Week #2 of Coronavirus quarantine. I'm not actually all that shut-in. On normal days, I work from home about 50% of the time. The other time I'm in my truck driving to different jobs and doing various manual labor tasks, or going to the bank, or running to the city to pick something up. Most of those things don't really involve interacting with others face to face. While I am home working, my wife and child remained cooped up in the house and that brings lots of interference into my working day. That's not meant to sound like a complaint. I'm happy to have them around. I'm thrilled they aren't sick. I'm lucky to be able to get out a little and do some solitary work.
When I'm not working, we are all cooped up inside with not a lot of options. This was Spring Break for my kid so we didn't implement a lot of forced scheduling (something we will probably do more of next week as she is out of school for the foreseeable future). At night, we play games, and go for walks, and watch a lot of television. I guess if there is a bright side to this madness is that we're catching up on a lot of TV shows and movies. Here are a few cool ones that I've been watching and reading.
Last Saturday was our first real taste of staying in. We had been treating the virus seriously before then and limiting our exposure but that weekend was when we really started hunkering down. I took the opportunity to watch four pandemic-related movies: Contagion, I Am Legend, Rabid, and Outbreak. That's a record for me, actually, to have watched four movies in one day. Too bad the films were mostly not great.
Contagion is most closely related to what we are going through now with the coronavirus. Steven Soderbergh's 2011 drama chronicles the rise of a deadly, contagious virus as it wreaks havoc upon the globe. It mostly focuses on the doctors, scientists, and government officials as they methodically try to find a cure. Soderbergh shoots it like a meticulously crafted procedural. I watched it (and made it a cool thing) back in 2017 At that time, I thought it was a really well-made thriller. Now, it feels like a textbook case of how we should have handled the real thing.
Contagion was my first movie on Saturday and Outbreak, the 1995 film from director Wolfgang Peterson, was my last. They work as a really interesting opposite on how to make a viral apocalypse film. Where Contagion is clinical, Outbreak is action packed. It is full of guys with guns shouting, helicopter battles, and there's even a literal ticking clock scenario. Peterson directs it with such breakneck pacing that you don't necessarily notice at first how ridiculous it all is. But having watched it on the same day as Outbreak, Contagion felt sloppy. Soderbergh's film is clearly so much better it's weird to even put the two films in the same paragraph.
Sandwiched in-between those two viral outbreak films were two zombie-related movies that also have a virus at their heart. Honestly, I Am Legend doesn't really hold up. I loved it when it came out, all except for the ending anyway, but now that I've read the book and realize how much the film gets wrong, I really found myself not liking it. Not only that but I found myself really tearing apart the numerous things that really don't make sense.
But this isn't about that, it is about David Cronenberg's 1977 film in which a woman is treated at a shady plastic surgeon's office after an accident. She gets an experimental treatment that turns her into something like a vampire and everyone she bites into zombie-like creatures. The woman is played by Marilyn Chambers better known as porn star Marilyn Chambers. This was one of her few non-erotic roles. Cronenberg has stated that he was talked into hiring her because they needed a "star" and couldn't afford a real one so a "porn star" was the best they could get. For her part, she performs quite well.
This is a very low budget affair, and Cronenberg is still clearly honing his craft (this was only his second feature-length film) but it has its charms. His love of weird body horror is well on display as Marilyn Chamber's character gets a groovy little hole in the side of her underarm which hides a phallic-looking snake-thing that comes out to play whenever she's hungry. The effects are really great even if the script and acting aren't always terrific.
As I mentioned last week, I picked up this Charles Portis novel at the library when I learned he had recently died. I've always liked both film adaptations and wanted to see how well either of them stuck to the book. If you've seen the John Wayne movie. then you've practically read the book as it follows so closely. There are some added details in the book and a handful of changes were made (mostly small moments were left out) but the film stays really close to the words on the page.
It is told in the first-person from Mattie's point of view. She hires the rascally Marshal Rooster Cogburn to go into Indian Territory to capture the man who murdered her father. She's got the same plucky, determined personality as she does in both films, but in the book, we get to hear all of her internal determinations. Portis writes with a breezy style. It is an adventure novel that's also very funny at times, but with enough, erm, grit, to keep you involved.
Julian Winston (Walter Matthau) has a good life. His career as a dentist is thriving, his assistant Ms. Dickinson (Ingrid Bergman) takes care of almost his every need, and his young, effervescent girlfriend Toni (Goldie Hawn in her first film role) takes cares of the ones Ms. Dickinson can't. His only problem is he's fallen in love with Toni and wants to marry her. Trouble is, he's already got a wife. True she might be imaginary, but Toni thinks she's real which means he's got to divorce a woman who doesn't exist.
You see Winston was a swinging bachelor and in order to keep things from getting too cozy with Toni he invented a wife and kids. But now that he wants to marry Toni those things tend to get in the way. Especially since Toni is a loving, kind sort-of person and she doesn't want them to be hurt by her actions. She suggests a meet-up with the imaginary wife. Because this is a romantic comedy, Winston looks on Ms. Dickinson for the role. She's clearly in love with Winston but will never tell him. To keep things in-line for a movie like this, a handsome, hip young man has just moved in next door to Toni.
Cactus Flower doesn't do anything new with the genre. You know exactly how things will turn out way before they get there. But the script is witty and the cast crushes it. Especially Ingrid Bergman who steals the show right from underneath Goldie Hawn's big, beautiful eyes. Made in 1969, it's full of the dayglo colors, jazzy music, and ridiculous clothing that made that decade so wild. I just randomly turned this one on while flipping through the Criterion Channel and found it to be a real treat.
At the beginning of the week, I watched a lot of movies dealing with viral outbreaks and the havoc they can cause. It seems fitting that my week closed with this movie which has nothing to do with any virus but is all about two people being isolated together for a very long time.
The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattison who travel to a remote, isolated lighthouse in order to keep it running for five weeks. Dafoe plays the elder statesman who has done this job for many years while Pattison plays the young pup coming out for the first time. They run opposing shifts with Pattison's character keeping everything running by stocking the furnace full of coal, repairing the roof, and cleaning during the day while Dafoe stays with the light all night long. Their shifts overlap briefly for supper. Things go relatively well until their relief doesn't show up and as more weeks pile on, their grips on reality loosen.
Like his previous film, The Witch, director Robert Eggers sets The Lighthouse in a world full of darkness and mystery. We're never told where in the world the actual lighthouse exists, nor what time period it is set in (though one can guess it is somewhere in New England and the late 1800s.) It seems both out of time and place during certain moments. Its imagery is stark and surreal. The language both characters speak seems both old-timey and completely made up. It has moments of grotesque horror and dark humor. Also, like The Witch, I'm not entirely sure I liked it all that much, but it has such a singular vision and it so triumphantly odd that I'm simply thrilled a film like this is still being made in this day and age.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge has a new show for HBO and the first trailer dropped this week. It doesn't give you a whole lot of information but you can tell it is right in her wheelhouse as it blends dark action, intriguing secrets, and lots of humor. Merritt Weaver and Domhnall Gleeson star as two college sweethearts who reunite 17 years later when one texts the other the single word "run". But this is more than just a couple of middle-agers trying to kickstart some nostalgic booty. Both have mysterious pasts and from the looks of it things will heat up in a variety of ways. Color me intrigued.