YANKEE DOODLE DANDY – AN AMERICAN ICON PORTRAYS AN AMERICAN ICON

 

SHORT TAKE:

One of the greatest American classic musicals – Yankee Doodle Dandy – about one of the greatest American stage play auteurs – George M. Cohan – played by one of the greatest American actors – Jimmy Cagney.

WHO CAN WATCH:

Anyone and everyone!

LONG TAKE:

It’s hard for an old screen movie buff like me to talk about George M. Cohan without bringing up Jimmy Cagney. Cagney was to Cohan in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy what George C. Scott did for General George S. Patton in the movie Patton.  But for those born closer to the turn of the last milennium than I was, a brief history lesson might be in order.

George M. Cohan was a prolific Broadway song and dance man. Beginning in vaudeville with his family he went on to write over 300 songs, many which would ring a bell even today: “You’re a Grand Ole Flag”, “Yankee Doodle Boy”, and “Give my Regards to Broadway,” among many others. With his long time partner Sam Harris, Cohan wrote the stories, lyrics and  music performed in more than 50 plays. They helped create Broadway at the turn of the previous century and were the first to incorporate songs and dance numbers into musicals, not just for razzle dazzle but to further the story. Cohan encouraged and promoted a pure clean patriotism and love of country which, like now, was sorely needed in the face of world challenges – at that time the World Wars.

He was the first artisan of any kind to win the Congressional Gold Medal, bestowed upon him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for boosting American troop morale with his songs, particularly with “Over There”. His songs and stories helped reinforce and unite Americans throughout two World Wars, delighted Broadway attendees for decades and added to the heritage of Americana just as Norma Rockwell did with painting, Aaron Copeland did with music, and John Wayne did with movies.

Jimmy Cagney was an actor whose length and breadth of performances spanned from gangster to comedian. He established the bad boy thug in The Public Enemy, White Heat and Angels with Dirty Faces so thoroughly and forcefully that many people do not know he was an accomplished “hoofer” right up there with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is an old school heartwarming slice of American apple pie, the likes of which is lacking in our lexicon of cinema today. This song and dance banquet is a lighthearted and often intimate portrait of this American hero and brilliant raconteur who epitomized the American spirit as much as Patton did the American will to win and sacrifice in the name of worldwide freedom.

Yankee Doodle Dandy follows Cohan from his days with his family on the vaudeville stage, his partnership with Sam Harris, his marriage to his devoted wife and stage partner Mary, and his indefatigable devotion to his family and his country.

Movies like Patton, The Patriot, 1776, Sergeant York and The Longest Day are brilliant films whose legacy is in honor of blood spilled by our self-sacrificing soldiers for the establishment and continuation of our Independence. But also give a thought to Yankee Doodle Dandy, a gentler movie about a gentler time whose strength of character, patriotic resolve, firmness of character and courage manifested itself in songs intended to comfort, inspire and honor those same brave American battle field heroes.

Now, Voyager – Old Classic Movie with a Disturbing but Largely Ignored Perversity

SHORT TAKE:

Golden Age Hollywood film of a torrid affair between a transformed Ugly Duckling and a married man.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Mid-teens and up, with parental discussion, for morally ambiguous rationalizations, rejection of children, mental illness, frequent smoking, and adulterous behavior, though absolutely nothing but a bit of kissing is shown. Besides which younger kids would be bored spitless.

LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS!

It is a commonly held misconception that old movies were compasses for morality. This myth is reinforced by the sadly defunct Hays Code and the largely ignored MPAA rating system, not to mention the creation of the Disney empire in the 1920’s, which used to be the Gold standard for family friendly fare. Then there was the preponderance of extremely popular morally upright movies which endorsed and respected religion and marriage, which were released in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, such as: The Ten Commandments, Bells of St. Mary’s, Parent Trap, Going my Way, Angels with Dirty Faces, Sound of Music and Song of Bernadette.

So it is understandable that audiences seeking entertainment less likely to offend a drunken sailor than the average TV show or random choice at a local theater would look to what are considered old classics – relying on the myth that movies made just before, during and right after World War II would aspire to a higher standard of morality than an early morning staggering Bourbon Street denizen. That old classic movies were — classy.

I hate to be the one to disabuse you of this illusion but…they were often – not.

Don’t get me wrong. I love old classics and I highly recommend them – with cautions. I’ve oft mentioned to our kids that it isn’t so much that movies, by and large, were made BETTER a long time ago than they are today, it’s just that the ones we still watch today were the “cream of the crop”, the ones which would, naturally stand the test of time. There were then, just as there are now, MORE than a fair share of stinkers. But, 50 or even 20 years from now, the ones at the theater today, which continue to attract attention later, are likely to be those of an especially high quality of: acting, plot, cinematography, soundtrack, special effects, or a combination. And they will be remembered when others will have been long forgotten.

BUT this does not mean the movies we now remember from 30, 50 or even going on a solid century ago were unerringly squeaky clean or held to a sterling character of righteous behavior.

One such example is Now, Voyager. The title is gleaned from the poem, “The Untold Want” by Walt Whitman (a man not exactly of pristine rectitude himself). The phrase hearkens to the advice given to Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis), the lead character in Now, Voyager by her psychiatrist, (Claude Rains). Charlotte is a drab and emotionally abused spinster, who is sent to go forth and seek adventure and a full life, to “Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”

This is all well and good as she disentangles herself from her bitter, possessive harpy of a mother (Gladys Cooper) to blossom into a self-respecting beautiful woman. But when she decides to occupy herself on a cruise with the affections of a philandering married man, Jerry (Paul Henreid) the movie degenerates into a torrid love affair which spends the majority of the rest of the movie rationalizing why he should refocus his affections on the already reconstructed Charlotte who, by all accounts, suffered previously from the same dowdy, ignored life in which Jerry has abandoned his own wife. In other words, why should he spend his time trying to make a beautiful woman out of his own wife when he can forego all that work and effort by exploiting this vulnerable woman at his fingertips. Of course, the answer, resoundingly given by the movie is —- Why NOT?

So off Jerry goes with Charlotte, wooing then bedding a more than willing Charlotte. Charlotte justifies her dalliance with a man already taken and with a family, in part, by the knowledge that Jerry’s daughter, Tina, is lonely and unwanted by her own mother, Jerry’s wife. There’s definitely something Freudian or dysfunctionally “Elektra”  in Charlotte’s behavior.

Elektra was Oedipus’ daughter, if that gives you a clue. And while this theory is, as Hamlet might say, “more honor’d in the breach,” as it is now universally ridiculed, the Elektra Complex theory was postulated by Carl Jung in 1913 and not yet fully discredited in 1942 when Now, Voyager was released. So there definitely would be a certain armchair psychologist’s nod of understanding, if not approval, by audience members of that time, assuming that Charlotte is taking a certain subtle vengeance on her shrewish and uncaring mother by sleeping with the husband of a woman with a similar personality.

This is not to say it is a badly DONE movie. For its stylized time and manner it is extremely well done. Beautifully tailored costumes, often hand-picked by Bette Davis, herself, for the character of Charlotte; acting which, for that era, was at its height. The extraordinarily and rightly acclaimed Bette Davis and Gladys Cooper won Oscar nominations (back when it meant something), respectively, for best actress, as Charlotte, and  best supporting actress, as Charlotte’s horrible mother.

Bette Davis was one of the Grand Dames of Hollywood. Strong, intelligent, forceful in a largely male dominated industry, she was not at all shy about insisting on her own way of doing things – pressing for changes in everything from script to costuming for the advancement of the film she was in, Davis was a true talent who respected her craft and, like other brilliant later actors such as Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, did not shy from making herself unattractive for her role. Almost six decades of films include: the literature based Of Human Bondage and The Corn is Green, the filming of stageplays like Little Foxes and The Whales of August, the psychological horror Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the expose on the manipulative often meaningless lives of famous actors in All About Eve. From comedy to horror to drawing room romance, there is something for everyone in Ms. Davis’ repertoire of films. And she could convey, with a nod or raised eyebrow, more than many performers today can in five minutes of screen time.

Paul Heinreid, the noble and self-sacrificing Victor from Casablanca, here is at his subtly slimy best, weaseling his way into Charlotte’s fully consenting bed.

Max Steiner won for best music. The black and white filming by Sol Polito makes the most of the gray emotional and moral areas in which the characters live.

And on a personal note it is one of the few movies I’ve seen in which Claude Rains’ character, in this case Dr. Jaquith, Charlotte’s caring psychiatrist, is a completely good guy. His usual fare is the likes of the insane Invisible Man, the evil Earl of Hertford from Prince and the Pauper, the wicked caricature of Prince John in Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, and the morally murky Capt. Renault from Casablanca – delightful characters all. But seeing him as a squeaky clean white hat was refreshing.

So the quality of the production itself was quite high.

But the most troubling part about this whole movie is the way in which the audience is openly being lead and manipulated into a position of accessory guilt to an adulterous affair. We are meant to sympathize with both Charlotte, who knowingly accepts the advances of a married man, and Jerry, a flat out cad, who flirts and schmoozes his way into a vulnerable woman’s arms, justifying his behavior with possibly one of the oldest pickup lines in history: my wife just doesn’t understand me the way you do. While he doesn’t actually say these words, the sentiment is obvious as he parades out an exceptionally unattractive picture of his wife with his two daughters.

What struck me was how much Jerry’s wife reminded me of pre-transformation Charlotte – dowdy, over-weight, dressed in an unflattering tent, sour expression. And there’s zero excuse for Jerry not to make the same connection, as Charlotte shares an old family picture in which Charlotte appears in her most unappealing frumpiness. Jerry even asks, in one of the most indelicate, foot-in-mouth comments in movie history, who the old fat woman is. So the comparison can not have been lost on him: that, if Charlotte can make this physical transformation so complete and that with a bit of love from him can blossom emotionally, why can he not aid his own wife in such a transformation – or at least TRY!

The film makers appeared not to have made this connection themselves despite its incredibly blatant obviousness. Jerry could see the swan Charlotte became but refused to see anything but the Ugly Duckling his wife was. I suspect it was because it would have been too much trouble for him to do all that work.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, through a set of happenstances, meets and informally adopts Tina, Jerry’s maternally neglected daughter, transforming Tina from a moody self-loathing adolescent into a happy bubbly child. This is supposed to amend for the diverting of Jerry’s allegiances from his family to herself, his mistress (emotionally, at that point, if not carnally).

In the end, Jerry and Charlotte are to remain physically chaste as Dr. Jaquith’s sole contingent proviso for his endorsement of Charlotte’s retention of Tina. In fact, this will become the string by which Charlotte will hold Jerry emotionally hostage for the rest of his life. To adapt Rhett Butler’s comments to Scarlett about the object of SCARLETT’S infatuation, Ashley Wilkes: [Jerry] can’t be mentally faithful to his wife – and won’t be unfaithful to her technically [aside from that one time in Rio].

As my mother used to say: it takes two to Tango, and I have no doubt that Jerry’s wife was complicit in her own marital undoing. But similarly we are never shown her side of the story either. As Jerry, no doubt, felt unappreciated, Jerry’s wife too would have her own side of the story showing her not to be the sole perpetrator in the murder of their marriage.

I finished the movie noting this was one of the first in a long series of movies intended to assuage the guilty conscience of men who wish to abandon their familial responsibilities in pursuit of a fresh bit of — adventure, the list of which notably includes the most tragic and lamentable Toy Story 4, in which Woody callously walks away from “his” child to chase after Boo Peep’s bustle. SEE REVIEW HERE

Now, Voyager could have utilized the brilliant and deep treasure trove of talent and experience to create a positive and productive tale of the healing of a wounded marriage. Perhaps even through his relationship with Charlotte, learning how to nurture his “hopeless” cause wife into a beautiful woman, as he helped Charlotte, and rekindling his marital relationship with his wife. Instead, though listed among one of the “greats” in cinematic history, this “classic” is just another in a long line of movies without a true moral compass or conscience, justifying the devastation wrought but never seen by a husband and father’s illicit behavior. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE ON RUTH INSTITUTE WEBSITE

 

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.

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.

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!

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!