much too filthy to draw further comparisons. I especially like John Francis Daley’s character, Mitch, who draws comparisons to Silent Bob by barely getting a word in edgeways throughout the film – though this is more due to his rude colleagues than out of habit.

I’ll be giving all of these films another watch in the near future I think, if only to remind me that even when work’s getting me down, it could be worse – I could have Milton for a colleague.

Scores and Soundtracks in TV, Film and Games

Listing my favourite music in video games, TV and films.

There’s music for every mood and every occasion – whether you’re lurking around the Capital Wasteland to some suitably eclectic ‘oldies’ music or just trying to find some music to listen to while you’re writing about what music you like.

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I’ve just finished listening to some songs from the TV show Twin Peaks; some suitably haunting music to suit my foul mood at having just woken up at the time of writing. As clichéd as it sounds, the music is like an extra cast member in every scene; poles apart from your standard ‘DUN-DUN DUHHHHN’ scores, the Twin Peaks soundtrack enhances the chill factor during every episode. Some 23 years after the programme first aired it’s still one of the most talked-about aspects of the production; quite an achievement considering the massively talented cast and the reputation of its co-creators.

As far as the more commercial-sounding stuff in films goes, there are three which really stick in my head because of how importantly the music is placed within them. Two of them are set in record shops, and two of them star John Cusack. Neatly in the centre of this Venn diagram lies High Fidelity; based on the book by Nick Hornby it follows the tale of record nerd Rob and his employees through heartbreak, heart repair and some very obscure music references that would escape any non-obsessive. Grosse Pointe Blank also stars Cusack, this time as a hitman for hire at his high school reunion and, thanks to the soundtrack consultant Joe Strummer, does an awesome job of filling in the gaps of Blank’s life as his mysterious past catches up to him and prom date-turned-foil Debbie. Empire Records is my third pick for its brilliant soundtrack; in fact, the reviews I remember reading seemed to put it as one of the film’s main attractions – which, although flopping at the box office despite its now all-star ensemble cast (Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger and, er, Daphne’s brother from Frasier) – isn’t the main reason that I like the film.

And when it comes to video games, you’ll need something that puts you even further into the action. Although it seems to have won over many fans with its trademark epic theme, I do happen to think that the main theme from Halo is just a load of blokes yawning; not nearly atmospheric enough for my liking. Nah, for that real intense effect you can’t beat a bit of Quake. Credited to ‘Trent Reznor & Nine Inch Nails’, each track which makes up the original score perfectly complements the action of the original game, veering wildly between harsh guitars and echoing beats to serve the schizophrenic pace of each level and making for an overall unique gaming experience.

Music brings an extra bit of something to every medium – no matter how diverse the subject matter or mood.