Covid Cinema: Around My House in 8 Movies
Updated: Aug 8, 2021
The Covid pandemic of 2020 cancelled many travel plans and stopped me from going into movie theaters, a sad condition for someone promoting a book that blends destinations with cinema. On the other hand, armchair travel opportunities blossomed through streaming services and personal DVD libraries plus a reassessment of the places I visit every day: rooms in my house. This led me on focused tours that took me around my house in 8 movies. One at-home movie trip celebrated my wedding anniversary, an evening that previously meant going out with my husband Fred, often far from home. This time, we went around our house and started at its heart, the kitchen. A quick survey of movies with “kitchen” in the title made me switch gears and avoid choosing projects using that word because so many of them talk about a devilish district in Manhattan rather than any room with a stove. This kept me away from movies called Hell’s Kitchen plus the 2019 Melissa McCarthy heist flick, The Kitchen. Using a cooking theme for movie selections made more sense. After all, Covid-19 freed up time to investigate cookbooks gathering dust on shelves. It provided hours to transform recipes into radiant repasts, kind of like what blogger Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But while I respect author Powell’s dedication in preparing every dish in that famous cookbook, I hesitated to imitate her process, partly because her Julie & Julia movie antics with lobster horrified me. Like Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall, Powell faces crustacean combat that led to boiling a creature alive. Fearing sounds of the resulting soul-piercing screaming, I wimped out on recreating the story’s live lobster routine, settling instead for a pair of static, frozen tails on sale at Raley’s. Grab some fresh sourdough bread (Whole Foods continued making that), slather on the butter (as Julia Child advised about everything), open a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc (with a minerality that enhances the lobster somebody else killed), and Harry Potter’s wizarding wand momentarily moved aside all dire thoughts about pandemics. Eating that meal took place in the dining room, a location serving as title and sole setting for a well-reviewed 1984 project that aired on PBS. YouTube led me to a technically bad rendition of the talky play adaptation featuring William H. Macy and others in multiple roles. The story focuses more on dialogue than food, so I decided my movie/house tour should feature movies with jazzier scenes of people dining at home. Though my anniversary dinner party featured only Fred and me rather than a large group, I took inspiration from a scene in Beetlejuice because singing and dancing at the table cheers the mood. The Beetlejuice sequence happens when its bizarre title character performs his supernatural skills on a staid group, compelling members to perform a strange rendition of “Day-O” a.k.a. “The Banana Boat Song.” Of course, imitating the cast by remembering lyrics plus gyrating our limbs in odd contortions proves difficult for bodies that sustained more than four decades of marriage, but we listened to some calypso music and sang along in a slight variation of the Beetlejuice concept.
The qualifier about “home” eliminated scenes of restaurant meals (My Dinner with Andre) and the chance to imitate Meg Ryan’s orgiastic antics for When Harry Met Sally. A sad loss, but Covid prevented eating out. On the other hand, the movie proves easy to stream, so I can include it in the t.v. room (or family room as some call it since the movie's observations about a friendship’s relationship to love qualifies as an ideal date film, well-suited to anniversaries. My celebrations such as anniversaries include the laundry room. Sounds weird, I know, but we stash some of our better wine there during parties. Following the “Around My House in 8 Movies” tour, I checked online for laundry room titles. Sure enough, one movie bears that name but features a serial killer who likes washing machines. Since so many movie laundromat moments lead to bad things (except maybe for Kate Winslett and Patrick Wilson’s hot sex scene in Little Children), I prefer my own wine/laundry connection and sought projects featuring products from the vine. During Covid, Netflix released Uncorked about a guy studying for a Master Sommelier degree. It features lots of scenes with him sniffing glasses and saying things like “This wine is white,” or “This wine is red, with hints of garnet.” Works for me. I sniffed my sauvignon blanc. “This wine smells good,” I said, and gulped it down. Those who eat and drink a lot eventually find themselves needing another key location around my house, the bathroom. Yes, a movie features that title; its Ineternet Movie Data Base (IMDB) description starts by saying, “When a sociopathic murderer suffering from schizophrenia lures her latest victim back to her place” and goes on from there. Okay, I really did not expect to find great bathroom stories (though Psycho comes to mind), but the theme offers an excellent excuse to once again watch Pulp Fiction since significant things happen to John Travolta every time he wants a toilet…which occurs frequently. But really, no Quentin Tarantino fan needs an excuse to watch Pulp Fiction again. Moving out of Pulp Fiction territory, going around my house in 8 movies includes the bedroom. And forget that title In the Bedroom, a perceptive but troubling film about grief, anger, and revenge not appropriate for any anniversary observance. Bedrooms bring on other ideas. While I really like P.T. Anderson’s look at the hardcore porn industry in Boogie Nights and carefully absorbed data while scouting brothels for director Taylor Hackford’s Love Ranch, I decided that focusing on bedroom décor fits a less graphic “around the house” motif. With that in mind, I adore the way the title character’s bedroom looks in Amélie. She rests in an angled room whose red walls sport unique art including a portrait of a dog wearing a cone of shame. The wonderfully romantic film rejoices in life. And despite the struggles and difficulties Covid and other challenges bring on, life deserves celebrating. Cinema Covid:
In the kitchen…
Julie & Julia, 2009 with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep cooking like crazy. Looking for meaning in life after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make her job more frustrating than ever, Adams’ Julie Powell starts a blog about cooking all the recipe in Julia Childs’ landmark book on French cuisine. Intercutting Powell’s story with Childs’ eye-opening experiences in Paris, director Nora Ephron helps two actresses shine as characters experiencing an awakening of senses. Streep’s Oscar nominated performance stands out, along with “can I pack my bags and leave for Paris right now” location shots. Director Ephron, who included family recipes in her book Heartburn, continues her culinary appreciation by paying close attention to food photography. Just try watching this movie without making a run for the kitchen. Annie Hall, 1977 with Diane Keaton and Woody Allen surviving the challenges of cooking live lobsters. The movie that beat Star Wars for the best picture Oscar hit notes in its era and maintains thoughtfully funny insights about relationships. It represented a sign of the times when Allen and his small, romantic film beat a special effects space opera that only hinted at its lasting cinematic impact. With Annie, the pre-scandal Allen jumped beyond his other comic hits, catching a wistfulness in relationships that remains true throughout decades. The movie’s lobster scenes show how one special moment does not necessarily lead to another. One truth remains: Regardless of the cooking challenges they provide, lobsters taste good. In the dining room… Beetlejuice, 1988 with Michael Keaton compelling Catherine O’Hara, Dick Cavett and others to interrupt dinner with a rendition of the “Banana Boat Song.” Director Tim Burton’s skewed sensibilities paid off with laughs for this story of ghosts remaining in their old home and hoping to scare away new residents. Hoping the “Banana Boat Song” routine will send interlopers off, the spirits discover some people enjoy singing and dining. Featuring a standout performance by Keaton, the movie’s co-stars Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, and Winona Ryder sparkle in engaging roles.
In the t.v. room... When Harry Met Sally, 1989, with Meg Ryan giving Billy Crystal important insights while dining. Lots of its elements work, but the movie’s scene at Katz’s Delicatessen in Manhattan stands out in everyone’s memory as Sally demonstrates how men like Harry never realize when a woman fakes an orgasm. Director Rob Reiner had his mother deliver the resulting classic line from Nora Ephron’s script: “I’ll have what she’s having.” The line rates #33 on the American Film Institute list of most memorable movie quotes of all time and gets spoofed in the Comedy or Die sequel starring Crystal and Helen Mirren. The short parody features many dining scenes. In the laundry room… Uncorked, 2020, with Mamoudou Athie seeking high status as a wine expert despite his upbringing in the world of BBQ. Documentaries like Somm emphasize prestige, difficulty, and intensity for those seeking an official Sommelier designation. Writer- director Prentice Penney puts a different spin on the idea by setting his fictional piece in
a Memphis community featuring hip hop music rather than typical classical pieces associated with wine snobbery. The actors prove likeable, and while wine talk may get too detailed for a “pour it from the box” group, universal family matters give the story resonance. Unlike me, no one in the film puts their higher-class wine in their laundry room during big parties.
In the bathroom...
Pulp Fiction, 1994, with John Travolta finding life-changing events resulting from his need to use toilets. Many consider the pulp fiction genre as “bathroom reading,” and director Quentin Tarantino follows that motif throughout his hugely violent but wildly entertaining breakout film. Bathrooms, while mandatory, seem a humdrum part of everyday life. This serves as one of many points the writer-director makes about the way things work. The ordinary--even a shelter-at-homelife--might provide significant results.
In the bedroom...
Boogie Nights, 1997, with Mark Wahberg demonstrating impressive prosthetics. Director Paul Thomas Anderson blended real life headlines with his own memories growing up in a southern California community where the porn industry thrived. His film goes over the top while showing sensitive understanding about non-mainstream outsiders seeking a feeling of belonging. Violence surrounding porn star John Holmes serves as story template for Anderson, who I worked with on his first film, Hard Eight. Driving him around on a return visit to Reno, I heard his half of a cell phone conversation with Boogie Nights producers. Paul spent the call railing against editing the movie’s last scene, a memorable measurement for any viewer. He ended and started to explain, but I told him the call made sense since (as a dedicated film reviewer) I watched (for reference only) projects like the “documentary” Exhausted starring John Holmes. Boogie Nights went on to earn Oscar nominations for Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore and Paul, one of today’s most respected filmmakers and a man who got his big break with Hard Eight in my hometown. My hometown also led to researching sex industry locations for Taylor Hackford’s Love Ranch starring his wife, Helen Mirren.
Amélie 2002, with Audrey Tautou as a human guardian angel helping others in the Montmartre district of her Paris home. Incredibly shy, Amélie adores people and makes her world a better place through countless quietly accomplished, thoughtful acts. One includes inspiring her stay-at-home father to pursue his own dreams of travel when his garden gnome vanishes and starts showing up in various greeting photos, posed at iconic locations throughout the world. While the “roaming gnome” encourages seeing other places, Amélie herself demonstrates the pleasures of loving your home community.