ARSENIC AND OLD LACE – A DELIGHTFUL COMEDY OF TERRORS AT OUR OWN LAKE CHARLES, LA ACTS THEATRE

 

 

 

 

The Addams Family was an endearing bunch of creepy oddballs. Appearing like zombies, witches and vampires they were actually a loving Mom, Dad, kids and extended family of rich and philanthropic homeschoolers.

The family of Queen Eleanor and King Henry II, in the classic Lion in Winter were not so companionable, and battled continuously with each other throughout the play. Different members bond with, then betray, each other, jockeying for power, land, revenge, attention, or love. At the end of a particularly vicious argument with her husband, Eleanor, left sitting on the floor in the doorway, gathers herself together and to self-console muses: "Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?"

The Guardians of the Galaxy is a band of violent and ethically questionable outlaws and vigilantes who come together as a family unit in part to (re)raise Groot, who is a sentient tree. (See my review on that one here .)

NONE of them have anything on the Brewsters.

The premise of Arsenic and Old Lace is that Mortimer, a once cynical-of-romance theater critic, now totally smitten and freshly engaged to Elaine, the girl next door, goes to his sweet, loving, maiden aunts’ home for a visit and to break the good news.

In residence is his adorable Uncle Teddy, who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt, periodically charging up the stairs he knows as San Juan Hill and digging grave sized locks in the basement, which he thinks is the Panama Canal. Hovering in the background is the ominous, but so far absent, other brother, Jonathan. And so the stage is literally set for this very black and very funny slapstick comedy about a family which would put the Guardians on alert, make the Addams Family startle, and have both Henry and Eleanor running for cover. Bodies pile up and are switched like the plates of tuna in Noises Off or the suitcases from What’s Up Doc, identities are hidden and a good time is ultimately had by all…except for the corpses…in Arsenic and Old Lace.

I hesitate to say more for the benefit of those readers who have not seen either the play or the brilliant 1944 movie directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant. If you don’t know the story it is just too delightful to spoil. If you do know some of the details then it will be like going back for seconds of your favorite ice cream.

Clay Hebert, the director and Officer Klein, is a familiar and welcome face from every stage Lake Charles offers. He has a resume which spans from McNeese's Theater to ACTS, and from Lake Charles Little Theatre to the Bayou Players and independent film productions all over Lake Charles. Clay artfully guides this fairly large cast through the quick draw and fast paced humor of Arsenic, which is to comedy what very dark and deliciously bitter semi-sweet morsels are to chocolate chip cookies, skillfully leading his troupe over that tightrope between horror and humor.

Louis Barrilleaux, another talented veteran of ACTS, LCLT and McNeese for over 20 years, is Mortimer, the eye around which this storm circulates.

Kelly Rowland and Sarah Broussard, respectively as Martha and Abbey Brewster, age themselves convincingly 50 years to play Mortimer’s adorably naive and unassuming aunts whose home is the site for some rather….unexpected events. Both ladies have degrees in performance, Kelly in music and Sarah in theater, with a wide and diverse range of acting credits.

Rebecca Harris, an actress with an impressive resume, is Mortimer’s confused but stalwart fiancee.

Aaron Webster, a self-described reluctant actor, is eminently creepy as Jonathan, the ne'er-do-well prodigal brother.

Brahnsen Lopez, another stage veteran, plays Jonathan’s would-be repentant colleague, Dr. Einstein (not Albert).

Matt Dye, local radio personality and frequently cast in small but scene stealing roles, does it again as Teddy.

Mark Hebert, Dusty Duffy, Dylan Conley and Kathy Heath round out the cast with memorable supporting characters.

 

The set is terrific, creating the authentically homey, gentle parlor of two elderly aunts, making the sinister events all the funnier for the contrast, complete with two sets of stairs and a landing up and through which Teddy has the freedom to charge with abandon, a window seat which can house…various and sundry… and French doors through which the characters are free to pop in and out.

I was privileged to interview Diki Jines, master electrician on the set and will have his interview clips up shortly below, talking about the set, its design and a little background.

Timing and blocking are very key, especially in this comedy of terrors and Clay has the tempo and coordinated actions and responses wound like a Swiss Cuckoo clockwork.

It’s a joy to watch a stage full of such talented veterans work smoothly together, and the fact most are old friends and/or fellow thespians, who have trod the boards often together, helps catalyze the chemistry that makes this play full of intimately connected characters work. These performers know each others’ rhythms and make the most of their considerable pool of experience to bring us a delightful evening of fun and fright, chills and chuckles, comedy and carnage, shocks and snickers, jocularity and jump scares.

So go warm up — or chill out — in anticipation of Halloween at ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. But be sure to BYOW. (Bring your own wine.)

BUY TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (337) 433-2287

FORGET TEAM CAP VERSUS TEAM IRON MAN – ARE YOU TEAM AVENGERS OR…TEAM THANOS?

SHORT TAKE:

Amazing Part One of the two part Marvel culmination of 10 years, 19 movies, and 3.5 BILLION dollars spent exploring the Superhero Universe.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone old enough to have seen the previous Marvel movies. There is no inappropriate sexual activity and the language is kept to a few mild profanities – with the exception of a "reference" to a raw word and "only" the first part of Samuel L Jackson’s now "signature" choice of obscenity. There is a LOT of cartoon violence, with some sudden and brutal deaths of humanoids but without any graphic displays of gore. There ARE some gory deaths but of monster "critters". So roughly, "tweens" and up – but parents, please, check it out yourself before taking the younger and those especially sensitive to emotional scenes.

LONG TAKE:

First, did you know that EVERYONE on the planet could live in Texas? If you want to know why I ask that, read through to the latter part of this review.

SPOILER FREE PORTION:

The premise is that all of the super heroes from the Marvel Universe assemble to fight a Universe-sized threat, Thanos, played by Josh Brolin.  Brolin's villain gives as good as he gets. His is not a caricature but a legitimate character with his own motivations and goals. Brolin is an excellent actor, featuring not only here but as Cable in another upcoming Marvel movie, Deadpool 2, from what has been "dubbed" the R (for R rated) Marvel division. Just for the record, my favorite of Brolin's roles has nothing to do with Marvel, but is a Cohen Brothers movie – Hail Caeser!, the loving homage comedy about the '50's and '60's era Hollywood. In Hail, Caesar! Brolin plays a faith filled decent man simply trying his desperate best to keep the studio for which he works from self destructing. In Infinity War Brolin's role is quite the opposite on all points. 

Avengers: Infinity War is NOT your average Marvel movie. This is an extraordinary achievement and a unique historic cinematic accomplishment. This studio has invested ten years, and billions of dollars to fund 19 movies all revolving, like a galaxy unto itself, around this centerpoint in which most every major hero and several villains who have graced a Marvel movie appears.

Because I am a BIG fan of superheroes, I could never tell which was Marvel and which DC. My kids were constantly chiding me for getting them confused. Not any more. Aside from Antman and Hawkeye, who are signed up for Avengers 4, pretty much every major and medium Marvel superhero you’ve seen in the last 18 movies is in this one. So if they are not in Infinity War, they are not Marvel.

This is also probably the most spoiler vulnerable movie I have ever reviewed – if not ever SEEN. Tom Holland, who plays the most recent and the absolutely best incarnation of Spiderman, is notorious for giving away spoilers, so they had to send Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange) with him on the interview circuit to verbally intercept. The interview I heard demonstrated this, as the interviewer asked Holland what it was like to work with the Guardians of the Galaxy group. As Holland opened his mouth, Cumberbatch jumped in with a good natured and comical set of static imitations and Holland snapped quiet immediately. You see, Infinity War takes place all OVER the galaxy. Different planets, different locales with different groups, so even saying whether or not you were part of a group or made it to a particular planet could give away CRUCIAL details you don’t want to know before watching.

The special effects are spectacular. From the brightly lit super technology of Wakanda, to the dark interiors of Thor’s Asgardian ship, from the humorous "body language" of Dr. Strange’s cape to the viciously feral attack "dogs" brought by Thanos’ henchmen, the details are lovingly layered and conveyed to manifest a beautiful, frightening, stunning and very believable world.

The acting is terrific. These characters, even and especially those who are later versions – like Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk and Holland’s Spiderman – have truly made these characters their own. Newbies to the group like Boseman's T'Challa and Gillian's Nebula have fit in seamlessly. Others, like Johannson’s Black Widow and Evans’ Captain America, move in these skins so comfortably that, on screen, they ARE those characters – irreplacably …… at least for the next generation or two. Most of these actors have been working on these Marvel films together for over 10 years. So when I say the chemistry amongst them comes very naturally and it seems as though they have known each other for a very long time, it is because they HAVE.

Downey’s Stark and Jackson’s Fury, for example, go all the way back to the very first Marvel Easter egg in 2008's Iron Man.

The interplay of emotions between the different dramatis personae have such long and complexly interwoven backstories that the actors now have the theatrical palette to approach every conversation with subtle intimacy of long acquaintance – like old married couples or childhood friends, college roommates or combat buddies – even if the couples have divorced or the friends have had a falling out.

It’s not surprising that the quality of the writing is excellent because Christopher Mankus and Stephen McFeely’s pedigrees, between the two of them, include all three Captain Americas and the Narnia movies. These are writers who know how to work with a large ensemble of characters, using intelligent, even heightened, language with humor and a core sense of morality, instilling in their creations’ dialogues an irrefutable understanding of what is right and what is wrong.

And since I have mentioned it – one of the things I think shines out beautifully in this script is the unspoken, undiscussed assumption that there IS a right and a wrong. There are some points on which there IS no gray area – nor should be. The heros in Infinity War do not really care about Thanos’ motivations, nor do they care to engage in an intellectually elite roundtable discussion on the pros and cons of his plan. They do not even care if Thanos is correct. All they know is that what Thanos is DOING is WRONG and evil. That there IS a good and bad in the Universe and that no amount of situational ethics or moral relativity can justify it. What Thanos wants to do is BAD, end of debate. And they will do everything in their power to stop him. Because what he is trying to do is, prima facie, EVIL. They don’t even need to talk about it and it is not even brought up, but the rightness of the cause for which the heros fight is a constant background hum against which they measure their every conversation and every plan.

Some condemn super hero movies as formulaic or repetitive. But the moral compass with which these extraordinary and idealized men and women sail NEEDS to be reiterated, especially, now, as often as we have breath.

And, again, without spoilers, it shines through in our heroes. Revelations are to be had about Thanos’ plans and reasons behind them. He is made an understandable, if not sympathetic character and his reasons, to him, seem logical. And if you want to know what they are and what Texas has to do with it – continue reading.

SPOILER – BUT ONLY OF THANOS’ MOTIVATION

Did you know that everyone on the planet could live in Texas?

To explain this I need to warn you of one spoiler – but ONLY A SPOILER OF MOTIVATION – not of what happens to anyone.

The battle plans of Thanos, the big blue bad guy hovering on a throne since the Easter Egg at the end of 2011's Thor, should be no surprise anyway – his very name means DEATH. Thanos plans to kill half of every sentient creature in the Universe. Why?! Because – he actually says – he thinks the Universe has finite resources. Therefore, he reasons that to allow half of the universe to live with "full bellies" and to keep the worlds from being over harvested, over mined, over used – half of everyone should be randomly chosen to die. He claims to have saved Gamora’s planet by doing this and that his planet of Titan was reduced to a lifeless waste because this was not done. He sees himself as a hero who the Universe will later thank.

If this idea sounds familiar, it is because it should. It is in the mission statement of every population control, zero population growth, global warming, and pro-abortion organization that has crept in out of the cracks in our moral fabric over the last 100 years. The likes of The Sierra Club, Green Peace, Planned Parenthood, Zero Population Growth, many of the U.N. proposals, Stop Population Growth Now, Church of Euthanasia (shockingly it really is a thing), Center for Biologic Diversity, Captain Planet, and hundreds of others, were all either conceived or co-opted by people who would align themselves with the evilly misconceived (if you’ll excuse the pun) idea that ……human life is bad.

If you swallow the propaganda that there are "too many" people, then the logical conclusion would be to have fewer of them. This means either ones here should die (assisted suicide and Dr. Kevorkian), those that are sick or disabled should be denied assistance that would prolong their lives (eugenics/Hitler’s Holocaust, "death with dignity," Terry Schiavo, Charlie Gard, Isaiah Haastrup, and Alfie Evans – the latter four all murdered in either the U.S. or U.K. against their parents’ wishes because they were assessed by the courts as too inconvenient to live), or that future generations should be deliberately truncated (abortion and birth control).

If you believe there are "too many" people on Earth, then you have to side with Thanos – so put on your subservient face and get your lottery ticket from him.

Thanos never considers the possibility that, even were what he says is true now, that the creativity and intelligence and energy of the amazing minds against whom he fights could be better used to find ways to feed and comfort multiple times the number of people in existence. The technology available a thousand years ago could feed and clothe and shelter only a tiny fraction of those we can feed and clothe and shelter now using the same resources. Everything from antibiotics to sprinkler systems to knowledge of crop rotation and hydroponics makes increased production a no brainer.

This, of course, begs the question that every human life is a valuable, irreplacable gift from God which must not be discarded no matter the rationalization for it. That the moral imperative of humans should be that innocent life must be protected.

This also disregards the fact that what has been proposed by these population control advocates is merely a global sized pile of what Harry Truman might only refer to in polite company as….manure.

But did you know that everyone on Earth could fit into Texas?

I’m going to throw some numbers at you to demonstrate this, but to give you an aim to where I am headed: Everyone on the entire planet Earth could theoretically live in families of four in houses four times as large as the average house in England and ALL still fit into the State of Texas?

The current Earth population is 7.6 billion. The State of Texas land mass is roughly 7.5 TRILLION square feet. If you placed the world population into groups of four people each, this would give you 1.9 billion groups. If you assigned the square feet out evenly amongst those groups, each group could have a minimum of 3,947 square feet to call their own.

The average sized plot of land on which a British home rests is the same size. The average home in England is only 915 square feet.  The average New York apartment high rise contains only 750 square feet.  But without having to endure cramped high rise life, everyone could, theoretically, live in a Harry Potter-type suburban area like this real one shown here from a satellite photo of Barton Le Clay.

Support areas such as roads, hospitals, schools, stores, business areas, even recreation centers such as parks, hotels, restaurants, ice cream parlors, old fashioned libraries and community swimming pools could GENEROUSLY be accommodated by about nine times the area needed to accommodate the homes.

The tally of the world’s only needed suburban area plus the support structures could handily be fit into 2.7 million square miles. There are 2.9 million square miles just in the lower 48 states of the United states.

The world’s only suburb could be fit into Texas.  The world’s only city could fit over the contiguous portions of the U.S.A. with considerable room to spare.

Keep in mind, were this to happen, the rest of the world would be completely and totally people free. India – uninhabited, China – zero, Russia – vacant, Europe – no one, England – empty, Australia – deserted.

This doesn’t EVEN take into account the possibility of ingeniously designed floating cities.

Of course, no one is suggesting we all move into the confines of the US. But to offer perspective, this World City could be fit into but HALF of Europe. Or less than a third of Russia. Or Australia, which is about the same size as the contiguous part of the U.S., WITH room to spare. And note how incredibly much land mass is left in the world – laughably vast stretches of thereby uninhabited areas would remain "people free" if we all just suburbed ourselves to Australia in neat little homes and their support buildings. The room we take up would be about 2.7 million square miles. The planet’s surface is 196 MILLION SQUARE MILES! 57 million is land mass.

So – those who propose to eliminate any of our human brethren for the sake of global overpopulation are planning genocide on bad information.

IN CONCLUSION:

A profound question arises from a bunch of comic book characters in a brilliant analogy to a real life monstrous philosophy seeking to crush out human life – all for the sake of a lie.

So I ask you again as you go to see this brilliant best that Marvel has to offer – Are you Team Avengers or….Team Thanos?

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – IT’S…STAR WARS. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT???

 

Have you ever gone into your parents’ attic, rummaged around and found an old favorite toy – a Teddy bear, a plastic sword, a doll house or an old board game? Suddenly you are flooded with the warm fuzzy nostalgia of childhood and the uncomplicated excitement of an anticipated adventure with like minded companions.

In a slightly different scenario, but one which will tie in to the previous analogy, have you ever been to a foreign country which had a McDonald’s? Amidst all of the unfamiliar occasionally unidentifiable store front names, the Golden Arches stands out like a beacon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you go – if there is a McDonald’s, even with a variety of specials particular to the indigenous population, you will still be able to get the same Big Mac in Lesieux, France that you could get in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin or Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Sitting in a dark theater as the simple words “A long ago time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen in deliberate graphic print quality circa 1977 followed by the signature trumpet Star Wars fanfare I couldn’t help but laugh in delight. Now 58, when Star Wars first came out I was 18 years old. As I have repeated in my own cautionary refrain many times to my children – the only reason an 18 year old is now considered a legal adult is because of the Vietnam War. In short, when Star Wars premiered I was still a child.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, arrived on the screen 40 years 6 months and 20 days after the premiere of Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope much to the confusion of many inasmuch as there was no Episode 1, 2 or 3 for many years to come) but who’s counting, right?

During that time we have watched Luke and Leia   be born, grow up, and grow old. Many of us have grown up and grown older right along with them.

How does this all tie in? Simply.   Star Wars doesn’t change. Despite the moderate improvements in special effects the world of Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda and Darth Vader, Emperor Pallapatine and the Cantina on Tatooine is the same now as it was when we were all much much younger. A few of the trimmings might be tweaked but it’s still the same Star Wars I came to love fresh out of high school.

Like the dusty rediscovered Teddy Bear or the Big Mac purchased in Tokyo, the opening scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi are familiar territory to those of us who have tread these paths for 40 plus years of 7 movies, dozens of Halloween Vader masks, uncountable action figures, Youtube analyses, spoofs, comic books, Yoda backpacks, Millenium Falcon bed sheets, fanzines, shipping theories and both canon and non-canon books. This is not strictly speaking a negative thing. Nor is it a criticism, any more than someone who is fond of vanilla ice cream might note that there is a gallon or two of Blue Belle in the freezer.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi breaks very little new ground, does not further the conflict between the dark and light sides of the Force much, or do more than mildly massage the dynamics of the characters we have come to know and love. Even those coming later to the party like Rey (Daisy “Murder on the Orient Express” Ridley), Finn (John Boyega reprising his role from The Force Awakens) and Poe (Oscar Isaac – the only really good thing in Suburbicon) fall into step with their predecessors – Luke, Leia and Han.

MAJOR SPOILER FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NOT SEEN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

The entire gang is here minus the significantly notable (and I continue the debate with my kids as to whether or no it was entirely unnecessary) exception of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Mark Hamill is the aging Luke Skywalker, Anthony Daniels is C3PO, Frank Oz voices Yoda, and Peter Mayhew continues as Chewbacca. Princess Leia, too, has a major role to play, even though, ironically, the actress who played her, Carrie Fisher, has in fact, actually passed away. (Hail the bizarre technology of CGI which enhanced Ms. Fisher’s last screen moments into a fully fleshed out part.)

The premise of Last Jedi is that Rey, the street urchin who discovered her powerful Force sensitivity in the previous Force Awakens, tries to get an extremely reluctant, jaded and worn out Luke to rejoin the fight against the Empire. At the same time the last remnants of the rebel forces attempt to escape the pursuing clutches of the Imperial Fleet directed by Emperor Snoke (Andy Serkis) and lead by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), in a caricature of evil Nazi-like officer. Hux seems to have, through a kind of Peter Principle, risen through the ranks to the limits of his capabilities, probably because of the attrition resulting from the execution of previous failed commanders. This is a source of mild amusement to the audience.

Which brings us to the one singular added refreshing ingredient to this familiar but very welcome recipe – the sense of humor which has been incorporated into the characters. There has always been an element of comedy – mostly the droids banter and the snarky comments from Han. But for the most part the other characters were straight men. Now, with a certain seasoning, they have allowed characters like Luke to include a few one liners and humorous moments. guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-1366x768-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-6474It seems that Guardians of the Galaxy has set the Gold Standard of humor, converting the likes of the Thor franchise from an almost medieval melodramatic fraternal conflict to a sibling rivalry which occasionally plants tongue firmly in cheek and wisely no longer takes itself too seriously, throwing in moments which might otherwise be considered bloopers. Star Wars has reaped the benefits of this informant as well, levitating the mood in much needed relief from its darker more sinister moments.

All in all Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows there’s plenty of steam left in this railroad or should I say fluff in this Teddy bear.

In short Star Wars: The Last Jedi is………Star Wars. And I wouldn’t want them to change a thing.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 – STRANGEST HOMESCHOOLING FAMILY… EVER

Every homeschooling family is unique. Some raise farm animals. Some attend symphony concerts. Some are heavily into sports. And one —– saves the galaxy. And most important to the homeschool family is — the father. I’ve said this before in other blogs, but I am happy to have the opportunity to say it again: A father (or father figure) in a family is irreplaceable and essential to a child’s development unless you want that child SERIOUSLY screwed up. No movie of recent history exemplifies this point more than the most recent Guardians of the Galaxy installment. I get that some families must persevere without a father – BUT given the vital role a father has in the home it is imperative that fatherless homes finds a wholesome father figure role model – brother, grandfather, priest, friend. Someone who can be turned to for counsel and, when needs be, protection.

While Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is one of the most entertaining movies I have seen in a long time, there are serious underlying themes.

Please understand that the analysis below of the rather sobering themes explored in Guardians is not meant to imply that this is not a fun, funny, uplifting romp of a movie. I know the expression “feel good film” is more overused than “blockbuster” but you really WILL feel good when you come out. The movie is comedic, warm, and friendly, though a BIT too mature for the under 13 crowd. The violence is extensive but cartoonish and richly deserved by the recipients. No one takes themselves too seriously and tongue is planted firmly in cheek. I mean, how can you miss it when one of the characters is named EGO.

BEYOND HERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!! FOR BOTH GUARDIANS!!!

I hate giving spoilers, so if you haven’t seen either of the Guardians movies wait to read this blog. But in order to do justice to the analysis of Guardians I have to get into spoiler-detail territory. If you continue – well, you’ve been warned. In addition, some of my comments rely on some short hand which only those who have seen the films will fully get.

On the homeschooling issue – it would have been easy to justify placing Baby Groot (YES! Still voiced by Vin Diesel) in some kind of protective custody environment. The hazards routinely taken by Baby Groot’s family of risk taking super hero parent/sibling models would have given the willies to the Flying Wallendas. Instead they work together to provide for the needs of Baby Groot, to nurture, protect and teach him all the while carrying on with killing scary critters and taking on fleets of homicidal bad guys. No one will watch your child the way you do. Your child is safer with you in a hazardous situation than they are with paid strangers in a “safe” environment.

And integral to the successful homeschooling home, ideally, is the father.

The importance of a good father in the healthy upbringing of a child is featured in this Guardians sequel both for daughters as well as sons. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is “kidnapped” (and I’ll explain the quotes shortly) by Yondu (Michael Rooker) instead of returned to Peter’s appropriately named father, Ego, as Yondu had been paid to do. And so Peter was raised without his biological father. Ego, (Kurt Russell) presents himself to Peter, first, as a loving father, happily and finally reunited with the son he was denied by Yondu. In fact Ego has deliberately “seeded” himself both physically into the various planets he has visited as well as bred with many species across the galaxy in order to come up with the perfect child with which he can eliminate all life forms other than himself. He justifies this because he, himself, as far as he could tell, just “popped” into existence and has been traveling around, aimlessly, for millions of years – much like V-Ger in the first Star Trek movie, gaining a lot of knowledge but, it seems, very little wisdom. And with almost limitless power but without the guidance of a good father, Ego has become the embodiment of his name.

After thousands, or perhaps even millions, of attempts, Peter is Ego’s first progeny who is able to share Ego’s abilities. The others were killed in the trial process or murdered and discarded – we are never made clear on this creepy point. And – to make Ego even more evil – in order to stay true to his own perverted course, to sever all ties to anything which might distract him, he murders Peter’s mother by deliberately placing the tumor in her brain that kills her.

So – this heartless, selfish, sensualist alien playboys himself around the universe, wooing women in order to bed them, impregnating them, then abandons them and abuses the children. If this sounds more familiar than it should it’s because it is the repetitious refrain of almost every domestic abuse scenario in pretty much every single daily paper we read. While the story in Guardians is glamored up with a lot of extremely fun sci fi, that is exactly what happens. Boyfriend (not husband, mind you), impregnates a woman then returns, if at all, only to abuse the child and batter then kill the mother. While Ego doesn’t beat Peter’s mother, I would say that infesting her with a brain tumor definitely qualifies as battery.

It is interesting that the character of Ego is played by Kurt Russell, an actor who made his name as a child actor portraying family friendly, father supported characters. In all his cinematic years he seems to know how to demonstrate the need for a good father by showing us one with no fatherly attributes.   

Ironically Ego is seeking “meaning” to his life. And cleverly, Peter expresses the thought about Gamora and Yondu that: “Sometimes the thing you want most is right next to you all the time.” The meaning Ego seeks he had found in Quill’s mother and the children he had bred. But he rejected all of them to serve is own enormous —– Ego.

Meanwhile, the sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who also plays Uhura in the Star Trek reboot) and Nebula (Karen Gillian, unrecognizable under all the cybernetics from her stint as Amy Pond in the Matt Smith incarnation of Dr. Who Duke it out both physically and verbally until it is revealed that Nebula’s cyborg implants are the result of her losses to Gamora in fights when they were children. Every time she was defeated by Gamora in the combats set up by their father, Thanos, he would perform grisly replacement surgeries on her – arm, spine, eye – purportedly to make her stronger. Once again, the warped relationship with the father mangles these women physically and emotionally, pitting them against each other in a twisted desire to glorify himself under the guise of “strengthening” them.

Once again, it all comes down to the father.

And if this weren’t enough, both Yondu and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) admit to each other that they were betrayed by THEIR “father figures” – Yondu by his parents who sold him into slavery and Rocket by those who created him only to torture him with genetic engineering. Rocket is another example, like Gamora and Nebula, of parent figures who try to warp their “child” into images of themselves. Yondu is another example of the abandoned child.

In the course of the film it is explained that Yondu did not kidnap Peter but, like a reformed abortionist, could no longer stomach what was happening to the children he was delivering to Ego and decided to take Peter as his own, hide him from Ego and raise him the best way he knew how. Being a pirate that fathering took some unusual turns but it is made clearly evident that Peter was, indeed, the recipient of some solid mentoring and fathering, given the hero he becomes.

As another counter to Ego’s bad father example, Drax nostalgically grieves for the daughter he has lost. And then there is Groot – who steals EVERY-SINGLE-SCENE he is in. Every member of the crew functions in a parental or sibling way. Peter tells him to put on his seat belt before going into combat, Gamora cautions him to get out of the way during a firefight then humors him with a smile and wave. Drax and Rocket carry him on their shoulders, Rocket offers everything he has to the pirates who kidnap them just to ensure Groot’s survival, yet in other scenes Rocket listens carefully while Groot explains the origin of his discomfort with people who wear hats – all during a prison break, then later Rocket warns Groot that they will have to work on Groot’s tendency to use bad language (which we, of course, never hear because all he says are inflected variations of “I am Groot”). Groot’s healthy nurturing is underlined again in one of the post-credit scenes where Peter confronts a surly now-teenaged Groot sulking in his room with a computer game and Peter quips: “Now I know how Yondu felt,” acknowledging both his recognition of Yondu as his real father and the frustration of every parent at some point in the relationship between parent and adolescent child. These guys all demonstrate the importance of “being there” at the opportune moments in a child’s life when they need to be heard or chastized or sheltered or comforted or just held. And these moments are lost when a child is institutionally schooled.

This is the most eccentric homeschooling family since Gomez and Morticia decided that Wednesday and Pugsly weren’t getting the background important to the Aadams’ family traditions. But Groot — well —- blossoms (pun intended) beautifully under the care of the Guardians.

So, basically, what we have with Guardians is a super entertaining action adventure sci fi covering up a yin and yan of parenting and showing an unusual but thriving homeschool family. On the one hand you have the archetypal examples of bad father figures, represented by Ego and Thanos, who use their children instead of love them. On the other you have good parenting of the Guardians, who, ironically, represent almost every example of victims of bad parenting: abandoned, orphaned, abused, neglected, and used as extensions of their parents’ “Egos”, each of our crew has issues but rise above them to do their best to parent — Groot.

Yondu does his best to be a father substitute to Peter and makes the ultimate parental sacrifice of his life. Drax was brutally stripped of his children but becomes a protector to the other Guardians. All the abused children, from Yondu to Rocket, step up to do a better job with Groot, the child with which Fate has entrusted them. And we know Groot is in good hands because of the way they interact with him. One example of this bond is that the crew, despite the fact all Groot ever says is “I am Groot,” understands exactly, often in complex detail, what Groot is saying.

And this is what makes Guardians more than just another fun but forgettable adventure flick. The Guardians of the Galaxy are wonderful examples of how we can each do our own part to save the galaxy – one child at a time.