It’s March 2020 and we’re living through unprecedented times. With the corona virus forcing the abandonment of many every day activities we’re facing weeks of quarantine, only leaving our homes to buy grocery items, for once a day exercise, or to go to work if it’s essential that we get there. These changes have been met with bemusement by many, the unique circumstances causing, at most, a bit of anxiety about getting our shopping in. Some though are facing uncertain financial futures, while others are putting themselves at great risk to keep hospitals staffed, shop shelves stacked, and food delivered. At the sharp end of this though is real tragedy. Stories are coming through of those going to hospital with COVID-19 and dying just days later; four or five days when no one could visit them, when children couldn’t share last words, when they need the support of their family most of all but being unable to see anyone. Worse still, grieving relatives having to self-isolate can’t visit each other to share comfort or effectively plan a funeral. Losing a parent is tough enough, but losing a loved one under these circumstances is brutal. We can all help to make sure as few people as possible have to go through this though, and it’s not even anything that taxing. All we have to do is wash our hands and stay at home as much as we can. People are doing what they can to help. Popstars are offering free online home concerts, celebrity chefs are putting together shows to help us cook with what we have in our cupboards, and people are showing their appreciation for keyworkers with impromptu displays of gratitude. Here at FilmsFilmsFilms we’re going to do what we do as well, provide you with a steer as to what movies to seek out to compliment the times. Stay safe and happy watching.
- THE OMEGA MAN (1971)
Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend might not have been the most brilliant piece of literature ever released but its premise was one for the ages; if you were the last man on earth what would you do with your time? It feels a bit like that at the moment. Heading out of the house for a jog along empty streets, it feels like you could be one of the last people left. Matheson’s book was first adapted in 1964 as The Last Man On Earth, but the Vincent Price movie didn’t really have the budget to do the novel justice. Then came the Boris Sagal directed The Omega Man (1971). Sagal kept Matheson’s central idea but then branched off to tell a slightly different story. Vampires were swapped for infected albinos, and Robert Neville became a US Army Colonel, played by Charlton Heston. There’s quite a bit of campy fun to be had through the film, mostly from Heston’s one liners, “There’s never a cop around when you need one”, but overriding that is the film’s wonderfully realised sense of the end of days. The hooded albino figures of the Family are genuinely creepy and the dusty remains of deserted LA are depressing and eerie (though if you keep an eye out you can see the odd car still moving in the distance). The film also doesn’t shy away from Matheson’s downbeat ending. A third adaptation arrived with I Am Legend (2007), and while its desolate New York was the most impressive abandoned locale yet seen and Will Smith was impressive in the Neville role, its creatures were too CGI to be scary and its hopeful ending moved away from Matheson’s telling conclusion.
Tasty Morsel – The fountain used in the credits for the television series Friends was built over the fountain seen in the film’s climatic scenes.
- BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
At times like this we need the movie equivalent of comfort food, and films don’t come more hearty, filling, and comforting than Robert Zemeckis’ masterpiece Back to the Future (1985). A little time travel probably wouldn’t go amiss at the moment either, but rather than travel back in time to stock up on loo rolls or warn world leaders, Michael J Fox’s Marty McFly heads back to the mid fifties to save the life of his best friend, Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown. The plot is known to just about anyone with a passing interest in movies, but despite being so well established the film never tires and never loses its magic. Just about every scene is a stand out classic, with quotable dialogue and clever moments piling up with every passing minute. And even though time travel can be a minefield when it comes to plot logic, Marty’s adventure always makes perfect sense and has a through line that is simple yet utterly compelling. Two equally brilliant sequels followed, and thankfully, despite studios pushing Zemeckis for further instalments and reboots, the franchise has been left well alone since.
Tasty Morsel – Despite no signs of a part four, and no need for one either, Lloyd has said he would have liked to have done a fourth instalment with Marty and Doc heading back to Ancient Rome.
- HOME ALONE (1990)
Stuck at home with relatives you’ve probably seen too much of by now, playing board games and looking for films you can all safely sit and watch together; all that’s missing is a turkey dinner and some cheap decorations. So why not embrace the festive spirit and break out a Christmas movie to. And what better film than one which champions isolating yourself indoors for a period of time. A mountainous bowl of ice cream, your favourite movie, a one-person house party, sledging down your stairs, Chris Columbus’ Home Alone (1990) is a goldmine of ideas. It’s also a fantastic film. Though not Macauley Culkin’s first acting role, it wasn’t far off, and he certainly didn’t have the experience to deliver Kevin McCallister that we got; that came down to talent. Like a live action Bart Simpson, he perfectly encapsulates little boy roguishness and child innocence. He could only be as good as his sparring partners though, and thankfully Columbus was lucky enough to secure Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, along with a crew of stunt performers who delivered the best exhibition of movie slapstick seen for many years. Culkin returned for a 1992 sequel, before lesser sequels carried the franchise on, Home Alone 3 (1997), Home Alone 4: Taking Back The House (2002), and Home Alone: The Holiday Heist (2012). A reboot of the original movie is expected to arrive on the new Disney Plus streaming service some time in 2020.
Tasty Morsel – Robert De Niro turned down the role of burglar Harry, which eventually went to his Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990) co-star Pesci.
- CAST AWAY (2000)
It was only a matter of time before the corona virus got to a celebrity, and two of the first to get it were Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson. Fortunately, they were both able to get treatment and make a recovery. During their hospital isolation Hanks gave a series of reassuring and morale boosting Instagram posts to help keep people’s spirits up. We can also thank Hanks for one of the best movies ever made on self-isolation, Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away (2000). Filmed between 1998 and 2000, the movie drew attention initially for Hanks’ dramatic weight loss. To play Chuck Noland, a FedEx systems analyst who ends up on an island in the Pacific following a plane crash, Hanks gained fifty pounds. Having shot the initial scenes, filming was put on hold for a year so the actor could lose sixty pounds and grow his beard and hair. The transformation a third of the way through the film when we time jump through Noland’s seclusion on the island is dramatic, but it’s matched by Hanks performance. Only an actor of his warmth would be able to hold together such a bleak film. Whereas most films would have ended with Hanks rescue by passing container ship, Zemeckis answers the intriguing questions as to what comes next for Noland, and the scenes after his escape from his island prison are just as absorbing.
Tasty Morsel – If you want to see the actual island Tom Hanks was on during production just enter -17.609277, 177.0397 in to the Google Maps search bar.
- SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
Given the seriousness of the corona outbreak, it didn’t seem appropriate to have Dawn of the Dead (1978) on our list, though its story of three escapees holing up in an abandoned shopping mall with mountains of goods around them does encapsulate the hoarding that some ignorant bastards are inflicting upon supermarkets up and down the country. What does seem more appropriate is Edgar Wright’s brilliant comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004). Its built around a very British response to a global disaster; when catastrophe strikes we put the kettle on, open a packet of biscuits, and sit down to work out what we do next. Or we head down the pub for a pint. Alas, the latter option is off the table for the moment (though how sweet that first pint in the re-opened pubs of Britain will be when it arrives), but we can still go on a romp with Shaun and Ed around North London as they muddle their way through the arrival of the zombie apocalypse. Horror writer Stephen King was one of the first to peg Shaun as a future cult classic, and he was right; the film has entered British culture as cinematic shorthand for staying cool in the face of difficult times, which is exactly what’s needed now. Now, if we can just convince Simon Pegg to film the sequel he wrote, the vampire horror comedy From Dusk ‘Til Shaun.
Tasty Morsel – The Winchester Tavern was actually the Duke of Albany pub in New Cross Gate. Sadly the pub has since been turned in to an overpriced apartment block.
- RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR (2006)
Wherever you pop a thriller or horror film in to your DVD player at the moment will depend on how well you are coping with the current crisis. If you feeling anxious its probably best to stick with a romantic comedy or an adventure classic. But if you’re feeling brave there are plenty of movies in the horror sub-genres that reflect the happenings of the time. One of the best is the low budget thriller from Chris Gorak Right At Your Door (2006). Set in Los Angeles, a series of dirty bomb attacks causes wide spread panic. Caught up in it are couple Brad (Rory Cochrane) and Lexi (Mary McCormack). While Lexi struggles to navigate through the city centre, Brad makes it back indoors and seals off their home against the deadly toxins now allegedly circulating in the air. What follows is a series of increasingly tense dilemmas as Brad has to decide on personal safety or the safety of his wife and neighbours. It makes for riveting viewing as it’s incredibly difficult to say what one might do when faced with the same terrifying choices. The cast of relatively unknowns work wonders with the sparse script, and the unpredictable ending makes for a shocking climax. Gorak was pegged for big things following the praise his debut feature received, but to date he has only made one more film, the disappointing The Darkest Hour (2011).
Tasty Morsel – Lexi’s brother Jason is played by Mary McCormack’s real life brother Will McCormack.
- REC (2007) / REC 2 (2009)
Though you might be tempted to plump for its American made remake Quarantine (2008), you’re much better off sticking with the original Spanish made movie Rec (2007). From directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, we follow Angela, a Spanish news reporter, as she shadows a fire crew on a typical nights work. When the crew are called to an apartment block to help a lady trapped in her apartment they quickly discover that some sort of violent outbreak has taken hold of the tower. Filmed cinema verite style, the film is shown entirely through the footage of Angela’s accompanying cameraman. It makes for a frenetic, panicky film, removing any language barrier as conversations are kept to a minimum, the plot relying almost exclusively on the physical actions of the apartment block residents. The block is quarantined from the outside by the military in suspiciously quick fashion, and the residents are left to fend for themselves against the increasing number of violent zombies within. Rather than take the obvious route, Plaza and Balaguero offer an intriguing and terrifying left turn in the final act, leading to a sequel, Rec 2 (2009), which though similar in style dips in to other horror sub-genres for equally effective scares. The directors went solo to offer their own separate sequels, Rec 3: Genesis (2012) and Rec 4: Apocalypse (2014), but neither could match the brilliance of the first two instalments.
Tasty Morsel – Actress Manuela Velasco is an actual TV presenter in her native Spain.
- CONTAGION (2011)
If you’re after a film that is a close approximation to what a global pandemic might be like, the Steven Soderbergh film Contagion (2011) is a frighteningly real and sobering watch. Taking the premise of Outbreak (1995) but leaving out the Hollywood heroism, we follow a large cast of acting talent, Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, as they struggle to survive through the spread of a new virus. Inspired by the 2002 SARS outbreak, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Burns spent time researching their script with a large range of experts including World Health Organisation officials. The result is a plot devoid of fantastical twists or unlikely turns, instead relying on an almost documentary approach. The only thing that takes the edge off of the tension is the slight lean towards the seventies disaster movie genre, as you try to work out who from the large cast will make it to the final credits and how the various subplots will eventually intertwine. Despite the grim subject matter the film earned universal praise and $136million off of a $60million budget.
Tasty Morsel – In a bizarre promotional stunt, Warner Bros. built two large Petri dishes filled with bacteria and fungi and placed them in a Toronto storefront. Over several days, the bacteria and fungi specimens grew to spell out the name of the film.
- WILD (2014)
Self-isolation isn’t too tough for me. I like my own company and I’ve got plenty of hobbies to keep me sane. One thing I’m going to miss though is time in the great outdoors. Give me a coast side stroll or a woodland jog and I’m a happy bunny. Until the lockdown is lifted we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with virtual walks though, and cinematically they don’t come much better than Jean Marc Vallee’s Wild (2014). Based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild tells Cheryl’s true life story as she takes on the daunting Pacific Crest Trail. This 2,650 mile trail runs along the west side of the USA from the Mexican border in California right up to the Canada–US border. Reese Wetherspoon plays Strayed in an extraordinary performance which sees her on screen for the entirety of the movie. Strayed is a recovering drug addict, former adulterer, and complete walking novice, which makes her a tough character to root for, at least on paper. But from the off the viewer is drawn to Strayed thanks to her fragility, determination, resilience and Wetherspoon's fantastic performance. The varying and wide vistas of the western states of America are the other star of Vallee’s film, beautifully photographed and shown with little fanfare. Despite everything Cheryl goes through, you’ll be itching to pull on your own walking boots once the final credits roll, which will hopefully make the wait for lockdown’s end worthwhile.
Tasty Morsel – The real Cheryl appears in the movie as the woman who drops Wetherspoon off at the start of the film and wishes her luck.
- A WALK IN THE WOODS (2015)
If you fancy an outdoor stroll that comes with a few more laughs, then hop over to the eastern side of the USA for Ken Kwapis’s A Walk In The Woods (2015). Writer Bill Bryson was born in Iowa but moved to Britain in the mid seventies. He eventually moved back to the USA but by then Blighty had left a big impression on him. As such, he embodies the very best qualities from both nations and brings them to bear on his writing. One of his most beloved books is the 1998 release A Walk In The Woods. Realising that the famed Appalachian Trail (a 2,200 mile hiking trail that runs from Georgia to Maine) runs near to the end of his street, Bryson decides to hike as much of it as possible. The only one of his friends foolish enough to attempt it with him is Stephen Katz, a former hell raiser now getting on in years. Robert Redford had his eye on Bryson’s book for some time, hoping to film it with his long time friend Paul Newman. When Newman passed he shelved the idea, only resurrecting it when working with Nick Nolte on another project some years later. Recognising the perfect grizzled face for Katz, the two of them paired up and delivered a heart warming double act. A few creative liberties are taken with Bryson’s story, most notably with the final act which adds a little bit of peril to the story. Outside of this though it’s a faithful telling of Bryson’s attempt to take on the trail complete with all the laughs encountered along the way and most importantly the stunning east coast scenery.
Tasty Morsel – While Redford and Nolte were in their seventies when they took on their roles, the real Bryson and Katz were both forty-four when they attempted the trail.