IT’S NOT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. FIRST LESSON – THIS IS NOT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!!!

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION FOR MY ARTICLE “IT’S NOT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE”

OBVIOUSLY – NONE of these movies are child fare. Gore, violence and profanity are frequently prevalent in these types of movies.

While people the world over freak out, hunker down, start fist fights over toilet paper, refuse to hug, make face masks out of bra cups (I kid you not. I saw it on a Youtube video), crash the stockmarket in panic selling, postpone the release of movies I want to see (Marvel Studios I am TALKING to you!!), and generally act as though this is the end of the world – let me tell you – it’s NOT the end of the world. Biblically speaking if someone says it IS then there is pretty much a guarantee that it is not. The Son of Man has not, to my knowledge, been witnessed coming down from Heaven. And while toilet paper and sliced bread remain as elusive as glimpses of the Yellow Bellied Sap Sucker, you can still buy Heineken Beer and Blue Belle Dutch chocolate ice cream.

As someone who stayed put at Ground Zero in Lake Charles, LA during the CAT 4/5 Hurricane Rita as she landed and through the 10 days aftermath without electricity – read no air conditioning – while we still had 6 kids, a dog and 2 cats under the same roof in 100 plus degree weather, I can safely tell you – this is NOT all that bad.

This is also NOT the zombie apocalypse. I have been SAYING that to calm people down for weeks now, so I think it is about time I make the official comparison. And – as the rest of the world is now HOMESCHOOLING! YAY! Let me take the opportunity to point out a few healthy –

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES

This is the filmed adaptation of the cult popular mashup novel by Seth Grahame-Smith combining Jane Austin with zombies and ninjas. It is an idea so bizarre that, like the first “found footage” The Blair Witch Project or the horror rock opera Phantom of the Paradise, you have to see just to honor the gutsy risk the film makers took. This weirdly satifying outing features a cast American audiences are more likely to recognize than be able to name: Lily James (Cinderella, Yesterday), Sam Riley (both Maleficients), Jack Huston (Angelica’s nephew, John’s grandson and Walter’s great-grandson, appeared in The Irishman, Twilight Saga: Eclipse), Matt Smith (The Eleventh Dr. Who, The Crown), Charles Dance (veteran actor in everything from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Game of Thrones and Godzilla: King of the Monsters).

I like this movie for its tongue-in-cheek attitude as it takes itself SO seriously you know the actors are giving you a “wink” without even having to break the fourth wall. It adapts the original P&P tale, keeping all the original witty story of misunderstandings, cross purposed good intentions and haughty indignation while steeping it in a world of zombie threats, reimagining the Bennett girls as skilled Ninjas of the martial arts. I KNOW this sounds weird – because it is – but it is also impossibly appealing.

LESSON: Don’t take your situation, no matter how dire you THINK it is, so seriously you can’t continue engaging in and with the things and people you truly love.

WORLD WAR Z

Brad Pitt stars in this Bourne meets War of the Worlds meets zombies. Pitt is Gerry Lane, an operative experienced in investigating dangerous war zones. He is caught, with his wife and daughters, in the middle of a crowded Philadelphia when, with no warning, a zombie virus cataclysmically breaks out. It is only his calm analytical mind and experienced quick thinking under extreme stress which give him and his family a chance for survival.

This film appealed to me, not only by showcasing Pitt as a protective father stepping up in the biggest way possible, but because he uses more mind than muscle, more savvy than strength against the implaccable hordes of semi-dead ravenous zombies. AND it ALSO has a small part with Peter Capaldi who BECAME Dr. Who only a few months after World War Z was released, credited as “the WHO Doctor”. (WHO – World Health Organization. Coincidence or extreme cheekiness on the part of the film makers I know not.)

LESSON: THINK before reacting to even the most horrific circumstances.

ZOMBIELAND and ZOMBIELAND TWO: DOUBLE TAP

(SEE REVIEW FOR DOUBLE TAP HERE)

I have never laughed so hard at gore. Please keep in mind I don’t normally like gory slasher movies, or even most zombie movies. But the Zombieland movies are SO over the top it becomes slapstick. The story is of a group of survivors loosely led by a delightfully cavalier Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson – from the adorably clueless Woody Boyd in the TV show Cheers, to the tragic alcoholic father in The Glass Castle (SEE REVIEW HERE) and everything in between), who disposes of zombies with such panache you can not help but be impressed by his infectious (excuse the pun) enthusiasm. Without spoiling too much, you HAVE to see the brief homage to Deliverance in the first Zombieland movie as Tallahassee takes out a zombie with a banjo. The rest of the troupe includes: Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network) who is Tallahassee’s side kick, Columbus. Emma Stone (La La Land) is Columbus’ love interest, Wichita. Abigail Breslin (the little water girl from Signs all grown up) is Wichita’s little sister, Little Rock.

LESSON: Use your natural skills to cope with any crisis, and while you’re at it – be enthusiastic and try to enjoy yourself.

SHAUN OF THE DEAD

One of the first of its kind, this gem is a parody of zombie movies as only the British can do it – with style and a dark humor pragmatism. SPOILER: For example, in order for Shaun’s group to pass safely through a mass of zombies one of the troupe teaches the rest how to imitate a zombie, by following the movements of a skewered/trapped zombie as though it were a Jazzercise class in a Richard Simmons video.

This clever cult film stars Simon Pegg as the titular schlub Shaun, the world’s most unlikely hero. Pegg’s best bud, Nick Frost, portrays Shaun’s best bud, Ed. Kate Ashfield is Shaun’s ex-girlfriend, who Shaun is desperate to save. Bill Nighy (About Time and Dr. Who alum from one of my favorites “Vincent and the Doctor”) is Philip, Shaun’s stepfather with whom Shaun is estranged. Penelope Wilton plays Shaun’s Mom. (Wilton is another Dr. Who alum, portraying Harriet Jones in a number of Dr. Who episodes. Harriet is a recurring character in Dr. Who, whose appearance is, at some point, reliably accompanied by a running gag – Harriet always introduces herself by presenting identification and declaring: “I’m Harriet Jones,” to which everyone else in the show, from Dr. Who himself to Daleks, replies: “Yes, we know who you are”). Jessica Hynes aka Stevenson (yet ANOTHER Dr. Who alum from”Human Nature”) is Yvonne, the leader of a group which Shaun’s group briefly encounters, and which bears an uncanny resemblance to Shaun’s ensemble group. Watch for Martin Freeman (our favorite Bilbo/Dr. Watson) in a cameo  as a member of the doppleganger group! (Note that Zombieland: Double Tap does a homage to the group meets echo group scene in Shaun when Tallahasse and Columbus meet THEIR dopplegangers.)

LESSON: Sometimes the best coping method is humor.

So – off you go. Immerse yourself in a binge of these Zombie movies. Then: continue doing the things you LOVE, THINK before you respond, find a way to enjoy what you have to do with ENTHUSIASM, and LAUGH!!!

And remember …… even though we still can’t buy toilet paper, at least IT’S NOT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!

YESTERDAY – WHAT IF YOU WERE THE ONLY ONE WHO REMEMBERED IT?

 

SHORT TAKE:

A humorous Twilight Zone-like examination of a desperate musician who discovers he’s the only person who remembers either the Beatles or any of their songs.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Were it not for the profanity and casual blasphemy, this could have been a family friendly film. As it is, parental discretion should be advised for the language.

LONG TAKE

Quick, how many Beatles songs can you name off the top of your head? And can you recite all the lyrics with no Google information, no sheet music, no records..not even a little help from your friends (see what I did there….?) This is the challenge facing Jack, (Himesh Patel) a desperately frustrated musician whose only fan is his childhood friend and manager-by-default, Ellie (Lily James – Branagh’s Cinderella, Mamma Mia!, Darkest Hour).

Having decided to quit music and return to teaching, Jack is hit by a bus during a freak, unexplained, 12-second, global electrical outage. After recovering from relatively minor injuries, he discovers he’s the only person on earth who remembers either the Beatles or any of their songs. At first he thinks his friends are “having him on”. But after an internet search confirms the truth, he proceeds to embark upon a plan to pass the Beatles’ entire repertoire off as his own.

Yesterday‘s script is both warm and cleverly insightful. This is not a surprise given the writer is Richard Curtis, author of the immensely charming About Time and one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes: “Vincent and the Doctor”. Curtis has a gift for combining pathos, romance and humor to create a view into fundamental tenets of human nature.

Although dealing with some fairly mature philosophical concepts, including the ethics of his plans and what constitutes success and happiness, Yesterday is, for the most part, a light-hearted vehicle. The screenplay writer plays this straight. There are no “backsies” and this isn’t a dream. Jack must deal with the pros and cons of the permanently changed world as he wakes up to it. What would you give up to have everything you ever thought you wanted? What are the moral implications of taking something as your own when the people who created it never existed? Would you confide this secret even to the people with whom you are closest, knowing they probably wouldn’t believe you? Interesting conundrums.

Directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), it’s also funny, often in the kind of familiar human moments where you either laugh or cry. Some of the most fun bits are following Jack as he racks his brain trying to remember all of the Beatles songs and lyrics with absolutely no help.

Kate McKinnon plays the shark-like LA manager who swoops down to Jack’s small coastal British home town to put him under contract. She is callously and bluntly honest. There is no cruelty in it, because her character simply doesn’t care one way or the other about the impact what she says has on others. She just has no filter. I would not have been terribly surprised had she asked Jack to sign his contract with a drop of his own blood plucked from a demonic looking fountain pen, except she doesn’t  lie. But I genuinely liked this character. There was something very refreshing about her extremely candid approach.

Joel Fry (Game of Thrones) is Rocky, Jack’s mostly unemployable, but devoted friend.

The music is, of course, wonderful. Not quite “covers” of these universally known classics, as Jack tries to imitate the songs exactly as he remembers them, but not quite Beatles either as he…well, ISN’T one of the Beatles.

And no spoilers, but I suggest you watch out for a few delicious cameos.

So if you want an upbeat, adorable rom-com, which also manages to address some thought provoking points, watch this quirky movie, Yesterday…today…or at least soon.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN – A GUILTY PLEASURE

SHORT TAKE:

Simultaneously a sequel/prequel to the first movie as Sophia and we, the audience, find out the details, in flashback, of how Donna got into her self-inflicted predicament.

WHO SHOULD GO:

If you're a mature adult – sure. Go! Enjoy! But don't take the kids. I really wouldn't, personally, want to explain to my child why Donna didn't know which OF THREE MEN was her daughter's father.

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LONG TAKE:

 

You're going to need a scorecard to keep track of this one.

As much as everyone praised the first Mama Mia, let's face it – the story lionizes a promiscuous, irresponsible woman whose only real virtue – granted it is considerable – is that she did not, even for a moment, consider murdering her baby. This one details how she met the three men who became candidates for father. I'm ashamed of myself – but I loved it.

Imagine a two hour music video of ABBA's greatest hits performed by Academy Award winning actors, James Bond, an Avengers regular, a rock and roll icon, and an Untouchable. Don't hurt yourself thinking too hard … all you have to do is go see Mama Mia! Here We Go Again.

Mamma Mia Numero Uno was a movie, based on a play, created out of wholecloth from the songs of ABBA, a Swedish pop band with hits like "Dancing Queen" (Yes – ABBA is the guilty party), active from 1972-1982. Much like The Who's Tommy, the story Mamma Mia was cobbled together from tying together the threads of the band's hit songs, themes and lyrics. The FIRST Mama Mia tale is told of Donna who gave birth to a daughter and raised her alone, on a Greek Island, while running a villa. Sophie, the daughter, now a grown women and preparing to marry, wants her father to walk her down the aisle. She finds her mother's diary and discovers there are THREE candidates. Without telling Donna, her mother, Sophie sends invitations to all three men, signing her mother's name. If it sounds like a Mozart Opera Buffa, you'd be right. And despite my better judgment I really enjoyed the first installment.

After all, Pierce "the BEST Bond" Brosnan, Stellan "crazy Avengers scientist" Skarsgard, and Colin "Kingsman, King's Speech and Importance of Being Ernest" Firth are the three men. The music is ALL ABBA, ALL the time. AND   Meryl (can play pretty much anything) Streep plays Donna, the indecisive lady … correction … woman in question. The singing was terrific, the dancing joyous, the colors bright. It's a feel good movie —– until you consider the foundational premise of the first movie is that of a woman who has three men —- THREE MEN —- in such a short span of time that she does not know who the father is. I mean – come ON – she would have had to…within merely a couple of days, HOURS! – with THREE different guys – and she only MET two of them the SAME FREAKING DAY she became .. friendly! There are professional ladies of indeterminate virtue who are more discerning than that. ARGH! Penny on The Big Bang Theory wasn't THAT slutty.

BUT – if you can put the main character's immorality aside, the original Mamma Mia IS a lot of nonsensical fun as songs are belted out, romances are rekindled, laughs are had and there's a marriage at the end – though not the one we started out with, as the daughter wanders off to start the whole series of mistakes over again. (frustrated *sigh*). Really!?

HERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!!! I TRIED TO DO THIS WITHOUT SPOILERS BUT IT WAS POINTLESS, SO ——- SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!

Which brings us to the sequel Mama Mia: Here We Go Again! Donna is dead – to begin with (apologies to Dickens). Little Miss Sophie has FINALLY gotten around to getting married … and is now pregnant. Donna has been dead for a year and EVERYONE converges back to the island to sing all the hit songs ABBA wrote which did NOT appear in Mamma Mia! number one, WITH the addition of Cher AND Andy "Untouchables" Garcia. The set up is patently unfair. To paraphrase Marlon Brando's Godfather Corleone, it is an offer I just can not refuse. More equitable to ask me to evaluate, objectively, an ice cream Sunday with Hershey's syrup, sprinkles, whipped cream AND mini M&Ms on it. I do not see how I could possibly NOT like it.

If nothing else, this movie carries some serious casting pedigree. Because half the movie is flashbacks, most of the major characters are played by two people each – the younger and the current. So let me help you out:

Pierce Brosnan plays Sam, the second of the three and the one who Donna eventually marries in the first Mamma Mia! Brosnan, along with being more Bond than even Sean Connery, has a varied resume including the lead in the very popular 1980's TV dramedy Remington Steele, reworked the Steve McQueen part in the latest Thomas Crown Affair and was the target of Robin Williams' foil in the blockbuster comedy hit Mrs Doubtfire. The character of Sam, as a young man, is portrayed by Jeremy Irvine – which is REALLY odd because Jeremy Irvine ALSO played a younger version of another member of the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again cast, Colin Firth. Irvine was the 20 year old Firth in the World War II drama The Railway Man. I do not know why they did not choose Irvine to portray Firth in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, but they did not.

The honor of playing Mr. Firth as a younger version this time went to Hugh Skinner, "suitor" as it so happens, number one, as a … pity romance. Skinner is notable for playing one of the barricade boys in Les Mis. Colin Firth meanwhile is ONLY the man who won the Best Actor Oscar for his stunning performance as King George VI in The King's Speech, not to mention stealing every scene he is in, in The Kingsmen semi-parody spy movies, Mr. Darcy in the EXTREMELY long BBC version of Pride and Prejudice AND one of the leads in the wonderful send up of The Importance of Being Ernest.

Then Skellan Skarsgard's youthful doppleganger is played by Josh Dylan who, aside from a small part in Allied, is fairly new to the acting scene. He is "date" number three. Along with being one of the Avenger scientist side kicks, Mr. Skarsgard has also been Bootstrap Bill in the Pirates franchise, a baddie in the Branagh Cinderella opposite Ms. James, and a friend of Firth's Eric in The Railway Man.

Lily James (Branagh's Cinderella) is the early incarnation of Meryl Streep's Donna. Meryl Streep is an icon of the acting business. Chamelon-like she has done everything from the Holocaust survivor tragedy of Sophie's Choice to the wildly eccentric comedy, undead evil heroine in Death Becomes Her. She can sing, dance, and like Dustin Hoffman does not shy from looking really ugly, if necessary for a role. And I bet I know something even the most ardent Streep fan does not. Guys and Dolls, the famous romantic comedy musical about a Salvation Army leader, Sarah Brown, who goes toe to toe with a gangster, Sky Masterton, was based – before Damon Runyon took credit – WAAAY back on a 1929 musical play by Bertolt Brecht called Happy End. A 1977 production at the Chelsea Theater in North Carolina featured Meryl Streep in the role of Sister Lilian, the original name for Sarah and Bill Cracker, who later morphed into Sky, was performed by none other than Back to the Future's Christopher Lloyd. Just in case it comes up in a trivia game……..

Christine Baranski (Leonard Hofstadter's blunt and intimidating, emotionally unpresent mother in The Big Bang Theory) is the older version of Tanya and Jessica Keenan Wynn the younger Tanya.

Ms. Wynn needs a special shout out right here. If her last two names Keenan Wynn, ring a bell, it is because she is the fifth in a generation of actors and the granddaughter of THE Keenan Wynn. Keenan Wynn's rich and varied 44 year acting span included everything from the early 1960's TV show The Untouchables to Stanley Kubrick's  Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb to The Twilight Zone and Disney movies. And if that's not enough, Ms. Jessica's GREAT-grandfather was Ed Wynn, who you might just recognize from  Twilight Zones and as Uncle Arthur in the ORIGINAL Mary Poppins.

Harry Potter's Mrs. Weasley aka Julie Waters shares the character of Rosie with Alexa Davies.

Meryl Streep reduces Donna's part to a supporting role. This is the first sequel Streep has ever agreed to, so ANY appearance in this movie is of note. She comes on, near the end, in one of the most touching scenes you can conjure. (See below for my list of favorite moments.)

. Amanda Seyfried (Les Mis) plays Sophie, the girl with THREE Dads, and Sky, played by Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark in Captain America), is her husband.

Andy Garcia, who I will always remember for his acrobatic, athletic and amazing save on the steps of a Chicago staircase in The Untouchables, plays Fernando, the manager of the inn Sophie now owns. Garcia is actually a musician in his own right, a bongo and guitar player who gratefully and openly thanks America in general and Miami in particular for all the blessings bestowed on his Cuban-origin family, at the Cuban music festivals in which he plays and sings. And if you know anything about ABBA music (which you must if you want to see this movie) then his name alone give you a MASSIVE hint for his presence in this movie.

And then there's Cher who plays Grandma Ruby. At 72 years old she continues to have a powerhouse voice. Her roughly 53 year musical career started in the 1970's as the Cher part of Sonny and… which produced the hit Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour when I was a kid (note the song that haunts Bill Murray's Phil Conners in Groundhog Day is "I Got You Babe" – their break out hit). She moved on to the quirky rom com Moonstruck with Nicholas Cage and the heartbreaking Mask to the suspenseful whistleblowing Silkwood also with Meryl Streep. Her hit songs include: "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves", "The Way of Love", "If I Could Turn Back Time", "Half-Breed", "Believe", "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot me Down)", "The Beat Goes On", many of which she performed with Sonny Bono.

And now that we know WHO we are dealing with in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the premise is quite simple. Sophie and widowed Dad are restoring Donna's villa into a premiere hotel. Switching back and forth in time, we also follow along as Donna the Younger sleeps her way to and through the Greek Island, eventually getting pregnant with Sophia and decides to stay.

But the sheer jubilance that pervades the movie is irresistible. All practicality and common sense aside, this movie has the charm of every enthusiastic "Put on a Show" musical from Shirley Temple to White Christmas. I feel like Tevya. On the one hand the movie revolves around the behavior of a young flighty woman who treats sex like a sport or party favor BUT once pregnant she devotes her life to her child. There are raunchy jokes and throw away lines but nothing is seen or even acted out. A lot of sexually reckless behavior is considered acceptable but both babies – infant Donna and Donna's infant – are baptized in a (presumably Eastern Orthodox since it is Greece) Catholic church before an altar with a crucifix by a cassocked priest, celebrated by the entire town, as a ghostly Donna sings her blessing. The plot is threadbare and ridiculous but the song and dance numbers are completely charming and whimsical. It is obvious that the storyline is awkwardly cobbled together from the songs and the songs crowbarred into the action but are reworked in creative and appropriate ways as lullabies and nostalgic poetry. Donna was absurdly promiscuous but eventually married, as did her daughter. And as Sophia, herself, points out: "At least this time we know who the baby's father is." That's progress. Sky at first contemplates abandoning his marriage for a lucrative job, but quickly comes to his senses and goes back to his wife to fulfill the promises he made to her and assure her there would never be anything more important to him than his wife and child.

MY FAVORITE MOMENTS:

I Have a Dream sung by Amanda Seyfried as she and her Dad walk through the newly restored hotel as we cut back and forth in flashbacks to Lily James' Donna during her first impulsive trespassing tour of the originally ramshackle estate.

Brosnan speak/singing a snippet of S.O.S. as he mourns his deceased wife, Donna, especially considering that he really did lose his first wife, Cassandra Harris.

Sophie singing a duet of My Love My Life with her ghostly/imagined mother, Donna, in the church just before Sophie's baby's baptism. Sophie recognizes in song that Donna would have wanted Sophie to accept her mother's death, knowing the joy and contentment motherhood had brought Donna, and that her mother, Donna, could rest in peace knowing she had raised her daughter well and left a legacy of love.

As to my FAVORITE favorite moments – I went for a matinee but would have paid a LOT more just to see the scenes where Bond, King George, Selvig, Leonard's mother and Mrs. Weasley sing and dance to Supertrooper and Dancing Queen – SO worth the price of admission all by themselves.

Ultimately – despite its flaws it has an undeniable, albeit nostalgic, palpable charm.