WHAT TO WATCH WHILE WEATHERING THE WUHAN —–

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION FOR MY ARTICLE: “WHAT TO WATCH WHILE WEATHERING THE WUHAN”

BEFORE WE START – GO WASH YOUR HANDS!!!

Then – I offer you two thoughts.

#1 Whenever faced with an anxiety provoking situation I ask myself: What’s the worse thing that could happen? The answer usually does not warrant my initial visceral knee jerk to whatever the problem at hand is, and it makes me realize I’m overreacting. In short – I tend to be a worry wart and freak out if I let my emotions get the better of me.

#2 Disaster movies are great fun for a number of reasons. (READ Cataclysm as Marital Therapy). But the most relevant reason for this article is: perspective. Having to grit your teeth through another boring meeting at work seems like a paid holiday if you remember you don’t have genocidal aliens hovering in mile wide spaceships over your building waiting for the right moment to incinerate you (“Time’s up” Independence Day). Dealing with a flat tire isn’t so bad when you note you can do it while making all the noise you want without fear of attracting killer monsters (A Quiet Place). Watching a disaster movie can help one embrace the philosophy: “I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

So given these two thoughts and while we’re all being denied: church services, sporting events, movie theaters, parties, festivals, and hugs, I give you:

FOUR MOVIES TO WATCH WHILE WILING AWAY THE WEEKS WAITING TO WEATHER THE WUHAN

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971)

One of my all time favorites. Understated and steeped in extrapolated current science fact, the story, based on the book by Michael Crichton, revolves around, not action heroes, but scientists at the top of their fields who tackle an unknown disease which turns blood to powder in moments. Arthur Hill is Dr. Jeremy Stone, expert bacteriologist and government attache who knows of certain hidden agendas. David Wayne is Charles Dutton, pragmatic and old school pathologist who always reminded me of Dr. McCoy. Kate Reid is Ruth Leavitt, curmudgeonly microbiologist with a secret that could endanger the team’s progress. James Olson is James Hall, slightly geeky surgeon, who you could easily believe spent a lot of his teen years playing Dungeons and Dragons. These people were no one’s idea of Avengers but worked as a team against time and an extraterrestrial virus which could cause global cataclysm.

Compared to The Andromeda Strain, the Wuhan is a wimp.

CONTAGION (2011)

Talk about jumping off today’s headlines! Contagion is a movie by Steven Soderburgh whose structure is much like Paul Haggis’ Crash! with multiple storylines woven, like a crocheted serviette, around a central issue which come together to form a whole picture. This movie is chock a block with familiar faces: Matt Damon (Bourne “fill in blank with a variety of nouns”, Good Will Hunting), Kate Winslet (Titanic, Hamlet), Gwenyth Paltrow (in so many Marvel movies with Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man they finally broke down and gave her her own suit, Sliding Doors), Elliot Gould (M*A*S*H, Oceans’ 11, 12, 13, and 8), Jude Law (Fantastic Beasts, Captain Marvel), Laurence Fishburne (Othello, Matrix), Marion Cottillard (Nine, MacBeth), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Argo), Chin Han (Dark Knight, 2012).

Paltrow is patient zero of a pandemic which has jumped animal DNA from bat to human to become a brain eating, lung congester which kills pretty much every victim we see within 2 days of showing the first flu-like symptoms.

Compared to the bug in Contagion, the Wuhan is a wussy.

OUTBREAK (1995 )

In one of the more formulaic thrillers, we have: the legendary Dustin Hoffman of MANY classic movies (Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, Finding Neverland, Tootsie, Rain Man, The Graduate, Marathon Man, Lenny, Papillon, Hero … *whew*), Rene Russo (Lethal Weapon), the disgraced Kevin Spacey, Cuba “Show me the money!” Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire), Donald Sutherland (with a list of 194 credits he’s been in everything from the slapstick Start the Revolution Without Me to Pride and Prejudice), and the ubiquitous Morgan Freeman (Batman, Shawshank Redemption, Bruce Almighty) all struggle to contain an Ebola-like virus which originated in an African jungle, but, through a series of mishaps, infects the town of Cedar Creek, CA. Our intrepid heroes are hampered in their effort to find a cure by forces which want to retrieve the virus so they can turn it into a bioweapon and incinerate the infected town, ostensibly to prevent its spread, but in truth to hide their nefarious plans.

Compared to the buggie in Outbreak, the Wuhan is a weakling, with the added fillip that no one is planning to nuke any towns to get rid of it.

THE STAND (1994)

Done as a miniseries, the book was far better BUT, like Contagion, there is a legion of distinguished standards of both large and small screens as well as theater who ensemble their way through this 6 hour and one minute marathon. Look them up on us.imdb.com and enjoy some of these classic actors’ iconic roles: Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13), Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink), Jamey Sheridan (Sully), Lara San Giacomo (Pretty Woman), the multi-talented stage and film legend Ruby Dee (The Jackie Robinson Story, Raisin in the Sun), another legend Ossie Davis (one of the kings of 1950’s and 1960’s American TV shows from Car 54 Where are You? to Night Gallery, plus films ranging from Do the Right Thing to Grumpy Old Men), Matt (Max Headroom) Frewer, Rob Lowe (The Orville, Saint Elmo’s Fire), Ray (My Favorite Martian) Walston, Ed Harris (The Rock, A Beautiful Mind), Kathy Bates (The Blind Side, Richard Jewell).

The Stand also has a unique twist – after the plague has swept through the world and humanity’s remnants are just starting to put their lives and a fledgling new civilization back together, God and the Devil begin a competition for their souls.

The source book, especially, presents a surprisingly complex and extensive examination of extreme medical phenomena, societal structures, theology, and the internal and external struggles every man faces in choosing between good and evil.

The miniseries begins with an Apocalypse level virus, nicknamed Captain Trips, which wipes out 999 out of every thousand people around the world. In the aftermath, the survivors become the unwilling soldiers in a battle between Hell, represented by Randall Flagg, who sets up shop, appropriately in Las Vegas, NV, and God, represented by Mother Abigail Freemantle, who leads her flock to Boulder, Colorado.

Although the acting is not of uniform quality, many of these veteran character performers, like Sinise, Dee and Davis, shine above the awkwardly truncated story and pedestrian technicals. The soundtrack, by the gifted and prolific Snuffy Walden, has a charming midwestern Americana feel.  

The movie even occasionally uses homages to classic literature such as Of Mice and Men.

Compared to Captain Trips, not only is the Wuhan a walk in the park, it’s a stroll you can take without the incarnation of the Devil himself chasing you in cowboy boots.

So — while you’re quarantined with no: sports, festivals, parties, restaurants, wedding receptions, theater events, movie popcorn, concerts, church fairs, handshakes, confirmations, church services, communal bowls of M&Ms, bridge nights, dances, sci fi conventions, bake sales, open air markets, live opera, or hugs – turn out the lights, choose one of these cathartic gems, confront your worst fears and … count your blessings.

AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT — GO WASH YOUR HANDS!

BEST OF ENEMIES – UPLIFTING HISTORIC DRAMA

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF BEST OF ENEMIES REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

They say the best way to conquer an enemy is to make them a friend. This engaging slice of historical life in 1970’s South, when equal respect for all races and socio-economic strata were taking baby steps, explores that theory. The story is based on a real event wherein a 10 day mediation was orchestrated to resolve a dispute on integration in Durham, NC after the black school in town burns down.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Mid teens and up. There is no overt sexuality but there is a smattering of profanity with a few blasphemes. In addition there is some violence and a couple of very tense, even frightening scenes, but no bloodshed. However, the topics of historic racism, as well as the profound strides we made to defeat it, should be discussed in advance with your children should you decide to screen it for them.

LONG TAKE:

Sam Rockwell is a fine actor, even a bit of a chameleon, and never better than when he is portraying a character who rises above the cards he has been dealt. In Galaxy Quest, Rockwell was a sci fi convention huckster, who tags along what he thinks is an employment opportunity, winds up in space,  overcomes his stark terror, bravely stands with the crew of the Protector, and ends up stealing scenes as the “plucky comic relief” .

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri features him as an abusive, racist, boob of a deputy, forced to confront a desperately evil crime and in way over his head, who becomes a repentant, self-sacrificing, erztaz hero.

Rockwell’s C.P. Ellis, in The Best of Enemies, is another shining example of unlikely paladin. Based upon the book The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South by Osha Gray Davidson, the screenplay is written by Robin Bissell who also directed this, his first feature film. Best of Enemies is the real life story of a charrette (a mediation between two irreconcilable social factions) held in Durham, North Carolina, in 1971 over the issue of school integration.

Ellis is the President of the KKK. Ann Atwater (Taraji Henson – Hidden Figures, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is a Civil Rights activist who worked for Operation Breakthrough. They come to loggerheads when the black school burns down and the children are left with no school. Both of these actors fearlessly launched into portraying people who, on their surface, are very unpleasant and abrasive.

I greatly admire actors who do not mind looking unattractive for the authenticity or betterment of a role. Henson is a beautiful woman and brings great force and dignity to her portrayal of Ms. Atwater, a poor, divorced single parent, known as “Roughhouse Annie” for a reason.

Rockwell can convincingly portray anything from an urbane playboy to a burnt out choreographer, but here he is Ellis, a poor good ole boy from the wrong side of the tracks barely hanging onto his gas station by the skin of his teeth.

Anne Heche (Wag the Dog, Six Days Seven Nights) plays Ellis’ no nonsense and supportive wife, Mary. John Gallagher, Jr. plays Lee Trombley, a Vietnam vet and friend of C.P.’s who finds not all the battles were left behind him in Southeast Asia

Babou Ceesay (Rogue One) is Bill Riddick, who is hired to keep this civil rights conflict…civil. Paraphrasing what Dorothy said of the Scarecrow, I think I liked him the best. This man had the toughest job of all – repressing his own point of view and keeping an upbeat, optimistic atmosphere while bringing two volatile individuals together, AND keeping them from killing each other or igniting a city wide riot. The emotional cost he must have paid and discipline Riddick mustered was inspiring, as he digs deeply to find the nuggets of reason and commonality in these two diametrically opposed representatives of the Durham community.

Riddick, both in real life and in this “reel” life, required that each side hear each others’ opinions calmly and created for these two diametrically opposed sides exercises in compromise. An example: he negotiated an agreement during the charrette in which the white members agreed to end each meeting with Gospel music, which was seen by the white community as distinctly representative of the black community, and in return the black members accepted a display of Ku Klux Klan recruiting paraphernalia in the hallway of the meeting building. No issue was off limits and all arguments were accepted as long as they were presented…civilly. Eyes were opened on both sides and through the experience, many were led, on both sides of the aisle, to recognize their own, often unfair, socio-economic and racial biases.

Music by Marcelo Zarvos is haunting and historically eccumenical. By that I mean it did not evoke any particular place or time, and did not lean on what could easily have been the crutch of a Southern or Gospel base. I thought it a wise choice. As a result of this cosmopolitan style, the music provides an emotional link to any audience of any time, avoiding the distancing which can sometimes happen when music becomes too era specific.

This is a beautifully written odd couple story of two people who think they have absolutely NOTHING in common, but who find their commonality in order to bring sense to a difficulty situation with Christian charity. It is a warmly told moment in history of two brave people who put their differences aside long enough to discover they have become the “Best of Enemies”.

SPOILER-FREE – ENDGAME REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Follow up to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Early teens and up due to some language, brutal fight scenes and somber plot topics.

LONG TAKE:

First off let me repeat – the following review will be spoiler free – unlike the BAZILLION Youtubes, reviews, “explanations,” trailers and headlines I quickly flicked away from, which started appearing about 5 minutes after midnight of its opening. I’m NOT even using pics from Endgame but relying on images from the plethora of previous movies.

If you would NOT like spoilers let me advise you do the same – don’t watch trailers or even scan the titles to Youtubes if you would prefer to be plot-wrecking-free when you go see Endgame.

Endgame, scripted by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and directed by the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, is a terrific and worthy bookend to the 22 Marvel films now referred to as the Infinity Saga, starting with Iron Man in 2008. While you certainly could wait until it comes out on DVD, as is a surprise to no one, the cinematic spectacular is best viewed on the big screen.

The visuals are eye shockingly spectacular. I grew up when Forbidden Planet was considered an accomplishment in 1956 and around when Star Wars knocked the socks off astonished cinema goers in 1977. So, to me, the almost infinite (excuse the pun) variety of cinematic visual tricks are amazing, gorgeous, frightening, almost overwhelming and worth the price of admission for even the three or four film attendees in the solar system I have met who are not particularly interested in the Marvel super hero plotlines.

Endgame is also a DARK movie. Not just visually in places, but, as you can imagine with a follow up to the ending of Infinity War, there are: brutal fights, grim topics and emotionally wrenching scenes which may upset smaller children (and did in the screening I was in). This is no light semi-parody Ragnarok with its tongue planted firmly in cheek. While the comeradic banter amongst the players is there, Endgame is obviously a sequel to the gut-wrenching, sucker-punch storyline from the previous movie, and so one must be aware of the somber and anxious overall tone.

In addition, and much to my disapproval, there was more off color language in Endgame than in the majority of the previous Marvel movies. Though no where near the Dead Pool level, I thought it unnecessary for a film with a demographic which should reach most age groups.

And even though there’s ZERO hanky panky, all in all, please take the PG-13 rating seriously.

The characters in the movie continue to wear the skins of their alter egos with the same enthusiasm, affection, and insight as when we first met them.

The soundtrack by Alan Silvestri carries more variety than most Marvel movies and is a pleasure.

SO – that’s about all I can or am willing to say right now. When the time has come that the vast majority of people who want to see it HAVE seen it, I plan on a more in depth review addressing specifics. But until then – GO SEE AVENGERS: ENDGAME THE UNIQUE CULMINATION OF 11 YEARS IN THE MAKING OF OVER 40 SOLID HOURS OF 21 PREVIOUS MOVIES!!! BRAVO TO ALL OF THE CREATIVE TALENT WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE AND A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE LATE STAN LEE.  GOD BLESS.