Rest, Relax and Recharge with Comfort Food Cinema
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Movies have a long and storied history of helping us temporarily escape troubling times.
The Blues Brothers, a Comfort Food Cinema Classic, features back-to-back performances of THE TWO GREATEST show-stopping numbers in movie musical history. The first is Aretha Franklin's "Think." The second is "Shake a Tail Feather" (above) from Ray Charles. If you can watch these two scenes without moving, check your pulse.
Whether we’re battling an international pandemic or fighting for social justice, we all need to recharge at some point. We all need to rest our spirits and feed our souls. We all need some comfort food. Here’s how I found mine.
Not long ago, I cut the cord on cable television and switched to a streaming TV service. It really was a no-brainer, since I get virtually all the channels I used to watch at a fraction of the cost. Still, I’m kind of amazed to think that the entire “Cable TV Era” fits neatly within my lifetime. One day, we we’re prying open the cable box and cutting the little orange wire so that we can poach the premium channels, and the next, my modern, computerized, NASA-worthy cable receiver is nothing but a paperweight, collecting dust until I get around to dropping it back off at the cable company’s store.
Now I’m saving big bucks and streaming everything I need. (My Internet service is still crap, but that’s a rant for another article.) And the best part—my streaming service comes with UNLIMITED DVR! What?! Are you kidding me?! UNLIMITED DVR?! OK, either I misread their terms of service, or someone back at headquarters made the same mistake that guy did when he put “All You Can Eat Sushi” on a menu and handed it to me. Because giving me UNLIMITED DVR is gonna eat up a TON of data on someone’s computer. In a company boardroom somewhere on the face of this planet, someone’s looking at a spreadsheet and calculating how much it’s costing them to put UNLIMITED DVR in the hands of a grown man whose living room—the first room people see upon entering his home—is lined with movie posters. And believe me, in that boardroom, heads are gonna roll.
Let me give you an idea of what’s going on with my unlimited DVR. I have 200 movies stored away. I have recorded, or am in the process of recording, 46 different TV series. (God only knows how many episodes I have of each.) I’m recording before-dawn games of the Korean baseball league, and reruns of New York Mets games. I have 45 “events” recorded, and to be honest, I have no earthly idea what any of them might be or why they might have been important enough for me to save.
That’s a lot of viewing I have piled up.
My point, though, is this: Here I am, 13 weeks into the international pandemic (not to mention three weeks into watching my country FINALLY attempt to come to grips with the systemic racism that riddles every one of its institutions), holed up here in my movie poster-lined apartment, and I’ve watched precisely NONE of it. Think about that. I have at my command a device that young, teenage, cable-box-wire-cutting Mike could only dream of, and I’m not watching ANY of it. Not a single episode of any show, not a frame of any movie, not a pitch from any game long gone by.
What am I watching instead? Bond. James Bond. Marvel movies. The Big Bang Theory. A smattering of classic films (all three Godfathers, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, etc.). All things that I’ve seen, conservatively speaking, dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Hell, I can recite some of them if you want me to. (And don’t test me on that. 007: “But sir, who’d want to put a contract on me?” M: “Jealous husbands! Outraged chefs! Humiliated tailors! The list is endless!” – The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974)
Why am I not taking advantage of the veritable superpower of the unlimited DVR? The answer is simple. I can’t. I just can’t. In searching for even a brief escape from the nightmare that our lives have become, I need precisely the right thing to occupy my mind in the desolate hours between work and bed. I need comfort food.
You all know what I mean. Something that may not have the most nutritional value, but it tastes really good going down and feels really good once we’ve finished it. Yes, as I get older, I’m trying to eat healthier, as many of us around my age do. But goddamn, sometimes I just need to cut up a hot dog in some macaroni and cheese and wash it down with a chocolate malted. (I literally can’t eat that stuff anymore. My middle-aged digestive system can’t take it. But boy, did it taste good just to type it.)
Here are some other items on my comfort food viewing menu. They’re all guaranteed to soothe what ails you.
The Blues Brothers. Is it a great movie? No. But man, it is a great movie. You know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t love Jake and Elwood, if you’ve never wished you could be Jake or Elwood, then a very basic element is missing from your DNA. To be on a mission from God, to not care where it takes you or what happens, as long as you can get the band back together. As long as you can sing the blues. Truly, that is what it means to live well. “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we have a full tank of gas, half a packet of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” Hit it, indeed.
Galaxy Quest. Wil Weaton, who played Ensign Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, calls Galaxy Quest “the best Star Trek movie ever made.” He’s not wrong. This sci-fi send-up classic is full of all the epic moments that make for great comfort food viewing. My two favorites: Sigourney Weaver’s, “LOOK! I have ONE JOB on this ship. It’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it! OK?” And Sam Rockwell (as Guy Fleegman) groaning, “Oh, that’s not riiiight!” Kills me every time. And do yourself a favor—when you’re done watching the movie, check out Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary, to get a behind-the-scenes look at all the accidental and fortuitous incidents that resulted in this comfort food classic.
The Natural. There may not be any baseball this summer. I mean any baseball at all. But you can always catch up with the New York Knights as aging rookie Roy Hobbs leads the team on an incredible (might I say magical?) drive for the pennant. And don’t let anybody give you any crap about the changes they made to Bernard Malamud’s novel. Film writer David Thomson said the movie was “poor baseball and worse Malamud.” But Thomson’s British, so what the fuck would he know about baseball, anyway? Screw him. My baseball book is part of the permanent collection of the National Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, and the library is a very short walk down a hallway to the Hall of Fame Museum, where Wonderboy stands amongst Babe Ruth’s uniform, Jackie Robinson’s glove, the cornerstone to Ebbets Field, and the rest of the game’s most legendary pieces of memorabilia. I’m telling you, watch The Natural. You’re welcome.
The Natural. Look, you might as well watch it. Aside from being a wonderful movie, it's probably the only baseball we're getting this summer.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. I distinctly remember when this movie came out. My friends and I loved it. We had to go back and see it several times before we could make any sense out of it, but we loved it. And I still love it. Look, we’re in a pandemic here, and you’ve got nothing but time to kill. And remember: no matter where you go...
Apollo 13. Someone told me that this can’t be comfort food, because even though we know how the movie turns out, even though we knew how it would turn out the first time we saw it, the movie still manages to be so damned suspenseful. But the suspense is OK, because a) we know how it’s going to turn out, and b) Tom Hanks is in command of the mission. Nuff said. Plus, director Ron Howard’s mother has a cameo, and Richie Cunningham gave his mom not just one, but the two of the best cameo lines in motion picture history. (I couldn’t find a link to the second one, where she asks Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, “Are you boys in the space program, too?” Still, enjoy her performance in the scene linked above.)
Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music. This is the official film of the legendary concert. I remember when I was very young and saw this for the first time. I was disappointed that it was pretty much all music. And that’s the GREATEST THING about it. IT’S PRETTY MUCH ALL MUSIC. And great music, too—timeless, wonderful, beautiful, invigorating, energizing, life-affirming music. When you need to tune in, turn on, and drop out from the nightmare that is 2020, put this movie on, crank up the volume, and take yourself back to Yasger’s farm in 1969 upstate New York for a few hours of the greatest event in rock history. You’ll have a front-row seat, and you won’t have to fight through a mob to get to a bathroom. (Fun facts: When the concert was overrun by more than a half a million attendees, the event nearly became an ecological and humanitarian disaster. But thanks to helpful neighbors and a general spirit of peace and harmony, Woodstock resulted in only two deaths: one drug overdose and one concertgoer in a sleeping bag who was run over by a tractor in a nearby hay field. The concert was also a financial disaster—until the release of this film, which put organizers in the black a decade after the Jimi Hendrix Experience closed the show before a dwindling, exhausted Sunday morning crowd.)
"Good Morning, Woodstock. This is Jimi Hendrix with your Sunday Morning wake-up call..."
At the Drive-In. Anyone who knows me is familiar with my affinity (Did I say affinity? “Passionate, hopelessly romanticized love” might be more accurate) for drive-in movie theaters. Drive-ins are nothing less than a magical, ethereal experience for those of us lucky enough to have one still operating near us. At the Drive-In is a documentary about an aging drive-in theater in the middle of nowhere in rural Pennsylvania. The entire movie industry is switching to digital projectors, and the Mahoning Drive-In can’t afford anything close to the $60,000 it will take to get one. The theater’s operator, though—along with some of the nerdiest young film nerds that God ever put behind a concession stand—work throughout a summer for free to keep the theater alive, surviving on nothing but their will, their imagination, their creativity, a bunch of air mattresses, and their devotion to vintage 35mm Hollywood movies. If you love cinema, you’re going to love this film (which is available with Amazon Prime). And if you don’t love drive-ins the way that I do, don’t worry. By the end of this film, you will.
Got some Comfort Food Cinema suggestions of your own? I’d be happy to hear them! Tell me about them below in the comments section.
Photos are owned by their respective copyright holders: Warner Bros. Studios, Universal Pictures, TriStar Pictures