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!

A NEW LEAF – DECIDING BETWEEN MATRIMONY AND MURDER

AUDIO OPTION OF A NEW LEAF REVIEW:

*SHORT TAKE:

Classic dark comedy of a destitute playboy who plans to marry  wealthy and then…murder.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

While there is little profanity and no sex, the topics of living desolutely and planning homicide are somewhat unseemly for children, though, with parental discretion, perhaps younger teens.

LONG TAKE:

I would venture to say that none of you have ever heard of the movie A New Leaf. Penned, directed and starring Elaine May, co-starring the iconic Walter Matthau, this is a small budget film made in 1971 based upon the short story, The Green Heart, by Jack Ritchie. The protagonist, Henry Graham, (Matthau) is a self-absorbed, self-indulgent aristocratic heir who runs through his family fortune until, in his late thirties, finds himself without friends or fortune. There is only one person in the world who cares anything about him, Harold (the delightful singer and Shakespearean theatrical actor, George Rose), Henry’s valet, who sums up the basis for his loyalty to Henry in this one speech: “How many men these days require the services of a gentleman’s gentleman? How many men have your devotion to form, sir? You have managed, in your own lifetime Mr. Graham, to keep alive traditions that were dead before you were born.”

Of course, Harold tempers this with the warning that if Mr. Graham continues to be poor, he immediately tenders his two week notice.

Henry quickly realizes that, for him, there are only two options: suicide…………….or marrying rich. With Harold’s aide Henry embarks on a quest to find a rich widow or single heiress who would be tolerable to his refined tastes and isolated ways. He soon discovers that while there are MANY candidates, he can’t stand any of them…until he finds the least suitable one of all. An extremely wealthy but ugliest of ugly ducklings, Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May – also the author and director of this brilliant story) is shy, socially awkward, clumsy, naive, and gullible. She is everything Henry would NOT want in a mate… aside from the money. However, it suddenly occurs to him, she would be quite easy to —— murder.

So begins the courtship and honey-murder, I mean —moon of one of the most charming little comedies I have ever seen. It is ultimately a film about the power of love, redemption and poetic justice, but told in the singularly most UN-conventional and UN-sentimental way I have ever seen demonstrated.

I REALLY am not going to spoil this one for you. You can now find it on Amazon HERE.

I recommend this movie as one of my all time favorites. As I mentioned before,  A New Leaf COULD be appropriate, with parental supervision, for young teens, and worth the trouble given the moral and theme of the story. Henry is quite chaste. There is very little profanity and no sex. Henry’s SOLE vice is avarice. The only questionable moment is when one socialite attempts to seduce him and Henry, in a breathtaking moment of humor, literally runs screaming from her.

Walter Matthau is at his finest in a brilliant example of miscasting gone right. Aside from Hello Dolly, I can’t think of a less appropriate vehicle for Matthau. But – as in Hello Dolly – he is such an amazing actor that he pulls off the deliciously arrogant and thoroughly self-centered Henry while making him – somehow – adorable.

Elaine May is perfectly terrific as the totally INcapable Henrietta Lowell. Vulnerable, dependent, socially oblivious and educated to the point of being a blithering idiot in everything except her one field of interest – botony – May creates a child-like character who is both endearing and extremely annoying at the same time. You come to understand why Henry would consider killing her yet dread her disappearance.

May is probably not very familiar. She made her biggest mark with Mike Nichols as half of an improvisational comedy duo and did a good deal of stage work. She was in only about a dozen films, including a teensy part in The Graduate, wrote only 10 screenplays and despite her obvious talent directed only four movies, probably because of her tendency to go way over budget. As an aside, one of her directorial efforts was Ishtar, the biggest and most expensive flop in history at that time.

But she did manage to produce this beautiful blossom of a movie. And that, alone, should be enough to decide on… A New Leaf.

  • NOTE: This is a re-release of a post from 2015. Since then I have added photos and the movie has become available on streaming services.

JOKER – NIHILISTIC PLOT WASTES JOAQUIN PHOENIX’ INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE

 

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF JOKER REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Joaquin Phoenix’ mesmerizing and brilliant performance as Joker is wasted in the nihilistic plot of this realism grounded, extremely disturbing, origin story.

WHO SHOULD GO:

ABSOLUTELY ADULTS ONLY. This is not Caeser Romero. Heck this isn’t even Heath Ledger. Extreme violence, profane language, discussions of child abuse and neglect, demonstrations of mental illness all make for a showing difficult for most adults to see much less children.

LONG TAKE:

Under tour-de-force in the dictionary you should find a picture of Joaquin Phoenix in costume as Joker/Arthur Fleck from the movie of the same name. His performance in and as Joker should go down in cinematic history as a watershed accomplishment in the creation of an onscreen character.

The story in Joker is of a man’s descent into madness, and for Arthur Fleck, while the trip isn’t very long, it is shown in slow motion.

Todd Phillips, writer/director, takes a stab at what could be described as a documentary about the real story behind Joker, from which all of the cartoons and comic books were based, told in an observational style, as though Jane Goodall had hidden cameras on Arthur Fleck instead of gorillas.

Without giving too much away, Arthur is not born but created, as he suffers mentally, emotionally and physically at the hands of a mental health system which fails him, the people who should have protected him, and a violent uncaring culture which takes advantage of his initial simple view of life.

One of the main characters in Joker is invisible – the soundtrack. The music accompanying Joker is incredible, following Arthur like an unseen ghost, drawing in his madness and breathing it out again for others to hear. Hildur Guonadottir, an Icelandic composer, weaves a web of truly haunting cello music which, at turns, lulls and aggressively pursues the listener, echoing Arthur’s multi-faceted insanity: his depressed, hopeless state of mind, his hallucinatory flights of fancy, as well as his manic episodes of single-minded determination.

The cinematography visualized by Lawrence Sher is masterful.  From the grim hues and motifs of rain and shadow, to the camera work which uses techniques such as the “dolly zoom” aka the “Vertigo Effect” where the camera pulls back and zooms forward at the same time – all work together to allow a bleak and twisted perspective into Arthur’s broken mind.

But, most tragic, all this wealth of creativity and talent is ultimately wasted.

While Joker, as I mentioned, can arguably be considered the origin story from which all the other legends and mythology of the D.C. Joker emerge, especially the cartoons, the comics, and Jack Nicholson’s rendition, the viewing of the movie is a long travail of suffering with very little purpose. In films like Les Misérables, for example, the suffering of Fantine and Jean Val Jean is altruistic and ultimately redemptive, teaching humility and mercy to the characters and vicariously to the audience. In Man of La Mancha, the prostitute, Aldonza, is shown literally and figuratively in the ditch in which she self describes as having been born, in order to illuminate how far Don Quixote’s kindness brings her when she reforms. Even silly fare like disaster movies serve as a mechanism for the characters to show courage and self-sacrifice.

In The Dark Knight, Bruce’s losses mold and inspire him into becoming a self-appointed defender of the weak and innocent. And there are Judeo-Christian motifs in the Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne dies to himself everyday, denying his own comfort and pleasures, instead taking on the sins of others, all the while pitted against the remorseless demonic figure of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Even farces such as Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which feature the ne’erdowell indulgence of greedy impulses by groups of people succumbing to temptations, serve as lessons in horrible warnings against sinking into the mire of one’s baser instincts. The Mad Mad ensemble put themselves through brutal punishments and ultimately go to jail – all while making us LAUGH.

But there is nothing absolutive in Joker, nor are there any hints of a reckoning to come. And there is no proportionate justice for the wicked, especially not for Arthur, no purpose to anyone’s suffering and no humor. Joker is unrelentingly grim, unendingly dark, and grindingly depressing. In the end, the audience is left only with the familiar figure of a boy standing over the dead bodies of his parents and the dancing of Arthur in his Joker costume amidst the rampaging rioters in a burning Gotham.

Joker does serve as a demonstration in favor of institutionalizing the mentally disturbed as opposed to releasing into the “wild” those incapable of functioning in society.

It also serves as a horrible warning against the efficacy of vigilante justice as Arthur quickly moves from killing in self defense, to murder in order to cover his actions, to vengeance against those he believes have harmed him, to serving as judge, jury and executioner against those he deems as “awful”.

But there is nothing redemptive, or self-sacrificing about Joker’s actions. There is no moral base from which Arthur even attempts to rationalize his behavior. There is nothing to learn from the pain which Arthur endures or inflicts.

Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) is his exhausted single-mother neighbor Sophie, Brett Cullen (Dark Knight Rises) plays Thomas Wayne, Douglas Hodge makes a singular impression as Alfred Pennyworth, one of the only characters in the movie whose focus is not on themselves, as his primary concern is to protect Bruce, and Dante Pereira-Olson plays young Bruce.

Robert De Niro has a small role, as talk show host Murray Franklin. DeNiro’s presence is delicious irony. De Niro has played both a character as equally as unhinged as Arthur in Taxi Driver and as demented a fan who faces off against an idealized talk show host in the lesser known King of Comedy. DeNiro’s resume is incredible, featuring a list of movies with enough quality and variety to have secured the careers of a dozen actors: the casual, criminal violence in the characters of The Godfather II, The Irishman, and Cape Fear, the flawed heroes struggling in the dark worlds of Midnight Run, Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver, the boxer in Raging Bull, the captain of a fantasy ship in the light farce Stardust, the aging lead in the romantic comedy The Intern, the slaver turned priest in The Mission, the grim and frightening Al Capone in The Untouchables, the moving victim of catatonia in Awakenings. De Niro is impossible to pin down. Admittedly, it is a testament to the quality to which the filmmakers were aiming in Joker, that the legendary De Niro, himself a master at his craft, would agree to participate.

Unfortunately, the abundance of talent in Joker does not resolve the ultimate meaninglessness of the plot. The audience, much like Arthur, suffers pointlessly in following Arthur’s moral and mental descent.

While Joaquin Phoenix’ performance is mesmerizing and probably should serve in every acting class as a “how to create a character on screen” and while the director and the music serve, with masterful art, to bring us into Arthur’s state of mind and point of view, the journey ultimately has no end, no goal, and no exit strategy from the depths into which Arthur is thrown or the hole he continues to dig at the bottom of his well.

As of the writing of this article Joker is the highest grossing R-rated movie ever made. And it is disturbing to consider that such a pointlessly violent and unrepentantly dark film should attract so much attention.

If you are a student of acting, Joker is worth enduring for Phoenix’ performance. But for those just seeking entertainment or an extension to the D.C. world of Batman and Joker, give this one a miss and re-watch 2008’s The Dark Knight.

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – WORTHY CULMINATION OF 42 YEARS AND NINE FILMS

SHORT TAKE:

The culmination of 42 years and nine films, the “last” Star Wars installment, which follows Rey as she seeks out the truth about her parentage.

WHO SHOULD GO:

No inappropriate sexuality, tiny amount of mild profanities, no blasphemy, BUT there is a good deal of very intense and cartoon-violence fighting scenes in a variety of frightening landscapes: underground, in extremely high seas, space, etc. So young teens or, with parental discretion, any age.

LONG TAKE:

I had read a lot of bad press about this latest Star Wars installment: Disney princess-fied, rehashing of old storyline, feminist diatribe, devaluing of men. So two of my kids and I went in as fairly hostile audience members. Honestly, none of the complaints were truly justified. We all kept waiting for it to be bad or get bad and it never happened.

Now if repetition is your irritant of choice, certainly there was an avalanche of nostalgic homages in this (supposed) last installment of the 42-year franchise, but that was to be expected.  And director J.J. Abrams (contributor to Star Trek, Star Wars and Mission Impossible installments) with his team of writers does not disappoint with: exciting non-stop action, classically Star Wars-ian pseudo-science/fantasy, exotic species, deeply committed and self-sacrificing leads and smart aleck supporting cast dialogue.

The late Carrie Fisher appears thanks to CGI, left over footage and clever cinematography by Dan Mindel who has lent his talents to many franchises including Star Wars, Mission Impossible, and Star Trek. The most prominent of supporting cast members also include: Oscar Issacs (multi-talented actor whose resume includes The Nativity Story, Operation Finale, and X-Men) as Poe, the wisecracking pilot; John Boyega as Finn, former First Order (read new Storm Trooper) inductee and Rey’s best friend; Anthony Daniels reprising C3PO as the only cast member to be in ALL NINE movies (R2D2’s Kenny Baker having passed away); Domhnall Gleeson (About Time, the Cohen brothers True Grit, and Peter Rabbit) as the comically nefarious General Hux (whose success rate is about that of Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes); Billy Dee Williams who cheerily reprises Lando with contagious enthusiasm; Ian McDiarmid returning as the oozy evil Emperor Palpatine; and the list goes on for miles. The majority of every character and actor who have ever appeared in a Star Wars movie show up regardless of whether they and/or their characters are currently dead or not.

Abrams’ writing team includes himself, Chris Terrio (D.C. universe and Argo), Derek Connolly (Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom SEE REVIEW HERE, and Kong: Skull Island), and Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). There is a lot of sci-fi fantasy credentials involved and it shows.

This – allegedly – last Star Wars film examines who Rey (Daisy Ridley – Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express) really is as she fights the last remnants of the Empire with a coalition of freedom fighters. As to having a female in the lead I saw nothing wrong with their handling of this story decision. Anyone who has read previous reviews knows I am adamantly against rewrites to crowbar in females where men had previously starred (ahem – Ghostbusters 2), and am on record for looking with a jaundiced eye at female led action movies. However, I also am equally vocal in praise of well done movies like Wonder Woman and characters like Black Widow, where the protagonist is awesome and the storyline well done and the lead just happens to be a female – hero first, woman second. Rey, here, is an action hero first who just happens to be a female. Well done her.

The music by John Williams (who else?!) blends smoothly with all the rest of the franchise music. It is but a variation on the same themes, but that is not a bad thing. (They don’t call the original soundtrack the “Star Wars Symphony” for nothing.) This iconic music is as much a character in all nine of the movies as Chewie or R2 or Lando or Leia or, for that matter, the Millennium Falcon.

The cinematography is visually spectacular – as you would expect from any Star Wars film. From a stark desert landscape to a fight surrounded by CAT 5 hurricane level waves, from a space dog fight to a duel underground, the screenwriters went out of their way to be sure we got the length and breadth of how a Jedi deals with hostile environments of all kinds.

If it were not for the fact this movie is supposed to be the wrap up to four decades of films catering to three generations of Star Wars fans, I would think they maybe had over egged the pudding. As it was there were both cheers and tears from the audience as the storyline went through its paces in a most satisfying effort to pull out all the stops.

I couldn’t help but see the parallel to the long running thread at the heart of  The Blacklist‘s seven-season (and still going strong) tale, wherein the FBI’s most wanted (James Spader’s Red Reddington) turns himself in to aid the FBI in hunting down criminals so dangerous and elusive the FBI doesn’t even know they exist. But Red will only speak to Elizabeth Keen, newbie Quantico grad, who has never even heard of Reddington aside from his rap sheet. Though the titular storyline involves pursuing bad guys in clever ways, who Keen is to Red is the engine that propels the core of the show.

Similarly, the Star Wars Saga’s wrap up films have explored Rey’s search for closure. Rey is their new version of Luke – the Padawan with inexplicably extraordinary Force abilities – who searches for her parents and is occasionally sorry she asked.

There is something eternally appealing to the quest to reveal our origins, harkening back to our search for our place in the Universe and ultimately our relationship with our Creator. The annals of cinema history is rife with examples of orphans searching for their place in the Universe: Little Orphan Annie, Oliver Twist, Heidi, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Cosette from Les Mis, even Billy Batson from Shazaam! and Peter Pan – all search for what they see as their missing piece. Some, like Billy and Dorothy discover they never truly lacked anything to begin with and there was no place like home with people who already loved them. Others were disabused of idealized fantasies. And this is the identity crisis with which both Rey and her antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver – Paterson SEE REVIEW HERE and Logan Lucky SEE REVIEW HERE) wrestle. Rey wants to know who her mom and dad are/were and why they left her. On the other hand, while Ren knows who his parents are, he is in a constant state of struggle in coming to terms with them and their beliefs. (And boy with 6 kids isn’t THAT a familiar theme.)

SPOILERS

Dove-tailing with the search for identity embarked upon by the lead antagonists, the resolution for Kylo Ren comes from a very Christian based theology. Ren has done terrible things: genocide, patricide, torture of innocents, random violence, all in the service of becoming a galactic tyrant.  All very NON-Jedi activities. For the 3 or 4 people in the solar system who might not know, a Jedi is a monk-like warrior who leads a fairly aesthetic existence while fighting, armed only with a light saber and his connection to the “Force” of life, to ensure freedom and protection for innocents, even at the cost of their lives. Ren is the polar opposite of this, despite his parentage of Princess Leia, twin sister to Luke, a powerful Jedi master-knight and Han Solo, Luke’s best friend. But when Rey fatally bests him in battle, then, in an act of mercy, shares some of her life force with him to heal his mortal wound, he turns his back on what he has become. Ren repents! And when  he dies, in a turn about to save Rey by re-offering ALL of his life force back to her, he disappears as Yoda and Obi Wan had done – a sign of ultimate acceptance by the Jedi Force of his worthiness.

So with Ren’s genuine repentance and his willingness to die for his one time enemy, to love his “neighbor” as himself, came true redemption. A laudable and admirable lesson with which to close out (if this truly IS the last) the Star Wars Saga.

On a completely different topic – A lot of ink has been spilled over a same-sex kiss. The film makers made a big deal about this but it is truly “much ado about nothing” and a ridiculous effort at some glad handing political correctness. It occurs during a World War II Victory-like moment of joyous abandonment and celebration of life so that everyone is hugging and kissing everyone else. The kiss was about a sexual as if, in the joy of the moment Poe had kissed Maz or Rey had smooched Chewbacca. It had the same feel as when Ernie kissed Burt on the forehead after they finish singing for George and Mary’s wedding in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Were it not for the hypersensitivity in this artificially created lame-stream media’s constant attempts at shoving politically correct agendas down mainstream audiences throats, I don’t even think anyone would have noticed. Noticing it and attributing any particular significance to it hints at a subtext. But the kiss comes out of nowhere and BECAUSE of the attention brought to it in advertising campaigns, it effectively commits the cardinal sin of breaking the suspension of disbelief, needlessly popping the viewer out of this otherwise wonderful moment which was 42 years in the making.

The only other significant critique I would give is the insufficient amount of time given to the, as my kids put it, non-“Emo” Kylo Ren. Ren spends the majority of his time in these movies growling behind a Vader-like mask, barking orders, destroying things in fits of anger, glowering, killing people, and generally  being a REALLY tough audience. Ren’s moments of slight gentle humor after his miraculous healing by Rey are a surprise and delight. They are simple and little but effective moments where Ren is FINALLY channeling his father, Han Solo – like saying “Ow” after a fall or giving a wry smile and shrug as he pulls a lightsaber from nowhere to school some opponents. These are the best moments in all of Ren’s appearances in the entire franchise. They are memorable but tragically ever so brief minutes before he dies. Would that they had made an entire feature film with this aspect of his character.

So after all the reveals and (sort of) character deaths and familial connections resolved within the Star Wars Universe, you might think they really mean it when they say this is the LAST Star Wars movie to ever be made. Everyone who believes that shout out loud. (*so quiet crickets can be heard*) I agree and that’s just fine. See you at the NEXT “final” Star Wars movie.

HOTEL ARTEMIS: A RIOT, SOME ROBBERS, A SECRET HOSPITAL TO WHICH THEY GO, AND THE NURSE WHO RUNS IT

SHORT TAKE:

Violent but subtly humorous, action filled but occasionally thoughtful, and creative look at a near future ultra secret hotel-hospital for wealthy criminals run by an aging, no-nonsense, rough but surprisingly compassionate and maternal Nurse and her massive orderly, during a perfect storm of chaos.

WHO SHOULD GO:

This is an adult only movie to be sure. Though there is almost no sexuality of any kind, there is a LOT of violence and a large dose of bad language. NOT for kids.

LONG TAKE:

There may be no honor among thieves but at the Hotel Artemis there is at least some loyalty. The Hotel Artemis is a 22 year old run-down member-only hospital for criminals. On the 12th floor of a building in the wrong part of Los Angeles, it is exclusive, hidden and generally thought to be a myth. Hotel Artemis is an indie movie, written and directed by Drew Pierce whose credits as writer include Iron Man 3, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and 2020's future new Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes. This is his first outing directing a feature length film.  

Set in the near future of 2028 Los Angeles, Artemis features microwave scalpels, 3D printers which can manufacture new livers, and the highly skilled Nurse, played by Jodie Foster, who is more worn down than the Artemis' elevators. Agoraphobic, alcoholic, pill popping and jaded, Nurse shuffles about the hotel and her charges, administering treatments with a confident medical hand and a tough love bedside manner.  (As an odd piece of trivia it is the second time Foster has played an agoraphobic, the first time as Alexandra Rover, the neurotic writer in the filmed version of the comedy children's story Nim's Island.)

Her only staff – part orderly part bouncer – is Dave Bautista's character, Everest, whose name is a mystery only to people who have never seen a picture of this man mountain. His strong arm but restrained hand is somehow both scary and adorable. Early on, for example, he is jumped from behind by a customer who has been turned away. Shrugging him off as a bear might an overzealous cub he cautions him with the zen calm of an experienced camp counselor not to do it again or he just might have to really [mess] him up. 

Everyone goes by a nickname gleaned from either their job description or the hotel room name and Foster's lead character, The Nurse, is no exception. The movie is about the night of the Nurse's Perfect Storm. A city wide riot, like a slow-moving wildfire, is heading their way at the same time the Artemis' owner and founder, a mob kingpin named The Wolf King/Niagra, in yet another flamboyant bad guy role played by Jeff Goldblum, enters late in the evening for ministrations, accompanied by his overeager to please son, (Star Trek's Zachery Quinto), and his gang of thugs. Caught in the crossfire are a pair of brothers freshly injured from a bank robbery Waikiki and Honolulu, (Sterling Brown and Brian Henry), a munitions dealer, Acapulco (Charlie Day)  who came off the worse for wear in an altercation with a mistress, and a mysterious hit woman, Nice, played by Sophia Boutella, whose true allegiances and hidden agenda slowly unfold as the evening wears on. I have not cared much for the one note characters Boutella played in Kingsmen and Atomic Blonde, but her Nice in Hotel Artemis has her growing on me.  The ensuing tornado of violence will expose formerly unknown histories and secrets central to the souls of these eminently interesting characters.

There are many rules for the Hotel Artemis. Among them are: no weapons allowed, no one but members through the gates, do not insult or threaten the staff, and …….. do not kill the other patients. For one reason or another all the rules will be broken this night …. for better or for worse.

The violence is considerable and the language is fairly raw but there is no sexuality. Who has time with the amount of fighting and blood shed that will go on?

Foster is the genuine article. An actor, like Dustin Hoffman, who does not shy away from looking truly ugly. But from Foster's Nurse, underneath her worn exterior, shines a beauty of genuine but rough and no-nonsense affection for her patients. She exercises an unsentimental, tough-love maternal protective fiduciary duty towards them all and it makes her character both endearing and relatable in ways that more glamorous but despicable women in movies like Ocean's 8, can not even begin to evoke. If honesty and genuine concern were coinage she would be the richest woman in this movie about a medical retreat for the super wealthy criminal. I haven't seen this kind of unique perspective on the maternal instinct since Ripley's square off with the mother creature in Aliens.

This is an unusual and creative movie. I believe it has been vastly underrated by the traditional reviewing community, more particularly Rex Reed who labeled it as a shoddy freak show. This is grossly unfair and I suspect he did not understand its themes of filial duty and responsible altruism, which the writer is asserting is a potential which lies at the core of every human soul, even the apparently mosty fallen ones among us. The characters are three dimensional and behave in often unexpected but very credible ways. They are somewhat larger than life (especially Bautista) but there are genuine and unique personalities which come out clearly in small ways and clever dialogue. No exceptions or excuses are made for their criminal behavior but there is a humanity to them which make them very accessible. And, Hallelujah, Hotel Artemis does not always take itself completely seriously. Goldblum's character is aware that he is a very bad guy and likely to come to a very bad end. Baustista's character knows he is massive and almost unstoppable but has a gentle and fiercely protective spot for this tiny fragile elderly and essentially kind maternal Nurse. Right after Waikiki warns an especially obnoxious fellow patient, Acapulco, that Nice could kill him with a coffee cup she immediately demonstrates, then warns Acapulco that it is a good thing the Hotel Artemis has its rules. Nice advises someone on how to die well: "They paid for your death, don't give them your dignity for free." And if you're the kind of movie attendee who likes to stay for the credits, the last line is: "The staff of the Hotel Artemis hopes you enjoyed your stay and that you will come again." One has to smile.

Certainly not a family friendly film, but for those of appropriate age and disposition, Hotel Artemis is more than worth your time.

 

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE – BASED ON THE PERSONAL AND POWERFULLY INSPIRATIONAL SONG

 

SHORT TAKE:

I Can Only Imagine is the beautifully told biography, not just of the challenging life of Bart Millard, who was both the product of an abusive father, and the composer of the inspirational song, but a biography of the song, itself. The song "I Can Only Imagine" is unique in the annals of Christian music, crossing Christian music boundaries to become a number one hit in mainstream markets nationally. This song, on which the movie is based, achieved a unique triple platinum status and is the most popular Christian music song in history.

WHO SHOULD SEE THIS MOVIE:

Young teens on up. Caution should be used in bringing children due to the portrayal of Bart Millard’s father, who was an angry, physically abusive man. Though most of the abusive behavior is only talked about there are some disturbing episodes of violence.

LONG TAKE:

Earl Swain was one of my husband’s best friends. He was also one of the kindest, gentlest, most faith filled man I ever met, whose favorite way to start a sentence was: "I'm so thankful that…". Earl gave up his life, repeatedly, during the course of his adulthood in many ways to many people.

Bryan met Earl while working in the emergency room. Originally from New York, then a southern transplant, Earl was a gifted nurse and would work in our home town, Lake Charles, Louisiana long enough to earn sufficient money to set out to nurse and preach the Gospel in countries hostile to Christianity. He would work as a medical missionary in places like Saudi Arabia, where even declaring your Christianity could get you thrown in jail or executed, until he needed to go back to Louisiana to make enough money to return to his missionary work. Earl continued with these acts of corporal and spiritual mercy until he met a lovely widow with three boys. He married the lady and adopted the sons. Then, on April 22, 2003, while out fishing in the Gulf with two of the kids, their cousin and Earl’s father, the boat was swamped by a rogue wave. The cousin was washed away and drowned. His father died of a heart attack as they tried to stay afloat together. Left with only a waterlogged life jacket and a styrofoam ice chest to cling to Earl prayed with the boys, kissed them goodbye and swam away to be sure that he would not be tempted, in his extremity, to latch onto one of the children. Miraculously, the boys were saved by an oil rig crew boat changing shift in the middle of the night as one of the boys held his brother above water and barely clung to consciousness himself.

Earl spent his life offering it to others and his final act of love saved the life of two of his children.

The song "I Can Only Imagine" was released in 2001, but I first heard it as it crossed station genres into the mainstream in 2003. I remember at the time it reminded me of Earl and they played it at his funeral. I can not hear it without thinking of him.

So when I tell you the song is personally important to me, you now can understand why.

The song has a story of its own. Bart Millard, the composer, was inspired to write the song in the wake of his father's death. He sings of imagining what it would be like in Heaven when he first meets Jesus: "…will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall, will I sing HALLELUJAH! Or will I be able to speak at all, I can only imagine…." But it quickly becomes obvious that Bart is envisioning his repentant and recently deceased father’s first encounter with Christ.

The music video of Mercy Me singing "I Can Only Imagine" bears this out as well as person after person is shown during the song with pictures of their longed for lost loved ones.

The movie recounts Bart’s tragic and crushing childhood through to his early adult years under the brutal hand of his physically, emotionally and verbally abusive father after his mother’s abandonment. The first miracle is that Bart's soul came away only bruised and not broken. Bart is the kind of person that never met a stranger and his enthusiasm and optimism infectiously help ingratiate him into a struggling band, then convince a jaded but wryly amused music agent to become their manager.

J. Michael Finley, a pastor’s son in his first film acting role, does a marvelous job of portraying this struggling young man and inspirationally powerhouses his way through the singing. His renditions of everything he sings will raise the hair on the back of your neck. Finley's bubbly personality, physique, humble but outgoing interactions with other people and confident singing prescence reminds me of a combination of Sean Astin and Hugh Jackman.

The supporting cast is full of familiar faces, including Dennis Quaid who is remarkable as the alternately horrifying and touching father. Cloris Leachman has a small role as Bart’s adorable grandmother Memaw. Priscilla Shirer, who we last saw in the Kendrick brothers’ War Room takes on the life changing instrumental (pun intended) role of Mrs. Fincher, the music and theatrical teacher who recognizes Bart’s potential and literally pushes Bart on to stage work. The other members of Mercy Me – Jim, Mike, Nathan & Robby – are played, respectively, by Randy McDowell, Jason Burkey, Mark Furze, & Cole Marcus. And rounding out the troupe is Trace Adkins, the baritone country western singer from Springhill, Louisiana, who plays Brickell, Mercy Me’s initially reluctant agent and ersatz father figure.

So bring your hankies and open your hearts and ears to this wonderful, spiritually cleansing, musical biography about brokenness and God's ability to redeem those who have given up on even themselves. As Earl might have said: I'm so thankful that they have made such a lovely movie out of such a beautiful song. I pray that it continues to inspire for many generations to come.

NOTE: There is no sex or nudity and no bad language and certainly no blasphemy.

A NEW POST – A NEW LEAF

In both the reference to a movie of the same name, and as an analogy for the fact we are taking a break from the ongoing much longer blog about Back to the Future and fatherhood —–

We interrupt this multi-post on Back to the Future to bring you – as John Cleese might say – something completely different.

I would venture to say that most, if not all of you, have never heard of the movie A New Leaf. Penned, directed and starring Elaine May, co-starring the iconic Walter Matthau, this is a small budget film made in 1971 based upon the short story, The Green Heart, by Jack Ritchie. The protagonist, Henry Grahame, (Matthau) is a self-absorbed, self-indulgent aristocratic heir who runs through his family fortune until, in his late thirties finds himself without friends or fortune. There is only one person in the world who cares anything about him, Harold (the delightful singer and Shakespearean theatrical actor, George Rose), Henry’s valet, who sums up the basis for his loyalty to Henry in this one speech: “How many men these days require the services of a gentleman’s gentleman? How many men have your devotion to form, sir? You have managed, in your own lifetime Mr. Graham, to keep alive traditions that were dead before you were born.”

Of course, Harold tempers this with the warning that if Mr. Graham continues to be poor, he immediately tenders his two week notice.

Henry quickly realizes that, for him, there are only two options: suicide…………….or marrying rich. With Harold’s aide Henry embarks on a quest to find a rich widow or single heiress who would be tolerable to his refined tastes and isolated ways. He soon discovers that while there are MANY candidates, he can’t stand any of them…until he finds the least suitable one of all. An extremely wealthy but ugliest of ugly ducklings. Shy, socially awkward, clumsy, naive, gullible – she is everything Henry would NOT want in a mate, aside from the money. However, it suddenly occurs to him, she would be quite easy to —— murder.

So begins the courtship and honey-murder, I mean —moon of one of the most charming little comedies I have ever seen. It is ultimately a film about the power of love, redemption and poetic justice, but told in the singularly most UN-conventional and UN-sentimental way I have ever seen demonstrated.

I REALLY am not going to spoil this one for you. You have to see it……if you can. It is quite hard to find and after much searching I located a copy on VHS.

But if possible, I recommend this movie as one of my all time favorites. This movie would be appropriate, with parental supervision, for even younger teens. Henry is quite chaste. There is very little profanity and no sex. Henry’s SOLE vice is avarice. The only questionable moment is when one socialite attempts to seduce him and Henry, in a breathtaking moment of humor, literally runs screaming from her.

Walter Matthau is at his finest in a brilliant example of miscasting gone right. Aside from Hello Dolly, I can’t think of a less appropriate vehicle for Matthau. But – as in Hello Dolly – he is such an amazing actor that he pulls off the deliciously arrogant and thoroughly self-centered Henry while making him – somehow – adorable.

Elaine May is perfectly terrific as the totally INcapable Henrietta Lowell. Vulnerable, dependent, socially oblivious and educated to the point of being a blithering idiot in everything except her one field of interest – botony – May creates a child-like character who is both endearing and extremely annoying at the same time. You come to understand why Henry would consider killing her yet dread her disappearance. May is probably not familiar to too many. She made her biggest mark with Mike Nichols as half of an improvisational comedy duo and did a good deal of stage work. She was in only about a dozen films, including a teensy part in The Graduate, wrote only 10 screenplays and directed only four movies, the last mostly because of her tendency to go way over budget. As an aside, one of her directorial efforts was Ishtar, the biggest financial flop in history at that time.

But she did manage to produce A New Leaf – this beautiful blossom of a movie.