THE WAY BACK: A WORTHWHILE JOURNEY

AUDIO OPTION OF THE WAY BACK REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

The Way Back is a story, beautiful in its own troubled way, of a broken man struggling with alcoholism and his own regrets, by coaching a “lost cause” basketball team at the high school where he had been a celebrated champion.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Mid-teens and up but ONLY with parental discretion, supervision and discussion. While there is no sexual content, there is a LOT of bad language and scenes of self-destructive drinking which make for excellent horrible warnings. On the plus side The Way Back gives a clear demonstration of respect for the Catholic Church in general and priests in particular as kind moral centers and understanding sources of redemption.

SPOILERS

LONG TAKE:

While The Way Back has a lot of similarities to traditional underdog movies, it  progresses through far darker waters than your average feel good sports flick. Most movies of this genre would have ended two-thirds of the way through where The Way Back does. But The Way Back has the courage to move FORWARD through a realistic assessment of the deeply troubled Jack Cunningham, far after the predictable conclusion to the basketball team’s triumphs. This is not condemnation but commendation.

I like a formulaic sports movie as much as the next person. From the faith-based Facing the Giants to the histo-sports drama Victory, the sentimental Hoosiers and the weepy The Miracle Season, I love movies that end tied up in a nice neat bow. But The Way Back is just not one of those movies.

The story, clearly a vehicle for Affleck as cinematic therapy for his own struggles with alcoholism, is of an angry and bitter Jack Cunningham – divorced, former basketball champion, alone and seemingly determined to drink himself to death. Functional in his construction worker job, he showers in the morning with a beer in the soap dish, pops one open on his way home, spends his evenings at a bar and often has to be partially carried home by a family friend. Apparently his life fell apart 2 years previous and we do not initially know why. It could have been for a lot of reasons, but this is a man who has almost completely cut himself off from his family, and self indulgently given up on his marriage, his life, and hope itself.

He is a walking poster child for horrible warnings, until his former priest calls him in need of some assistance with the team which is now languishing at his old alma mater. The previous coach had taken ill. They needed a replacement and, I suspect, the priest knew Jack needed a constructive purpose. While the rehabilitation of the basketball team is satisfyingly predictable, it is only the background of the road to redemption for Jack.

Movies like He’s Just Not That Into You and Batman versus Superman notwithstanding, Ben Affleck is a fine actor. His talents have shined in movies like The Accountant, (SEE REVIEW HERE) about an autistic hitman, and Argo, the semi-docudrama about the rescue of six people behind Iranian lines during the Carter botched, Reagan recovered hostage crisis of 1979. The Way Back, directed by the same talented Gavin O’Connor who helmed The Accountant, is another example of Affleck’s abilities. It’s no coincidence that Affleck has had his own battles with dependency. Jack’s very realistic pain reaches through to the viewer in every scene.By Affleck’s own admission The Way Back was cathartic as the actor went from rehab to filming. And Affleck makes the most of every aching moment.

Janina Gavankar is solid as Jack’s long suffering estranged wife, Angela. Al Madrigal is sympathetic and charming as Dan, Jack’s assistant. Jeremy Radin and John Alyward offer lovely performances as Fathers Mark and Edward, respectively, who try to encourage  Jack while still guiding the young men on the court who are in Jack’s care.

The basketball scenes are energetic and entertaining, respecting the audience enough to immerse the basketball in what was, to me, obscure language, but providing enough clear context in language, action and good filmmaking, that details were not necessary.

The movie is quite good but certainly not without its flaws. The cinematography by Eduard Grau is dark, whether by accident or poorly thought out attempts at atmosphere is unclear. Some scenes have jerky edits, and a lot of the intimate conversations are shot with all the panache of a TV soap opera.

On the other hand, the music by Rob Simonsen, who has penned music for other heart wrenching and moving stories like: Burnt, Tully, Life of Pi and The Nativity Story, is hauntingly beautiful and understated, like variations on a theme in the tragic symphony of Jack’s life. The soundtrack carries a theme that plays hide and seek from opening to ending credits, like the thoughts Jack can not, and perhaps does not want, to purge from his mind or in which he wishes to drown.

While The Way Back is a challenge to watch it is also rewarding, warm and even occasionally funny. The path that Jack walks is a rough road with an uncertain destiny, and though it is occasionally painful to travel with him, it is a worthwhile journey to take.

SPIES IN DISGUISE – FORGETTABLE AND REGRETTABLE

AUDIO OPTION OF SPIES IN DISGUISE REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Poorly thought out computer animated spy spoof with a bad theme.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults will be alternately bored or infuriated, older kids will find it too juvenile and kids young enough to enjoy the animation and silly plot shouldn’t be exposed to the inappropriately constructed pacifist theme. So despite there being no profanity and, aside from a naked bottom shown for laughs, no sex  — no one should bother.

LONG TAKE:

Spies in Disguise is the latest computer animated venture by Blue Skies Productions whose checkerboard career has included the Ice Age franchise and the well done Horton Hears a Who but also the rather pitiful Robots and pathetic Ferdinand SEE MY REVIEW Spies in Disguise, both forgettable and regrettable, is not one of their best efforts.

Forgettably derivative, it pulls from a number of other much better movies.

The premise is that a celebrity spy, Lance Sterling (the often terrific Will Smith – Men in Black, I, Robot, I Am Legend, Collaterol Beauty SEE MY REVIEW) is framed for an act of treason by Killian (Ben Mendelsohn from Rogue One and Darkest Hour SEE MY REVIEW) so must seek the help of a tech inventor Walter (Tom “the best Spiderman” Holland), who Lance just had fired (though how this spy had the authority to do that is never explained). Lance is then chased by a team lead by Marcy (Rashida Jones who did such a good job in Klaus SEE MY REVIEW) and aided by “Eyes” (Karen Gillan – fantastic as both Dr. Who‘s Amy Pond and Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy) from the agency, headed by Joyless (Reba McEntire), for whom Lance is the agency star acheiver.

The plot, by the unsuccessful collaboration of: Lucas Martell, Cindy Davis, Brad Copeland, and Lloyd Taylor is pretty dumb even for a kid demographic parody. You can’t just throw anything up on the screen and expect that, just because it’s animated, it’ll be fun. The success of enterprises like Toy Story 1 ,2 and 3, (my objections to Toy Story 4 are in the REVIEW HERE), The Incredibles or even the old Bugs Bunny cartoons was in part due to being smart and cleverly written, giving something for the adults to enjoy while still being fun and wholesome for the kids. Those first three Toy Stories, Incredibles and Bugs are the kind of entertainment that become classics, as the children who see them now, will grow up to be the adults who will come back to them with their own kids, and see something fresh and new from an adult perspective. The classics offer thoughtful entertainment to a multitude of generations.

Not so with Spies in Disguise which barely has any original thoughts or decent narrative for anybody. For one thing, the lynchpin upon which the entire plot springs, the framing of Lance, is suspension of disbelief breaking-level dumb.

It’s hard to believe that this super secret and heavily intelligence based agency would so readily dismiss their top agent, or that they would not find his claims of a bad guy able to disguise himself as Lance credible. With all the tech demonstrated at their disposal what is INcredible is that the agency DIDN’T believe Lance. So the story was off to a rocky start to begin with.

Despite Disguise featuring some of my favorite actors, I was disappointed by the largely bland performances. But then there’s not much an actor can do with a bad script. The only one who makes any impact is Mendelsohn, who manages to invest the megalo revenge villain with an emotional base that actually made him more interesting and sympathetic than the main characters.

The movie becomes a combo fish out of water, (or rather a bird out of air, as Smith’s character is turned into a pigeon), and then an Odd Couple story as the suave, now bird-ified, Lance must pair with the slight and wide-eyed nerdy inventor Walter. Spies then wanders around in a Mission Impossible miasma and lands at the end of every Bond movie ever – minus the babes in bikinis.

The story is regrettable because it pushes a pacifist agenda in a place for which it is not appropriate. We’re not covering the civil disobedience of Gandhi or the Christian martyrs. These are agents sworn to uphold the law and defend citizens from violent, armed and dangerous madmen. But Walter, who lost his police officer mother in her line of duty, is on a quest, while working for a Get Smart/Men in Black type agency (the latter, no doubt, a nod to Smith’s participation in the Men in Black franchise), to create a line of defensive weapons which theoretically distracts or, at best, hinders the bad guys but does not kill them.

Sorry guys, but the purpose of a military or secret service equivalent agency is to kill people and break things. It is an unfortunate point of fact that endorphin enhancing glitter creating cute kitten shapes won’t stop people who do not play by the same pacifist rules as our intrepid hero.

But really, you might say, it’s only a kid movie. That is true. It is aimed at young children. So when you teach impressionable youths that the good guys are not good guys if they kill the bad guys then you instill in children the idea that happy feelings and party favor prank level gizmos can stem the tide of an opposing force armed with AK47s, missile launchers and nerve gas. Funny how the bad guys never seem to follow those oh-so-touted gun laws.

I saw this kind of mentality back in the 70’s when the soldiers were returning from Vietnam. Make Peace not War. Protestors shoving flowers into the barrels of soldiers, the latter who exercised heroic self restraint.  Glorified hippies dodging the draft to smoke weed, behave promiscuously and hang out to the tunes from Yasgur’s Farm while breeding the likes of the pregnant-woman-butchering Manson Family.

Meanwhile, while the self-indulged all felt good about themselves, our soldiers were meat shields protecting the hippies’ option to layabout.

Al Quaida, the Gulf Cartel, Aryan Nation, sex traffickers, not to mention the North Korean Army, mobsters, Somali pirates, or an armed thug holding up the diner you’re in don’t follow those cute little rules.

And painting the police or military or an armed citizen who defends an innocent as anything but a hero, is an affront to those who risk their lives to protect ours.

The animation is pretty good – nothing spectacular but adequate to the needs of the story. Kind of (uninspired) Incredibles. Speaking of The Incredibles, and nothing against Reba McEntire, but her heavy Southern accented character Joyless, sounded as though she was channeling Holly Hunter’s Elastigirl, making me suspect the filmmakers knew they were dealing with a very weak movie so employed all the cheap tricks they could think of.

The pigeons were cute, especially Crazy Eyes who was cousin to the indestructable, able to eat anything Alan Tudyk-voiced HeiHei from Moana. And when the reprised version of Hei Hei and the villain are the most interesting characters in the movie, you know you have a problem.

The music by Theodore Shapiro sounded like it was pulled from a barrel of mediocre “spy movie” tropes, culled from theme rejects off of Men in Black, or just tediously loud generic hip hop.

So give this one a miss. If you’re not snoozing through the trite storyline or improvisational sounding dialogue, you’ll be aggravated by the touchy-feeley approach to deadly killers.

Go see Martell’s far more amusing and clever short from which Spies was “inspired”: Pigeon Impossible HERE or just watch The Incredibles again instead.

WILLIAM THE MARSHAL – AN ORIGINAL…..MEDIEVAL….RADIO PLAY

 

…AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT (APOLOGIES TO MONTY PYTHON).

I’VE WRITTEN A: BATTLE TO THE DEATH, ROMANCE, COMEDY, COURT INTRIGUE, HISTORIC DRAMA, MURDER MYSTERY, AND BIOGRAPHY…AN ORIGINAL STAGEPLAY ABOUT THE LIFE OF WILLIAM THE MARSHAL, THE MAN WITHOUT WHOM ENGLAND, EUROPE AS WE KNOW IT AND LIKELY AMERICA WOULD NOT EXIST…BUT WHOSE NAME IS VERY LITTLE KNOWN FOR ALL THAT.

MY AWARD WINNING ACTOR-IN-RESIDENCE, LOUIS, HAS AGREED TO DRAMATIZE THE PLAY FOR ME AS A RADIO SHOW WHICH WILL BE UPLOADED IN WEEKLY(-ISH_) INSTALLMENTS.

SO PLEASE JOIN US AS YOU WILL – GROWL FOR BLOOD, LAUGH OUT LOUD, SWOON WITH ANTICIPATION, RALLY FOR THE WINNER, PONDER THE SIGNIFICANCE, AND MARVEL AT……..WILLIAM MARSHAL.

PART ONE

WELCOME TO LONDON 1189 – THE ROMANCE OF THE MILLENIUM IS ABOUT TO BEGIN…BUT FIRST A WORD FROM YOUR DOCENT TO THE MIDDLE AGES:

MY TOP 10 EASTER MOVIES NOT USUALLY ON ANYONE ELSE’S LIST

AUDIO OPTION OF MY TOP 10 EASTER MOVIES NOT USUALLY ON ANYONE ELSE’S LIST

There are a number of traditional Easter movies we turn to every year – and rightly so.

The Passion of the Christ is at the top of that list. Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel, this 2004 movie is based upon the Gospels as well as the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of Our Savior’s walk to Calvary. The Passion is a difficult watch and not one I would recommend for children or even some adults. Accurate in its intensity, there can be no mistake of the suffering and degradation Our Lord went through as expiation for our sins. And because of that alone it is often difficult for anyone to watch, let alone believers who understand that even now, outside of time, our sins make us complicit in putting Jesus on the Cross.

If you CAN watch this remarkable film I strongly encourage you to do so. If not this year, then at some time in your life. It should be on most people’s bucket list.

There are other films, though, which help convey this message. The Greatest Story Ever Told is a beautiful but far more sanitized version of the life of Jesus. Covering His birth to His Resurrection, this old classic stars Max von Sydow and features an array of actors who would be familiar to anyone fond of old World War II or epic costume dramas of the 1950’s and 1960’s: Telly Savalas, David McCallum, Donald Pleasance, Claude Rains, Jose Ferrer, Martin Landau, Charlton Heston, and Roddy MacDowell, among others

1959’s Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston, is an inspiring gem of a film, about two life shattering encounter-moments with Christ that re-inform the life of an unjustly punished man.

These, as well as many other traditional films, are magnificent and should be seen multiple times.

But I wanted to suggest a broader field of vision this year. I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to consider films which are either lesser known or whose Christ-like self-sacrificing moments are under appreciated.

Many movies today lionize the idea of revenge, following the motto of Bruce Willis’ John McClane, from Live Free or Die Hard. When asked what his plan was to save his daughter, McClane quips: “Find Lucy. Kill everybody else.” The cinemas are rife with vengeance porn bloodbaths: The John Wick franchise, the Taken series, the Kill Bills, Peppermint, Death Wish, True Grit

And I’m not saying all these movies are bad. Some are classics. And some, like Dark Knight, make it clear that the desire for revenge can corrupt and destroy you. Nor am I absolving myself from admitting to be a fan of these often cathartic films.

But – there is something inherently and far more satisfying, not to mention noble and Christ-like, in stories wherein one character sacrifices himself to save a stranger or even an enemy. So here is my list of 10 movies – some of which may surprise you – which include self-sacrifice on behalf of a stranger or enemy.

BEYOND HERE BE SPOILERS

While there are dozens of others I could have included on the following list, here is my top 10 (plus) from least to most notable of my personal favorite:

MOVIES DEMONSTRATING UNEXPECTED EXAMPLES OF CHRIST-LIKE SACRIFICE

SERIOUSLY – SPOILERS BELOW – AS IN – I GIVE AWAY ENDINGS AND/OR KEY PLOT POINTS TO  A BUNCH OF MOVIES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!

10. Starting with an example for my fellow nerds – Avengers: Age of Ultron is about super heroes combating an evil super A.I. During the course of the movie, two characters who had been antagonists to our good guys, Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) switch sides. During the course of one of the battles against Ultron’s AI bots, Quicksilver throws himself, as a shield, in front of Hawkeye, one of his former opponents, who is, in turn, shielding a child with his body. Quicksilver takes the brunt of the bullets and dies. Greater love hath no man…

9. In Armageddon, Bruce Willis, instead of killing everybody else, chooses to die in the place of his daughter’s fiancé, a man with whom he has had a love-hate relationship throughout the movie, in order to save the world.

8. X-Men: Days of Future Past, casts Magneto (Ian McKellen) as our unexpected hero. Magneto, who has been at lethal odds with Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and company throughout the course of three previous movies (four if you count The Wolverine) places himself between an overwhelming force of deadly mutant-hunting robots and his life long friend/nemesis Charles Xavier.

7. Dramatically moving is the moment in 1982’s Blade Runner wherein Harrison Ford’s Deckard has a final confrontation with Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty. Batty is an android who Deckard has been chasing throughout most of the movie. By showdown time Deckard has killed most of Batty’s friends and pursued the android to a rooftop where Batty gets the literal upper hand over the bounty hunter. Batty grabs Deckard just as Deckard loses his grip on a slick rain soaked pipe from which he would have plummeted to his death. But instead of gloating over his pursuer’s brutal demise, Batty lifts Deckard, his tormentor and would be executioner, in an act of mercy, to safety minutes before his own time is up and his predetermined android life span ends.

6. A little known movie worth the watch in this theme is Baby Boom. Baby Boom stars Diane Keaton, a darling of the late 1970’s through early 1990’s cinema, (most particularly from Annie Hall, the Godfather saga and the Father of the Bride movies). Keaton plays JP Wiatt, a wealthy and successful advertising executive who inherits a young toddler from a deceased cousin. The key turning point in the movie comes early when JP has the opportunity to “dump” this child on a willing foster family. But, knowing in her heart of hearts what she will ultimately have to give up, she just can’t bring herself to do it and turns her life upside down, inside out and leaves everything she values behind, in order to start over as a mother. With a supporting cast of Harold Ramis (actor in Ghostbusters, director/writer of Groundhog Day), James Spader (Ultron as well as “Red” Reddington from Blacklist), Sam Shepard (actor in The Right Stuff and prolific stage and screenplay writer), it is a shame this charming and warm hearted movie did not get more positive attention.

5. The end of the 1935 version of Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities sees Ronald Coleman’s dissipate Sydney Carlton dying on the guillotine for another man’s happy ending: “Tis a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done …” He takes the place of the noble Darnay, the husband of the woman, Lucie, he loves but who Carlton knows does not love him. Carlton subjects himself to a shameful and terrifying death for the love of someone he could have claimed but was not truly his.

4. Rain Man a brilliantly acted and beautifully quiet film, stars American cinematic icon and chameleon Dustin Hoffman and the ever ebullient and watchable Tom Cruise. Cruise plays Charlie, a selfish and cynically manipulative man. When Charlie’s father dies, Charlie takes custody of his autistic brother, Raymond, solely to get access to the three million dollars left to Raymond’s trust fund. But during the course of a cross country trek Charlie develops a genuine and completely altruistic love for this man, even knowing Raymond will never be capable of returning or even acknowledging the bond.

3. Molokai: The Story of Father Damien stars David Wenham (Lord of the Rings). The movie is based on the true story of Father Damien who feels inexorably pulled to offer up the prime of his life to a leper colony, knowing he will eventually catch and succumb to the disease that ravages the inhabitants. Also starring Peter O’Toole (Lord Jim, Lion in Winter among a plethora of famous performances), Derek Jacobi (the great Shakespearean actor who has worked with Kenneth Branagh on many films from Hamlet to Murder on the Orient Express), Kris Kristofferson (country singer turned actor), Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact), and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) this film is a moving portrait of a truly Christ-like example of loving another as oneself. This one could be watched by mid-teens and up with parental supervision.

2. After The Passion, the most difficult to watch is Calvary, a story about Father James, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, a flawed man but good priest, who spends his life in caring for a difficult flock, and takes upon himself the punishment for another man’s sins. With a supporting cast which includes Gleeson’s son Domhnall, the usually jaunty Chris O’Dowd who takes on a very different role this time, and the familiar face of M. Emmett Walsh, this is a movie that you will not easily forget. Language, violence, and extreme topics of serial killers, arson, murder and child sex abuse make this one movie STRICTLY for adults, and only those who are well formed in their faith, as well as with a sturdy emotional constitution.

RUNNER UP

Before revealing my number one pic, I can not neglect a favorite moment from the Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock films. (Yes, I know they are technically TV shows, but at 90 minutes each and with a quality of acting and writing that outshines the vast majority of what hits the big screen, these qualify as movies.) In The Final Problem Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), Watson (Martin Freeman) and Mycroft (Sherlock’s estranged brother, played by Mark Gatiss) are trapped by a psychopath into a sadistic game where Holmes must choose to kill either his best and arguably only friend, Watson, or his brother. Mycroft then proceeds to explain very coldly and succinctly why Sherlock should kill Watson, putting forth a rather compelling argument why Watson is the weak link in their predicament. But it is a ruse. Mycroft knows that Sherlock would eventually be able to forgive himself for killing his own brother but it would destroy him to kill Watson. So Mycroft attempts reverse psychology to goad Sherlock into sparing Watson, effectively offering himself up in Watson’s place.  Sherlock understands Mycroft is trying to make this sacrifice so INSTEAD Sherlock, in an act to save BOTH Watson and Mycroft chooses…to shoot himself. (What happens next I’ll leave to you to watch and find out. But you MUST see this stunningly creative, intelligent, witty and masterfully acted show in order of production.)

1. Saving the best for last is the original Gene Wilder led 1971 Willie Wonka  and the Chocolate Factory. This quirky and whimsical musical features Wilder as the eponymous and very eccentric sweets inventor Wonka, who leads a group of ticket-winning children through his mysterious Oompa Loompa-run candy factory.

At the start of the tour all are given an “Everlasting Gobstopper” and cautioned to give it to no one else as the recipe is coveted. All but one have been co-opted into stealing secrets from Wonka by a competitor.

Charlie (Jack Ostrum) is a gentle and honorable child who only wishes to obtain the life time chocolate supply, promised as part of the prize, for his desperately poor family. The rest of the group are indulged, selfish, and one by one fall away from the group as they succumb to their particular vices – gluttony, pride, avarice, and obsession with TV. Charlie and his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson), are guilty of having snuck a sip of Fizzy Lifting Drink, an infraction for which they are almost immediately repentant and, as they are allowed to continue with the tour, we assume is a minor piccadillo.

However, at the end of the day, Wonka, who up to now had been especially kind to Charlie, turns nasty and informs them that they, too, have forfeited the prize chocolate, then abruptly and rudely dismissed them. A livid Grandpa Joe tells Wonka off then pulls Charlie aside and advises him to sell the souvenir Gobstopper to Slugworth, the corporate spy.

Instead, believing Wonka unaware of the competition’s espionage attempts, Charlie meekly places the candy on Wonka’s desk, thereby protecting Wonka’s secret but foregoing the promised fortune he could have obtained from Slugworth. Charlie sacrifices his future to save someone who has betrayed and deeply hurt him.

Wonka then quietly says one of the most touching lines in cinematic history: “So shines a good deed in a weary world.”  It had all been a test to judge Charlie’s mettle as, and after apologizing to Charlie and Grandpa Joe, a positively effervescent Wonka reveals to Charlie the real prize was the entire factory. Charlie is to be Wonka’s heir.

The Christian imagery is unmistakable and no doubt the reason for this telling’s decades old endurance as a family favorite: Wonka allows all the children to be tempted. In a perspicuous, albeit child-like and abbreviated tracking of Pilgrim’s Progress, most fall away, but not Charlie. Charlie turns down a lifetime of worldly goods to save his betrayer, an offering which results in Charlie being taken up as an heir to the confectionary paradise and ends with a literal rise to the Heavens in a floating elevator.

Unlike the other films mentioned here, this one is accessible to children as well as entertaining for adults.

So there you have my Easter gift of what I hope is a new perspective on films which offer unusual gateways into the examples offered by Jesus of forgiveness, mercy, and love.

By acceptance of His own horrific death for the expiation of our sins, Jesus gave us the template to follow in our own infinitely smaller ways. These movies, famous and obscure, old and recent, from a variety of genres, I think, demonstrate some of the many many movies which bear witness to the many many ways we can find opportunity to die to ourselves for the sake of another. And I hope you find LOTS more.

Love charitably those around you and have a Blessed, Christ-like, Happy … and self-giving … Easter.

THE CURRENT WAR – GREAT PERFORMANCES CAN’T SHINE ENOUGH LIGHT ON UNFOCUSED PLOT

AUDIO OPTION FOR REVIEW ON THE CURRENT WAR

SHORT TAKE:

Interesting but ultimately unsatisfying, movie about three of the most brilliant American minds at the turn of the previous century – Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla – wrestling with and competing for the frontier of bringing electricity to American homes for light and power. Unfortunately, the movie is undercut by its own attempts at being too art house for its own good, spending more time on kaleidoscopic imagery than on character development or coherent plot.

WHO SHOULD GO:

No sex but some profanity, including unnecessary blasphemy. But it is unlikely that younger than mid-teens would be interested anyway.

LONG TAKE:

It is a maxim of screenplay writing that you never put anything into your script which does not forward your story. There is even a colloquial expression for it: “killing your darlings”. I don’t think the writer of Current War, Michael Mitnick, got that memo.

The script reads like a kid’s book titled “Things you might not know about Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse”. The movie is full of trivia bits about America’s most prominent electrical inventors, which scenes come and go like waves on a beach, only to disappear, go nowhere, and without contributing anything significant to the story. Edison’s young son knew Morse code which he uses a couple of times to communicate in secret with his father. Westinghouse endured a traumatic incident during the Civil War. Tesla was seriously OCD. But these moments only come out in brief scenes, flicker like fireflies, then wink out never to be heard from again.

The main story revolves around the competition for who, among these geniuses, would be the pre-eminent powerhouse in, for and of America. Who would bring electricity, power and energy, coast to coast into American homes? Each man had his own motivations, principles which upheld him, styles of behavior and problem-solving approaches with which to accomplish this goal.

But because of the scattershot approach by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and writer Mitnick, we get only the most trivial of impressions of each of these astonishing minds and never get at the heart of what truly motivated them.

What makes this worse is the disjointed cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung. Current War looks more like an artsy MTV music video than a presentation of the historic events that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But the jumbled and anachronistic style isn’t the problem with the film, just a visualized symptom of its fatal flaw.

Even those somewhat keen on history will be left confused and befuddled because of the incohesive way the story is presented. Scenes were broken into multiple unconnected parts. Series of pictures with only a tangential relation to the events were injected into the proceedings. For example, a kinetoscope series of photos of a walking elephant then monkey then a man were precursors to a condemned murderer’s walk to his execution. Even the music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Juriaans was unhelpfully off-putting and unpleasant.

Also, scenes were poorly lit, in an apparent but misguided effort to show how important the electric light would become. Rejon may have been going for realism but instead just resulted in a lot of squinting by this audience member. Even at one moment of triumph, when all the lights were supposed to go on in a city, it was a lot of build up then —- meh. Yes, perhaps the actual lights were not that bright, but there was no attempt to translate for a modern audience to show how the characters would have perceived the event. The film makers were apparently so engrossed in making something that would impress themselves they forgot to impress their audience.

The costumes were really beautiful and the set designs were interesting, but as sepia toned as everything was it was difficult to appreciate either fully.

The overall effect was disappointing, especially as Mr. Chung did such a wonderful job with his far more straight forward telling of both Hotel Artemis (SEE REVIEW HERE) and Zombieland: Double Tap (SEE REVIEW HERE).

Messieurs Chung and Gomez-Rejon tried to present three sides of the same story all at once. While the threads did occasionally intertwine, the focus of the pattern ended up pulled in three different directions, resulting in the unraveling of the core of the tale. This might have worked had there been a strong central idea. But the more threads, the stronger the center must be. And there was only the vague notion of the three men wanting to achieve success in their fields to carry the story forward. There was no singular goal to let us know when the race was over.

What keeps this from being a complete disaster was the masterful performances of the major actors: Benedict “Dr. Strange” Cumberbatch as Edison, Michael “General Zod” Shannon as Westinghouse, Nicholas “Beast” Hoult as Tesla,  Tom “Spiderman” Holland as Edison’s assistant, Samuel Insull, and Katherine Waterston (Tina from Fantastic Beasts) as Mrs. Westinghouse all did a yeoman’s job with their parts. The actors’ chemistry is excellent, at turns with: camaraderie, loyalty , antagonism and occasionally begrudging admiration. But even channeling their alter-ego super beings only lit the way for Current War so far.

Others like  Matthew MacFadyen (Pride and Prejudice) as tycoon and financier J.P. Morgan, and Stanley Townsend who actually studied engineering and math in Dublin, and plays Franklin Pope, Westinghouse’s friend and chief engineer/inventor, give stand out performances. But again, they are not in a position to rescue the quirky distracting cinematography or jumbled storyline.

On the plus side, for family viewing, there is no sex. And while violence does occur – an axe murder, an accidental electrocution, an execution, and the deliberate electrocution of a horse as a demonstration of the dangers of alternating current – the carnage is very Shakespearean in that it all politely happens off-screen. Unfortunately, there is some unnecessary profanity and blasphemy which, along with the muddled presentation, makes this less than ideal for children, even as a cinematic history lesson.

There ARE, however, other movies which cover most of the same ground which would be a far better use of your time.

The delightful old Spencer Tracy 1940 classic Edison: The Man which you can get on Amazon.com, is a charming telling of Edison’s life.

There are two films featuring Tesla. The biographical 1980 The Secret of Nickola Tesla, which in full disclosure, I have not seen yet myself, but my research promises it to be an interesting view. The Secret of Nikola Tesla stars Yugoslavian-born Petar Bovozic in the lead, Struther Martin (who, in Cool Hand Luke, famously said: “What we have here is a failure to communicate!”) as George Westinghouse, and THE Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) as JP Morgan, Edison’s financier. The star power and focus on the one man’s life warrants a better story.

The other movie with Tesla, which demonstrates how clever slight of hand and advanced enough scientific breakthroughs can both look like magic, is the eccentric The Prestige about – well – magic. The Prestige stars Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, and the notoriously bizarre rock star David Bowie as Tesla!

And if you’re looking for a movie about George Westinghouse, well you’re kind of out of luck, at least for the moment.

But Current War, despite its clever title, in its attempt to cover too much ground, with more art than substance, from too many perspectives was, ironically, as far as the men it purports to be about, not very illuminating.

COOKING IN THE TIME OF QUARANTINE

 

AUDIO OPTION OF ARTICLE ON COOKING DURING THE TIME OF QUARANTINE

Now that we’re stuck at home, with fewer and fewer restaurants – even take out – to choose from, and less and less money with which to buy from them, I suspect many of you are now digging into the bottom of your freezers playing “Ready Set Cook: The Home Version”.

For those of you unfamiliar with “Ready Set Cook,” it was a show wherein two opposing teams were given ingredients which had to be included to make an entire meal. For example Team A might choose something like: chocolate, asparagus and jalapenos. And Team B might have chosen: sugared breakfast cereal, liver and olives. A limited time later, the team which came up with the most edible dish(es) won.

When all of our six homeschooled kids were over five we decided to give this a try – WITH the added caveat that the Team who gave the ingredients to the other team had to be willing to EAT whatever the other team came up with. (Saved on wasted food and disgusting items.) As we were almost evenly split between genders it was Boys versus Girls and we all UNANIMOUSLY agreed that the boys’ Three Stooges Spaghetti won out hands down over – whatever forgettable (possibly inedible) thing we girls had made.

With that in mind, and understanding that many people are doing more cooking for more people over a longer period of time and with fewer ingredients than they ever thought possible, I thought it might be fun to suggest some:

MOVIES WHICH INSPIRE YOU TO COOK

Now I am NOT going to include anything gross like: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover OR Sweeney Todd – which themes of revenge, violence and cannibalism would likely be offensive to 99% of even the adult audience. All of these chosen movies legitimately make me hungry and wanting to head to the kitchen either for a snack or to break out my pots and pans.

RATATOUILLE

This absolutely delightful, complex, funny and intelligently plotted movie about a French farm rat who could cook, was and is a favorite in our house. Remi is a rat who, unlike his VERY large family, and due to his intelligence and refined sense of smell, does not WANT to eat the garbage of which his family happily partakes. He also doesn’t want to steal from people any more. So, after a hilarious sequence of events, Remi finds himself not only separated from his brothers and sisters, but secretly tutoring a schlemiel in a multi-star Parisian kitchen on the art of fine cuisine.

Ratatouille features the truly delicious voice acting of: Patton Oswalt (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) as Remi, Brian Dennehy as Django, Remi’s Dad, Ian Holm as Remi’s nemesis, Lou Romano (pretty “cheesy”, right?) plays the young chef Linguini, Jeaneane Garofalo as Tatou, Linguini’s love interest, and the late legendary Peter O’Toole as the menacing and bitter food critic, appropriately named, Ego. To spice things up there are also the traditional Pixar voice cameos by Brad Bird, the director, and the Pixar-ubiquitous John Ratzenberger. To blend everything together the artistry of hundreds of talented animators and music composed by the creative versatility of Michael Giacchio (composer for dozens of incredible films from … The Incredibles to Jojo Rabbit and Star Trek Beyond) and you have a cinematic feast for the whole family.

JULIE AND JULIA

Working our way up the age ladder, this is a movie which, though without sex or violence, has a few “naughty” jokes between married couples and sexual references, as well as some profanity.

The premise of this very cute movie is based on a true experience of a young woman who decides to work her way through the ENTIRETY of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Much like the movie The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which also starred Meryl Streep, it tells two couple’s stories, separated in time by decades, in a corresponding way. On the one hand is the love story of the marriage between Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her devoted husband Paul (Stan Tucci) covering the time right after World War II through the almost miraculous publication of her now famous book. Unable to have children and finding herself in France as the wife of a member of the OSS, predecessor to the CIA, she found herself with not a lot to do so threw herself into learning genuine French cuisine in order to pass it on to “regular” housewives in America.

The parallel story is of Eric and Julie Powell (Amy Adams and Chris Messina) in the early 2000’s. He is a magazine writer and she is a writer stuck in a job she hates at a call center. To relieve her dissatisfaction she decides to blog her way through cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s book. The results of both Julie’s efforts as well as the modern couple’s part of the movie were hit or miss, but Streep’s brilliant portrayal of Child and the beautiful chemistry filled scenes with Streep and Tucci are worth the price of admission alone.

CHEF

The next course is the charming Chef, written, directed and starring Jon Favreau (Happy, from the Marvel movies, especially the Iron Man franchise) with several of his Marvel friends, as well as some tasty performances from others. Favreau plays Casper, a creative and somewhat temperamental chef at a fine dining establishment owned and managed by Rive (played by the American cinematic treasure Dustin Hoffman), who does not appreciate Casper’s creativity spilled out all over his traditional menu.

With the financial and/or emotional support of his ex-wife (Sofia Veraga), her very eccentric ex-husband Marvin (Robert “Iron Man” Downey, Jr.), Sofia and Casper’s young teen son, Percy(Emjay Anthony), Casper’s best friend Molly (Scarlett “Black Widow” Johannsen), partner (John Leguizamo), and a harsh food critic Ramsey (Oliver Platt), Casper strikes out around the country in a food truck specializing in Cuban food.

The movie becomes far more than a comedy about a guy starting a new business, but rises, like yeast in homemade bread, into an analogy for relearning family love, having the faith to start over, the charity to mend relationships, and the courage to try something new. It’s a funny, endearing, and a lovely little movie.

BUT it has a LOT of bad language. And while there is no sexual activity it is talked about, sometimes in crude ways, usually for humor or guys “bragging” or joking with each other.

So mid-teens at least.

BURNT

Finally for the ADULT ONLY crowd is a movie about a difficult man seeking redemption from his alcoholism as well as wrestling with his inability to connect with others. A gifted chef, Adam (Bradley Cooper – voice of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy), freshly from a self-created rehab in which he stays sober while shucking ONE MILLION oysters, aspires to gain Michelin stars for his new restaurant. He is confidant but manipulative, brilliant but verbally abusive. His greatest virtue is his self-honesty, slow to come to fruition but ultimately genuine – to accept responsibility for his sins, as he seeks to clean up the messes he has made.

The ersatz family with which he needs to make peace is populated by a wonderful ensemble cast. His talented second in command isHelene, (Sienna Miller). His boss and owner of the restaurant is Tony, with whom Adam has a complicated personal relationship, played by Daniel Bruhl, another Marvel compatriot – the nemesis in Captain America – Civil War. Adam hires Michel (Omar Sy – Intouchables) as part of a debt of honor. Montgomery (Matthew Rhys – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) is a rival with whom Adam has a complicated professional relationship. Dr. Rosshilde (Emma Thompson) is his therapist and confidante, hired by a very nervous Tony, who has the unenviable task of being sure he stays clean and reasonably sane.

The arc of Adam, as a person and in his relationship with his team, reminded me a bit of my own experiments in making a chocolate souffle. If, in your anxiety to succeed, you hurry the process, you will, more like than not, end up with something that is unfinished at its core and burnt and hard, crusty and unpleasant, on the outside. BUT if you take your time, adjust your expectations to the creation’s needs, in effect turn down the temperature and exercise patience, then you will end up with something that may not be what you initially planned, but will be delightful in its own unique brand of perfection.

There is a good deal of close to nude moments, as well as a LOT of bad language – more than a few referencing sex. There is also the issue of drug addiction – discussion, therapy and the negative results – so mostly under the umbrella of “bad warning” and certainly not as an example to be followed. Adam has emotional control issues and occasionally gets violent in bursts of anger.

Ultimately though, this is a movie about redemption and repentance, structured around the art of making edible masterpieces ….. but not on the menu for the kiddies.

So there you go – from Completely Family Friendly to Adults Only and a couple in between. If you are of the right culinary spirit (and age) try these delectable movies about people who would have no trouble staying home and spending the day – COOKING!

PICARD IS TASKED WITH SAVING THE UNIVERSE – AGAIN!!

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF STAR TREK: PICARD REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Newest Star Trek show, this one starring Patrick Stewart as the now aged and retired Admiral Jean luc Picard on a quest to rescue a friend’s daughter and, oh by the way, save the Universe while he’s at it. And while it’s not as good as Star Trek: Next Generation or most of the movies, it is more “Star Trek-ian” than Discovery.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Unfortunately, THIS Star Trek venture uncharacteristically includes: profanity, even blasphemies, drug use, and hints at alternate lifestyles, which makes this show inappropriate for younger teens.

LONG TAKE:

I just got finished watching the first season of Star Trek: Picard. And while I was delighted to see Patrick Stewart in the saddle again, especially with cameos from the Star Trek universe, if this is the best the writers can come up with, then maybe it’s time for Picard to hang up his stirrups for good.

Like Discovery and unlike Star Trek‘s original inception, it is not episodic but moves along like a 10 hour movie (10 episodes at about 1 hour each). That is good and bad. If the storyline does not appeal to you then your are out of luck. You can’t drop into the middle of the season. Unlike the original shows it does not always seek to demonstrate the best that mankind can do, but far too often sinks to its lowest level, from drug addiction to bureaucratic disregard for entire civilizations, resulting in prejudice and genocide by neglect.

Patrick Stewart and the troupe from the original show were wonderful. Stewart throws himself into every role he plays. To underline that in a comic way, see the hilarious Honest Trailers for Star Trek: Next Generation.

I did think the plot pretty compelling and grew organically, pun intended, (you’ll see what I mean if/when you watch the show), from previous plots and concepts from the Trek universe. But while everyone is so busy being excited about the overall story line they forgot to include one of the things that made the Trek universe so relatable – the human element.

They took a few broad-stroke shots at it – but much of it felt like last minute thrown together ideas put on paper from the first brainstorming session.

For example: I know – Let’s give each of the characters some cliched “brokenness”. Rios, the captain of the ship Picard hires, (Santiago Cabrera), is a former Starfleet officer with an unresolved trauma. Picard’s best friend, Raffi, (Michelle Hurd) whose name inevitably reminds me of the children’s entertainer,  looks and acts like a female Bob Marley – drug habit included. All she’s missing is the Jamaican accent. NOT to mention the fact that even the most hard core Trek fan knew nothing about her. Alison Pill (Hail, Caesar!) is Jurati, a scientist with a tragic personal relationship with another familiar scientist (who I will not mention in the name of avoiding spoilers). Throw in some subtle, politically correct, lesbian overtones and you have the making of a Star Trek that might embarrass even the fanboys from Galaxy Quest operating out of their garage.

Not all is lost.

Soji (Isa Briones) does a good job as the damsel in distress with a past which propels the rest of the story arc.

The space special effects are pretty cool. Nothing spectacular, groundbreaking, or anything to write home about, but definitely up to the standard Star Trek TV show.

Jeff Russo creates a music score which uplifts familiar themes and makes them fresh. Hauntingly appropriate for the space through which the characters travel as well as the space of isolation through which each of the characters move.

BUT! And here I come to one of the more egregious points of evidence proving the show makers did not really do their homework on the characters. What the heck did they do to Data? I understand Brent Spiner is, realistically, decades older and a number of pounds heavier than when last he played Data in 1992’s Nemesis. But the makeup job they did on Spiner must now be a relief to those who did the understandably maligned CGI job on Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. The Data in Picard makes the creepy bad youthening of Bridges in Tron: Legacy look like the amazingly good job they did on Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Data, in Picard, was suspension of belief killing bad. Contrast Data from the original show.

Picard‘s Data’s contact lenses were too big, covering the whites of his eyes, and the wrong color. The pupils were too small and reptilian looking. The color of his skin made Data look as though he had spent his afterlife in a tanning booth. And do not get me started on the semicircular hair line which made him look like Spiner had just come from an audition to replace Shemp Howard in a movie about The Three Stooges. How hard would it have been to touch up Spiner’s hair, contacts and skin color to make him look better than that he had spent 15 minutes in a chair with somebody’s leftover makeup bag? To quote Sam Rockwell’s character, Guy, in Galaxy Quest: “Don’t you people WATCH the show??!!”

ALSO, and I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, there were some rationalizations for decisions in the last show’s denoument which should have been run through a couple more rewrites. I hate being this obscure but do not want to give away MAJOR spoilers, so if you want to know the details to what I am referring before or instead of watching the show, I’ll explain way down below.

ALSO also, the acting wasn’t all it could have been. Sometimes the cast sounded like they only had one table reading under their belt before they were thrown in front of the camera.

The cameos were great, with the previous regulars stepping right back into character as though they had just wrapped up their previous season or movie last week, (for which I do not want to include pictures because, again, I don’t want to give spoilers). And while Patrick Stewart gives it his all, I cannot honestly say the same for his fledgling crew. The new kids on the block were really hit and miss ranging from: not bad and establishing the groundwork for a new character, to first season Deanna Troi weeping, to awkwardly inappropriate and dulled affect.

I’m not suggesting that Picard is terrible or that you shouldn’t watch it. And there are lots of surprises which I don’t want to give away. But I am saying I was periodically disappointed. To be fair many of the Star Trek shows needed to get their first season under their belt before they hit their stride, mature their characters and improve their special effects – INCLUDING Star Trek: The Next Generation from which Picard originally sprung in 1987 .

But, to be blunt, as fond as I am of Patrick Stewart and as much as I respect his Shakespearean grounded acting ability, he is 89 years old. They don’t have time for a practice run if they’re going to get any traction with this show. I would hate to think this was Patrick Stewart’s last hurrah with Star Trek.

While almost any Star Trek is better than NO Star Trek, Star Trek: Picard could have been better.

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

Near the tip end of this season’s last episode, Picard collapses and dies from a brain anomaly in his parietal lobe, caused by Irumodic Syndrome first referenced in All Good Things (the ST: TNG finale). OK – ballsy move. So – Star Trek being what it is, and no one really dies if they’re super popular – they put Picard’s mind into a “golem” or super advanced android that looks like him (Is anyone surprised?) Great – fine and in keeping with the story line. BUT they explain that his new android body was given an algorithm to age and he will not have any more years than he otherwise would have.

No extra years?! This incredible new body and it’s given to Picard pre-aged like a pair of pre-distressed blue jeans??

Wait! WHAT? REALLY? On PURPOSE!? WHY?

Because, it is explained to Picard, they “knew” he would not want anything to change with the already 94 year old (character not Stewart) body he was used to. EXCUSE ME!? I think I would have put my android fist through his stupid face. Did they not think that maybe HE MIGHT want a few more years?

OK Back up. I understand the writers can NOT do that because Stewart really is old – 89 as I have said. So the fact Picard’s character has to stay old is a given. But they needed a better reason than THAT. Whoever came up with THAT dumb excuse should have been relegated to checking for typos in the script.

This is an unfortunate limit that would only be believable if it was forced on them by circumstance. How about they had no choice? Maybe something about how an extension of years would have taken adjustments in the algorithms already in the golem which they didn’t have time to accomplish because he was dying? Or they couldn’t add years because the golem was built for someone else and there were problems getting him IN the golem. How about an elf came along and held a phaser to their head to prevent them from adding extra years? ANYTHING but this bizarre rationale – that Picard was USED to his existing deteriorating body so they KNEW he wouldn’t want to make any changes……This is just a new level of casual bad writing and beneath the quality we expect from Star Trek. Hopefully they will do better in the future.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF MY ARTICLE BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING

I am kind of a homebody. I love staycations, contemplating a fire in our fireplace, watching a home movie and enjoying the ability to pause for a snack or bathroom break (even with TP being a growing scarcity), or just reading a book with a cat in my lap. BUT nothing makes me want to leave faster than being told I CAN’T leave. And our governor has decreed that there is now a MANDATORY requirement to VOLUNTARILY self isolate.  Putting aside the inherent oxymoron, I more than understand everyone else’s anxiety.

So I decided, rather than fret over this bizarre situation, to suggest a few movies about being stuck in one spot.

Now, as you peruse my choices, know that I am aware of other movies which might seem more obvious.

SPOILERS

Three I would NOT recommend at this time:

Saw invites a guy to hack his foot off.

Cast Away is an a-theized version of Robinson Crusoe. I’m not saying Cast Away openly advocates for an atheistic philosophy, but the original Robinson Crusoe, on which the writers draw heavily in concept, was about a spiritually damaged man who comes to realize his enforced isolation as Providence. Crusoe uses his time as an opportunity to rediscover his relationship with God. On the other hand Cast Away is just about Tom Hanks surviving on an island.

Buried is just too grim to talk about.

So without further ado these are what I think are five great movies that show BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING.

REAR WINDOW

This classic gem from Alfred Hitchcock stars the icon of cinema, Jimmy Stewart, in one of his historically memorable performances as a man with a broken leg, before the age of ubiquitous air conditioning, internet, cell phones or streaming movies, stuck in his apartment during a hot summer and bored out of his mind. The only things he has to occupy himself with are peeping at his neighbor across the way from his apartment and the occasional visits from his girlfriend Grace Kelly. Point of trivia and irony: One neighbor is played by Raymond Burr. Two years later Burr would become Perry Mason, the eponymous lead in an extremely popular courtroom drama TV show, in which this part brilliant lawyer part inquisitive detective, would weekly successfully and justly defend an innocent man who everyone else thinks guilty.

Stewart’s character peeps in on his neighbors and surmises from circumstantial evidence that Burr has murdered his wife. Getting anyone to believe him or prove it becomes a rather tall order as he is stuck in his apartment at a time long before the term handicapped access was even created.

The movie was later remade into a vehicle for the paralysed and wheelchair bound Chris Reeves, who, in an act of sheer inspiring determination, not only lead but, incredibly, directed the film. While I have not yet seen Superman’s version, it is on my bucket list.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE MIGHT HELP YOU SOLVE A MURDER!

APOLLO 13 (1995)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

This one has some profanity including blasphemy and a few instances of verbal sexual innuendo meant comically. Also, for those old enough to understand the jargon and circumstance, though the men involved face this grimmest of situations with calm and dignity, it is quite tense. So young teens at earliest, especially since younger crew who did not fully appreciate the gravity (or lack thereof) of the space hazards would likely get bored.

This is the telling of the historical and harrowing event which took place from April 11 through 17, 1970 known as the Apollo 13 mission, which was to have been the third lunar landing by the United States. When an oxygen tank catastrophically failed the mission parameters changed to simply trying to return the crew alive.

Even those familiar with the story will be on the edge of their seats as most of the movie is seen from inside the claustrophobically small cabin. Starring Tom Hanks (Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Sully, and many more terrific movies, many also biopics), Kevin Bacon (most famous for Footloose), Bill Paxton (Aliens, Twister), Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump) and Ed Harris (The Rock, The Right Stuff) – these men portrayed those who really DID have The Right Stuff with a courage, patriotism and dignity which helped a new generation understand why the space race is worth the risks we take.

BEING STUCK IN ONE  PLACE CAN HELP DEMONSTRATE THE COURAGE, DETERMINATION AND INGENUITY OF THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Appropriate for the whole family.

This is a wholesome and inspiring CLASSIC Disney movie based on the Pastor Johann David Wyss’ book about a family, anxious to start a new life in a far away home, who become shipwrecked on an island. The story is of their ingenious survival for a decade with reliance only on their faith in God, each other, and the abundance of raw resources of the uninhabited land far away from any known charts. They tame wild animals, rescue a fair damsel, fight pirates, build a multistory home, and conquer their environment with a plethora of ingenious inventions.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE WITH THOSE YOU LOVE TO CONQUER CHALLENGES CAN DEMONSTRATE YOUR STRENGTH AS A FAMILY

PASSENGERS

I know this movie has gotten a lot of flack over the years for lionizing Stockholm Syndrome and I might have agreed except for one thing:

SPOILERS

Jim gave Aurora an out. He repurposed a biobed into a cyro chamber for her.

I have a full review HERE.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Mid teens and up for mild profanities, some semi-comic bare buttocks, some stressful life threatening scenes, and an episode in which the main character becomes so depressed he contemplates suicide.

The story is about a colony ship that glitches 30 years into an 120 year trip leaving one passenger stranded and completely alone among hundreds of other people – who are all asleep in cryogenic chambers. Knowing he is condemned to die alone, after a year he becomes desperate and begins what can be looked at as a parable of marriage.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE CAN TEACH YOU A LOT ABOUT YOURSELF, BOTH GOOD AND BAD

AIRPLANE (1980)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

NOT FOR THE KIDDIES. Everything from bad language, fart jokes, crude humor and a pair of bare breasts almost LITERALLY thrown in for a moment JUST to achieve an R rating, it’s a classic but for adults only.

OK Let’s go full bore comedy here. This is the prince of parodies, the founder of funny, the superfilm of spoof. On the heels of a decade of airborne disaster melodramas, the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams wrote a movie which incorporated as many clichés, parodies, homages and pokes at this genre as they could possibly stuff into one film. Additionally it featured TV and cinematic legends like Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges (father of Jeff and Beau), Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver), and Leslie Neilsen, who had previously been primarily in serious roles, as well as a host of other very familiar faces from old movies and TV Land shows, NOT to mention the Zuckers and Abrahams, the writers. Especially for its time and place, especially for those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and/or were disaster movie afficianados, this was a recipe for rare hilarity. It also stands the test of time. Even if you don’t recognize any of the actors or references this will still tickle your funny bone with its outrageous dead pan deliveries, great timing, unexpected warping of clichés, and the wonderful actors totally committed to turning their comfort zones on their heads.

Many have tried to recapture this lightning in a bottle of mocking a very successful film genre, and many have met with a measure of success – Police Squad, Reno 911 (police TV shows), Disaster Movie (disaster movies), Vampires Suck (Twilight saga), Shaun of the Dead (zombies), Saturday the 14th (Friday the 13th), Spaceballs (Star Wars) –  even using and reusing Leslie Nielsen in some of the ventures. But Airplane was the grand daddy of them all – at least the ancestor with the most fame and clout for their efforts – leading the way with the guts to take on an established genre powerhouse and openly make fun of it.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE CAN BE JUST PLAIN OLD FUNNY

So enjoy your time at home. We usually never have enough of it.  And relish this, what I genuinely believe we will come to later understand as precious moments to:

Be alert, be brave, appreciate your family, learn something about yourself and…laugh.

I RETRACT MY RECOMMENDATION FOR PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF MY RECONSIDERED OPINION ON PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, WHICH WAS MENTIONED IN MY ARTICLE “IT’S NOT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE”

See this is what I get for recommending a movie before I finish watching the whole thing.

Not to take away any of the good things I said about the movie in my post “It’s Not the Zombie Apocalypse”. It is witty, stylish and probably the most entertaining version of P&P I’ve ever seen. Instead of falling asleep wondering idly if Darcy and Elizabeth will EVER get over their socially refined, ever so civil misunderstandings during a ball room dance (*snore*), we watch with bated breath to see if the social gathering will be disrupted by a zombie horde. We anticipate watching them yank out swords and go to town on the undead. Makes for FAR more interesting Austin.

BUT – I can not dismiss one very egregious scene. There are, at least for a while, a community of “civilized” zombies who manage to forestall the full-on mode zombie status by eating pig brains instead of human ones. OK Fine and good.

Elizabeth then witnesses the distribution of said pig brains in a perverse and blasphemous desecration of a Eucharistic ceremony!!! WITHOUT criticism!!!

This was totally unnecessary and offensive in the extreme, as well as either an obvious, or grotesquely clueless, dig at Christian beliefs in general and/or Catholic theology in particular. There was no need either logically or for the plot to include such a Satanic-imaged scene.

Had Elizabeth had, at least recoiled in horror at the sacreligious event, I might have a different opinion, but she takes it in stride, justifying it as part of the zombies’ attempt at staying human-ish.

As far as I can tell, from reading the book synopsis, this scene was not lifted from the source material. Had it been that would not have made the scene less offensive. But the fact it was NOT in the book (let me know if I’m wrong, just for accuracy’s sake) but gratuitously added to the movie makes it even worse.

In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade one of my favorite scenes includes a blasphemy spoken by Indiana (Harrison Ford) followed by a slap in the face from his father (Sean Connery) with an explanation: “THAT’S for blasphemy.” Were the sacriligious scene in P&P&Z evaluated with a similar response by the purportedly other Christian humans, I could have understood its inclusion to underline the evil of the organizing bad guy behind the “civilized” zombies.

But there was no such criticism of this blatant affront to Christian imagery, theology, beliefs or practice. It’s a real shame too, because other than this scene, it’s a unique, classy, and engaging outing.

So, unfortunately, for this reason I RETRACT MY RECOMMENDATION FOR PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES – I RECOMMEND THIS MOVIE BE BOYCOTTED UNTIL AND UNLESS THIS BLASPHEMOUS SCENE IS REMOVED.

NOT MY COUSIN VINNY, BUT MY COUSIN SCOTT, THE DISTRICT HEALTH DIRECTOR FOR THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH OFFERS GOOD OLD FASHIONED COMMON SENSE SUGGESTIONS

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION THE ARTICLE ON MY COUSIN SCOTT

My delightful cousin, Dr. Scott Spillmann, the District Health Director for the Virginia Department of Health, and one of my favorite people in the world, was interviewed a couple of times this March on a news show. While this is not exactly the kind of movie I normally review, it IS a video, it is certainly educational, and as I have been publishing a series of quarantine related posts, figured this was apropos.

If you want to watch the videos go HERE and HERE.

WHO SHOULD WATCH: EVERYONE. Scott is calm, informative and offers instructions full of prudence and wisdom. And as an added fillup there are NO: jump scares, profanities, or innuendoes.

SPOILERS

Here is the synopsis. During the most recent interview he made the following suggestions (Please NOTE: All picture editorials are my fault – see if you can name the movie they are from. Answers at the bottom.):

Be calm.

Wash your hands.

Exercise social distancing by keeping at least six feet apart.

Wash your hands.

Sneeze or cough into something disposable and throw it away.

Wash your hands.

A zebra is not a horse. If you have seasonal allergies and start to sneeze when you go outside don’t panic. It’s probably your allergies.

Wash your hands.

If you are truly concerned contact your favorite doctor before heading to an emergency room.

Wash your hands.

Use this opportunity to initiate cleaning projects at home.

Wash your hands.

Be kind to each other.

And…Wash your hands.

ANSWERS in order of picture appearance: Armageddon, Cool Hand Luke, Lion in Winter, Batman: The Dark Knight, I Robot, The Aviator, Madagascar, Shrek 2, The Incredibles, Tom Baker as Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi as a WHO doctor in World War Z mere months before he became Dr. Who, Peter Davison as Doctor Who, Christopher Eccleston as Doctor Who, John Hurt as Doctor Who, David Tennant as Doctor Who, Colin Baker as Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy as Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who, Matt Smith as Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who, As Good As It Gets, As Good As It Gets, Jumanji 1995, Mrs. Doubtfire, Guardians of the Galaxy, Monsters, Inc., The Shape of Water, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Doctor Strange, Aquaman, Mr. Bean.