Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Survival Cinema: 5 Movies to Get You Through Quarantine

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You know if you would have asked me a couple of months ago if I would be assigned to come up with a list of Top 5 movies to watch while quarantined due to a worldwide pandemic, I don’t know if I would have laughed, but I definitely would have looked at you funny. But here we are, with no new movies, an article due, Trump as President, and my beloved Los Angeles on Lockdown. If that isn’t enough baseball has been postponed.

Anyone else feel like they’re trapped in some unproduced Albert Brooks script?

So here they are, 5 movies to watch while you’re under quarantine. These aren’t the only five I recommend and Lord knows you could burn through half of these in a single day easy, but these are the five that made the cut. Complaints can be directed to the outer lobby and suggestions of other movies to watch can be left in the comments.


Road House (1989) Dir. Rowdy Herrington 

 God, I love Road House. As quotable as Princess Bride or Commando and more memorable than Tango & Cash or Raw Deal. It’s just plain dumb and silly.

Patrick Swayze’s Dalton is something akin to a Toshiro Mifune character. Out of place and time, he practices stoicism and quotes western philosophy while the pretty“Doc” (Kelly Lynch) stitches him up. “Pain don’t hurt,” is a singular piece of bad-good witing and is but a sliver of why Road House is so guilelessly entertaining.

The showdown between Dalton and the local land baron Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara) is the cheezy frosting on the cake. Sam Elliot shows up with his trademark gravelly voice, mustache, gorgeous mullet,  along with a five o’clock shadow well on it’s way to six o’clock and you have yourself a classic with a capital ‘C’. There’s even a scene where a monster truck destroys a Car Dealership because of…reasons. 

If you have the DVD or Blu-Ray it comes with an audio commentary with Kevin Smith and another by Rowdy Herrington himself so it’s good for at least three watches. Some of you may ask, how many times can you possibly watch Road House? But the real question is how many times can you not watch Road House? 

Saving Face (2004) Dir. Alice Wu 

I’m not going to lie Alice Wu’s Saving Face is one of my all-time favorite romantic movies. It’s up there with My Man Godfrey, Desert Hearts, Big Eden, L.A. Story, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It’s not a film necessarily made for me I am neither Chinese, a woman, or a lesbian, but I still can’t help be charmed and moved every time I watch it.

Ma (Joan Chen) is worried about her perpetually single daughter Wilhelmenia, ‘Wil”, (Michelle Krusiec) and sets her up on one horrible blind date after another. What she doesn’t know is that Wil is a lesbian-well she does, she’s just ignored that little tidbit. Wu’s style is similar to that of Lulu Wang’s and Kelly Reichardt. The camera isn’t the star the people are but that doesn’t mean the framing isn’t important or that she’s not setting a mood.

Much like Wang and Reichardt Wu hs a cast of characters. From the lovely ballet dancer Vivian (Lynn Chen) who Wil finds herself smitten with and eventually starts dating to the staff at the hospital who band together to try and set Ma up when she is kicked out of her own house for being pregnant and single.  Saving Face is part romantic comedy with elements of screwball and part character study. 

It has everything you want in a romantic comedy right up to Wil making a mad dash to the airport to catch Vivian before she leaves for Paris. Tender and funny, Saving Face never fails to leave me smiling.   

And Then There Were None (1945) Dir. Rene Clair 

Based on Agatha Christie’s book, And Then There Were None, a book with two previous titles, each more horrifically racist than the last. Third times the charm though and so we’re left with one of Christie’s best and darkest works. But adapted for the screen by Dudley Nichols and brought to life by French director Rene Clair And Then There Were None goes from nihilistic to cheerfully macabre.

Clair frames moments in which characters talk to each other in such a way so they talk directly into the camera, making them appear to talk directly to us. He doesn’t do it often but when he does it bends the fourth wall just enough to make it feel as if we’re being let in on something. More than most films adapted off Christie’s works, And Then There Were None plays with us while it’s characters die off one by one.

Nichols and Clair frame the story in a straight forward manner. Whereas the book Chrisite creates a cloud of doom and gloom which spreads over the book, Clair and Nichols have the characters drink, be merry, and gleefully try to figure out who might be killing them off.  It even has somewhat of a happy ending, which could be read as sacrilege to the text, but honestly plays out pretty well considering the tone the film took. Either way, it’s a hoot of a murder mystery with a moralistic bent brought to life by a troupe of character actors having a swell old time.

My Cousin Vinny (1992) Dir. Jonathan Lynn 

Look, I’m going to be straight with you, any movie with Marissa Tomei automatically gets three stars sight unseen. Luckily for both me and you, My Cousin Vinny, is hilarious thanks in no small part to Tomei. Her Mona Lisa Vito’s chemistry with Joe Pesci’s Vinny is off the charts and the duo is in the running for one of my favorite modern screen couples.

Essentially a broad comedy about city slickers in the sticks, My Cousin Vinny manages to not be so predictable, though when it is it still never drags. The late great Fred Gwynne, owner of one of the longest and greatest faces ever captured on film, as the put upon Judge only adds to the flavor. Pesci brings his usual manic energy to the role but while it’s easy to compare Vinny to Pesci’s other roles it would miss how much heart Vinny actually has. Pesci’s other characters are a range of violent psychopaths, whereas Vinny is just trying to keep his cousin Bill (Ralph Macchio) out of jail.

Dale Launer’s script is a tight and smart buffet of one-liners and shrewd set ups and running gags. My favorite bit is a local man who keeps trying to get into a fight with Vinny over a bet and the myriad of ways that Vinny comes up with to stall him. But what makes My Cousin Vinny memorable is the court scenes and how both accurate and hilarious they are. Tomei’s performance as Mona Lisa Vito garnered her an Academy Award and when you watch her on the stand you understand why.

Flashdance (1983) Dir. Adrian Lyne 

Flashdance is Road House for women-and men. It’s not a good movie in the slightest. But sweet merciful Jennifer Beals is it entertaining as all get out.

In 1983 Adrian Lyne somehow distilled the emotional essence of what it was like to be a teenage girl and poured it directly onto a strip of thirty-five-millimeter celluloid. Not as violent as Road HouseFlashdance is never the less just as goofy and electric. Jennifer Beals as  Alex, the eighteen-year-old girl who is a welder by day, cabaret dancer by night, who dreams of being a professional ballerina is a character for the ages. Long before the gig economy, Beals was working two jobs trying to chase her dream.

Can you believe Joe Eszterhas co-wrote this with Tom Headley?

Alex lives in an abandoned warehouse with her dog Grunt and rides a motorcycle all while chasing her dream, working at the steel mill, and dancing at Mawby’s. in of all places, Pittsburgh. But then she falls in love with Nick (Michael Nouri) a man more than a decade her senior. The age gap aside Alex must decide what she really wants, Alex or her childhood dream.

Lynne goes for what I’m sure he thought was a feminist ending. No matter, the final scenes are so finely seared into popular consciousness that even if you haven’t seen the audition scene-you’ve seen the audition scene. Flashdance is altogether joyous and absurd as only a rare few movies are or can be.


Images via their respective owners

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