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Flu Season Hits the Oscars

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Here we are in the middle of Hollywood awards season, and wouldn’t you know a particularly virulent strain of the flu has decided to sweep across this great land of ours. One can only imagine the impact this might have on the upcoming Academy Awards. It could change everything – even the movies themselves.

ZERO DARK HURTY

DJANGO UNPLUGGED

STOMACH LININGS PLAYBOOK

LES IN BED MISERABLES

LIFE OF PI & NYQUIL

FLIGHT (TO THE BATHROOM)

PHLEGMY LINCOLN

THE TAKING OF TAMIFLU ONE, TWO, THREE

GERMS OF ENDEARMENT

SATURDAY NIGHT THROUGH TUESDAY MORNING FEVER

ONE FLU OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST

THE SOUND OF MUCUS

CAPTAINS CONTAGIOUS

Get your hankies ready, everyone!

 

11 Classic Films That Haven’t Aged Well

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Ever had that sad feeling of dialing up a great, old movie and discovering it hasn’t aged well? I have. It’s kind of a shame, because it’s not the movie’s fault. Times and tastes simply changed.  For instance …

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957)

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Here’s a classic melodrama that is beloved by many. You’ve got Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr and oodles of sophisticated charm. The problem comes when you get to the tragic plot twist, involving a car accident. From that moment on, the dialogue and acting might as well be from a Victorian era stage play. Cary ends up saying something like, “If it had to happen to one of us, why couldn’t it have been me?” Oh, boy. Give me George Costanza’s “It’s not you, it’s me” speech any day.

DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967)

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This film, once considered a delightful lark about a dude who could talk to animals, now moves so slowly that the animals have time to evolve into creatures with the power of human speech. I don’t think any critters were harmed during filming, but I got a little woozy the last time I tried to watch it.

REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)

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Great actor, James Dean. And there have been lots of good movies about the treacherous nature of high school. But “Rebel Without a Cause” goes a little over the top, from our vantage point in the age of cyber bullying. Dean tells his weak-willed dad, “You’re tearing me apart!” Today, he’d just give dad a long stare and say, “Seriously?”

DARK VICTORY (1939)

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No disrespect to the one and only Bette Davis, but acting styles are MUCH more realistic now than they were when this epic melodrama wowed audiences. For example, today an actress wouldn’t portray sudden blindness by slightly crossing her eyes and staring vaguely to one side. Also, succumbing to an  inoperable brain tumor tends to be more complicated than curling up on your bed after spending the morning in the garden. Just saying.

BATMAN (1989)

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I remember enjoying this movie so much when it debuted. Director Tim Burton’s genius was in every frame – and it still is. He created an original, distinct world for these characters to inhabit. What’s happened is that the Christopher Nolan Batman films of recent years are that much better. Heath Ledger as the Joker made Jack Nicholson look like a second-rate sideshow clown.

EASY RIDER (1969)

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Sorry to double-thump Nicholson, but “Easy Rider” got kind of creaky, too. If it’s any consolation, he’s the best thing in this movie. Much of the rest of the proceedings seem incredibly narcissistic and needlessly confusing. The bikes are still cool, though.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956)

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Truly an all-star cast, headed by David Niven and Cantinflas and dotted with appearances by Frank Sinatra, John Gielgud, Noel Coward, Shirley MacLaine, Buster Keaton, Red Skelton and dozens of others. The thing is, we’ve come to expect more from our epic, all-star adventures than just special guests. We need pizzazz. We need action. We need a pace quicker than a hot air balloon.

THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952)

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Not even Jimmy Stewart in clown make-up can save 1952’s Best Picture winner, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” It’s a sprawling, soapy mess of a movie, and it seems to get more antiquated with each passing year. Mainly, it takes itself way too seriously – particularly in the scenes involving no-nonsense circus manager Chuck Heston. And the narration by Cecil B. DeMille, so perfect in “The Ten Commandments,” backfires badly here.

BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960)

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Decades after the heyday of the women’s rights movement, “Butterfield 8” now feels more and more like a museum piece. It posits Elizabeth Taylor as a tragic, fatalistic party girl who is trapped by her own sexual allure. Watching it today, you’re struck by how stifling American society was for most women, even as recently as a generation ago. I’d rather wait for “Mad Men” to return.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957)

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Similarly, many years of zesty courtroom dramas have rendered “Witness for the Prosecution” a bit lame. Shocking testimony? Been there. Surprising plot twists? Done that. Marlene Dietrich, you can’t handle the truth!

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

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Try not to hate me for this. All I ask is that you hear me out. As stellar as Gregory Peck is as Atticus Finch, and as great as this story is, the set design and overall look of the movie just don’t make the grade anymore. The Finch house and neighborhood look like they were filmed on the old “Leave It to Beaver” lot when the studio security guards were on break. Not to mention, the musical score lays it on a bit thick. Thank goodness, the sound of Peck saying the name “Scout” remains timeless.

So there you have it. And now I ask you, which other old favorites are showing their age?

Bruce Willis – King of Sci-Fi

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He’s much better known for action flicks and comedies, but in my book the ever-smirking Bruce Willis excels most at sci-fi. His low key, Everyman quality has a way of grounding outlandish stories, be they about time traveling hit men or kids who see dead people. So here’s a tip of the cap to a guy who knows his way around an apocalyptic wasteland.

TWELVE MONKEYS (1995)

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Willis is perfect as a conflicted, ill-prepared man from the future who is sent back in time to gather information about a bio-terror event that will decimate the planet. “Twelve Monkeys” is gritty and weird, and Willis just goes with the flow. His character’s confusion mirrors the jumble of images and twists in the film itself. Plus, we get to see Brad Pitt doing his screwy eyeball thing. Great sci-fi.

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

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Here we get the quiet Willis, which I find even more effective. In “The Sixth Sense,” he plays a therapist who specializes in childhood trauma. He encounters a young man who insists he SEES DEAD PEOPLE, so naturally he drops everything to help the kid. Of course, it turns out he’s got an even bigger problem, but that’s not for me to divulge. What I will say is that Bruce listens to the boy and treats him with such respect that it absolutely draws in the audience – that, and the ghosts.

LOOPER (2012)

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“Looper” was one of my favorite movies last year, and Willis is a major reason. His aging hit man is by turns weary, wistful, sarcastic and filled with rage. It’s a mature performance, particularly in scenes where he encounters his younger self. The script is very smart and the dialogue is peppy in a film noir sort of way, if film noir included references to telekinesis.

THE KID (2000)

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Of course, Bruce had some previous experience meeting a younger version of himself. In the family comedy, “The Kid,” he spends some quality time with the chubby kid he used to be. The result is genuinely warm and funny, because Willis is so natural with young Spencer Breslin.

SURROGATES (2009)

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Little seen when it came out a few years back, “Surrogates” gives us both the makeup-and-wig Willis and the bald and craggy Willis. He plays a cop in a future society where people can implant their consciousness into a better looking, android version of themselves. It’s like a really good “Twilight Zone” episode, but with actual production values.

DEATH BECOMES HER (1992)

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This was a special effects extravaganza at the time, with Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn as a pair of ladies willing to sell their souls for eternal youth. Willis is the nebbish caught in the middle of the triangle. It’s hardly his best work, but in the final third of the movie he injects a tiny bit of humanity into his performance.

THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)

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While I’m not a huge fan of “The Fifth Element,” I applaud its wayyyy out there sensibility. Everything from the costumes to the plot are wild and crazy. Willis is doing his take on Han Solo, in a way, or simply applying some “Die Hard” swagger to the intergalactic chaos. Look for a blond Bruce and a stunningly odd Gary Oldman.

ARMAGEDDON (1998)

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I liked “Armageddon.” Please don’t judge me. It’s just a big, fun popcorn flick about nutty tough guys and an asteroid hurtling toward Earth. Willis takes on something of a John Wayne vibe from “The Hellfighters,” and gets great support from a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson and Billy Bob Thornton. He also gets a full-throttle, schmaltzy hero scene right before the end. Male weepie sci-fi at its finest.

PLANET TERROR (2007)

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Not familiar with “Planet Terror”? You may know it better as one of the parody movies from “Grindhouse,” which featured two movies and fake movie trailers written by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Willis is a supporting player here, in a gory spectacle full of guns and zombies.

UNBREAKABLE (2000)

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“Unbreakable” is my favorite Willis sci-fi film. He plays a quietly unhappy, family man who gradually realizes he has extraordinary gifts. Willis has so many wonderful moments of stillness in this movie. You feel his struggle and understand his decency – it’s amazing. Better yet, it’s one of those sci-fi movies where the ordinary, daily life scenes are just as engaging as the superhuman scenes.

So that’s my case. What do you think?

Jimbo’s Film Faves of 2012

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Looking back, there were more than a few good flicks released in 2012 – and in many genres. Among my favorites this year were historical dramas, comedies, science fiction, a political thriller, quirky romances and some riveting character stories. Here they are, with this caveat: Due to the vagaries of movie distribution, I still haven’t seen some of the most-praised films coming out at the end of the year, including “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Impossible.”

ARGO

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“Argo” does many things and does all of them very well. It’s a period piece, set during the Iranian hostage crisis; it’s a comedy; it’s an action/thriller. Director Ben Affleck does an amazing job of fitting all those elements together seamlessly, while taking on the starring role himself. The cast is stellar, including the great Alan Arkin and John Goodman. But what elevates “Argo” is the way it presages current events in the Middle East without beating us over the head with it.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

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You can’t ask for much more in a film than to have it take a locale you think you know and transform it into something utterly exotic and foreign. Here, an American bayou village  after a devastating flood becomes a new universe where a little girl (the incredible Quvenzhane Wallis) brazenly battles demons large and small. It’s one of those movies where you can’t take your eyes off the screen for a second.

FLIGHT

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Denzel Washington adds to his impressive roster of riveting lead performances. “Flight” is the story of a commercial pilot who makes a daring, emergency landing, then has to answer some tough questions about his personal life. The sequence inside the aircraft is truly harrowing, but it’s the downward emotional spiral later on that stays with you.

FRIENDS WITH KIDS

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Great ensemble cast, led by Adam Scott and director Jennifer Westfeldt. I’m a sucker for witty banter, particularly when it’s coming out of the mouths of funny people who are oblivious to their own flaws. The premise has to do with two friends who decide to have a baby and not bother with any of the messy love/relationship stuff. My only quibble was with the inevitable ending. Supporting players Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are terrific.

LINCOLN

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Towering achievement by a trio of great collaborators – director Steven Spielberg, writer Tony Kushner and actor Daniel Day-Lewis – examining the greatest American president in one of his most crucial periods. What’s remarkable is the fact that this movie is all about a political process, with no real physical action. Why does it work? Why is it mesmerizing? Because we are drawn to Lincoln’s every word and expression. He is a monument made real for us, thanks to careful staging, brilliant words and unforgettable acting.

LOOPER

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For those of us who love a good time-travel movie, “Looper” is a revelation. It’s intelligent and uncompromising, with dashes of unexpected humor balancing out the flashes of violence. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in subtle makeup, plays a hit man who is given the task of killing his older self, played by Bruce Willis. Among the superior supporting cast are Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels.

MOONRISE KINGDOM

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Not everyone is a fan of Wes Anderson’s fragile, cinematic imaginings, but I am. It’s all about the details and quirks for Anderson, even in this tale of obsessive, young love at a summer camp in the 1960s. As with all Anderson films, the adults here, including Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton, are more lost than the kids.

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN

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Quirkiness also abounds in this romance about an awkward scientist (Ewan McGregor) and a Yemeni sheik’s aide (Emily Blunt) who try to bring salmon fishing to the Middle East. It’s fascinating to watch McGregor and Blunt convince themselves and the audience that they’re a good match, despite all appearances.

THE SESSIONS

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I don’t think “The Sessions” is about sex, although sex is discussed throughout this film about a paralyzed man (John Hawkes) who goes to a sex therapist (Helen Hunt). It’s really about affection in all of its forms, from mere acquaintanceship and friendship to platonic love and physical intimacy. Hawkes and Hunt are excellent.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

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I absolutely loved this movie. It has real heart and soul, with laughs that billow out from deep places in your gut and honest moments of concern for these wonderfully flawed characters. Without a doubt, “Silver Linings Playbook” is the best bipolar-sports superstition-sibling rivalry-dance movie ever made. Also, big kudos to Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Chris Tucker.

SLEEPWALK WITH ME

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This movie didn’t make it to many theaters, but it’s hilarious. The brilliant stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and starred in it, and it’s based on his own life. He’s telling us the story of his early days as a comic, along with the severe sleepwalking condition that plagues him. Even when he’s explaining something terrible he did, he’s completely sympathetic.

YOUR SISTER’S SISTER

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Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt star in this indie feature about an incredibly complicated set of relationships between a woman, her male best friend and her sister. The acting here is top-notch, with speedy, perceptive dialogue and more than a few twists. At the heart of it is Duplass, who is an expert at conveying a very specific sort of smart, funny, pompous, wounded guy in his 30s.

I wholeheartedly recommend all of these!

The Slow Motion Hall of Fame

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No matter how elaborate the world of special effects becomes, there’s one gimmick that never seems to go out of style: Slow Motion. It draws attention, heightens emotion and allows a director to be master of the universe. And it’s cheaper than 3D! See what you think of these examples.

INCEPTION

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Let’s start with the ultimate, thinking man’s use of slow motion. There are MULTIPLE layers of it in Christopher Nolan’s modern sci-fi classic. Frankly, it’s so challenging to keep up with the various stories-within-stories (the plot has to do with dreams you can create and insert into someone’s subconscious mind) that you almost need the slow motion as a tiny respite. Cool beans.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

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Director Stanley Kubrick will be mentioned more than once on this List. In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he expertly lets slow motion convey a sense of the vast, impenetrable nature of both space and time. I think we’re still waiting for that animal bone the man-ape threw in the air to come down.

THE MATRIX

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Rarely, if ever, has slo-mo been more badass than in “The Matrix.” Come on! That dude, Neo, limbos his way out of the path of bullets without so much as adjusting his sunglasses! On a related note, I can’t reach back to grab my TV remote without spraining something.

INSTANT REPLAY

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Thanks to the advent of slow motion replays in televised sports, fans everywhere can judge for themselves how bad the umpires are. Unfortunately, it also means we occasionally have to endure Tim McCarver or some other knucklehead repeat the phrase, “He missed the tag!” about eight zillion times.

THELMA AND LOUISE

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The slow motion ending of “Thelma and Louise” driving off a cliff was so perfect, I’m surprised more movies don’t use the device. Who knows? “Battleship” might have made some money if they’d steered the boat off a cliff.

BONNIE AND CLYDE

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This was some cutting-edge, slow motion violence. In 1967, audiences were stunned by the stylized way Arthur Penn had “Bonnie and Clyde” meet their demise.

BRIAN’S SONG

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I believe “Brian’s Song” was what they call a “male weepie.” Man, that sounds bad. Anyway, Billy Dee Williams and James Caan starred in this 1971 TV movie about about real-life Chicago Bears players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. There’s friendship, there’s loss – and there’s slow motion to wring out every last ounce of emotion.

ZOMBIELAND

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Oh, but the opening of “Zombieland” is a bit of gory genius. With snazzy graphic elements and a witty voice-over, a series of zombies chase down dinner in slow motion to illustrate the rules of staying out of their hungry clutches.

THE SHINING

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Kubrick again creates an iconic image in slow motion for 1980’s “The Shining.” Something yucky and unexpected is about to issue forth from this elevator, and it takes its sweet time.

HOOSIERS

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Sports and slow motion are a natural combination. It’s all about savoring certain moments, such as the big shot in the big game of the big tournament. Everyone has his or her favorite, and mine is the old-fashioned, high school basketball saga, “Hoosiers.” What makes it particularly nice is that the slow motion here is incredibly subtle.

SHERLOCK HOLMES

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Robert Downey Jr.’s “Sherlock Holmes” series very effectively speeds up and slows down the action as a way to illustrate the hero’s brilliant, lightning fast mind. You get to experience what Holmes thinks will happen, then see if it actually transpires.

10

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Slow motion accentuates the sex appeal of Bo Derek in “10,” showing her running along a beach as Dudley Moore gapes admiringly. This is a device often used to indicate physical beauty or desire.

CHARIOTS OF FIRE

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Or it can stand in for basic sentimentality and reverie. In “Chariots of Fire,” you have slow motion as an ode to the pure joy of pursuing a personal quest for God and country.

THE UNTOUCHABLES

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“The Untouchables,” starring Kevin Costner, featured an elaborate scene in which a gangster pushes a baby carriage down a flight of steps in order to escape the law. It’s grand, operatic – and based on a scene from the 1925 silent film, “Battleship Potemkin.”

THE WILD BUNCH

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Nobody did masculine, gritty violence quite like director Sam Peckinpah. For “The Wild Bunch,” which deals with a band of aging mercenaries, Peckinpah decided to slow the camera each time one of his geezers bit the dust at the end of the film.

THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN

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Back in the 1970s, pretty much every wisenheimer worth his bell-bottoms did a stupid impression of Lee Majors in slow motion, as bionic agent Steve Austin in “The Six Million Dollar Man.” There was a silly sound effect to go along with it. Thanks, slow motion!

And now comes the part where I encourage you to add to The List. No rush. Take … your … time.

Great Odes to the Open Road

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Oh, but the tug of the open road is contagious. We’re draw to the uncertainty, the adventure and the promise of new experiences. Any number of artists and ordinary souls have been inspired to share this excitement. These are some of my favorite examples.

ON THE ROAD

For many, Jack Kerouac’s classic story of wondering and wandering is the last word on road trips. It’s a marvel of stream-of-consciousness writing. “On the Road” perfectly conveys the intoxicating, surreal, gritty, dangerous sexiness of hitting the open road.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a road trip and found myself warbling Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” It has such a pleasing lilt and sense of movement. Road trips may be grueling sometimes, but they usually start off happy.

MIDNIGHT RUN

Here’s an action movie comedy, featuring odd couple Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin. DeNiro is a bounty hunter bringing in a mob accountant, played by Grodin, who has skipped bail. Like many great tales of the road, it’s a journey of transformation – in this case, with guns, punches and comedic slow burns.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY

Toward the end of his life, the great John Steinbeck directed his magnificent reporting skills and humanity to a cross-country road trip. He and his dog, Charley, traveled the highways and byways in an RV. Through brief interactions and keen observations, he painted an insightful picture of postwar America. Some critics have questioned his journalistic accuracy, but the power of his writing is unassailable.

ROADFOOD

In a way, road trips are just an excuse to search for the best slice of banana cream pie or the best plate of cheese fries. Jane and Michael Stern dug deep into the heart and soul of America’s glorious greasy spoons and dreamy diners for this gem. On a personal note, I found the best banana cream pie, ever, while traveling a mountain road in Montana.

TRAIL JOURNALS

For more than a decade, Trail Journals (www.trailjournals.com) has provided a digital home for hundreds of thousands of photographs and pieces of writing by long distance hikers around the country. The Appalachian Trail is prominent here, but there are many other trails represented, as well. The best trail journals are utterly engrossing. They tell stories of beautiful vistas, animal encounters, physical hardship, budding friendships and deep, solitary thought – all unfolding day by day.

THE FUGITIVE

I loved everything about this old TV show from the 1960s. The variety of locales, the gritty narration by William Conrad, the central storyline of a guy on the lam from the law for a murder he didn’t commit. Mostly, I loved David Janssen’s low-key, understated hero. After four seasons, “The Fugitive” ended with one of the most satisfying finales in TV history.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

Hundreds of films since 1934 have attempted to recapture the chemistry and romance of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night.” It’s a silly story about an heiress and a newshound making their way across the country during the Great Depression, but it’s sheer bliss. Witty banter, funny supporting characters and a classic hitchhiking scene. For a different sort of road story from the Depression, there’s …

THE GRAPES OF WRATH

We return to Steinbeck for one of the great American novels. “The Grapes of Wrath” follows a family searching for work and dignity as they flee from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Instead, they encounter greed, poverty and indignity. It’s a harrowing journey, one that strips individuals down to their core beliefs and little else. I’ll never forget reading this book for the first time and thinking about the pure poetry of a human being deciding who and what he is.

Now let’s go a bit beyond the reach of the American road.

THE AMAZING RACE

This show actually IS amazing. You want to test a marriage/friendship/relationship? Send people halfway around the world in the middle of the night and ask them to go from the airport to some out-of-the-way local landmark as fast as they can without killing each other. It exposes every hidden grudge and emotional sore spot before the first commercial break. Want to have your mind blown? Imagine your parents as contestants.

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Best. Road. Ever.

DANCING MATT

Matt Harding, also known as “Dancing Matt,” has recorded a series of videos of himself doing a crazy, happy dance in dozens of countries around the world. Millions of people have watched these videos and been charmed by the simple joy of a goofy, global dance. That’s what I call a great road trip.

So tell me, what are your favorite road trips from pop culture?

10 Terrific Tigers

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I’m hearing some great things about the special effects tiger in the film version of “Life of Pi.” This has me intrigued. Tigers just may be the most beautiful creatures on the planet, and if this pixelated critter is as wondrous as advertised, he’ll join an illustrious roster of pop culture tigers.

SHERE KHAN

I’m going with my favorite tiger first. Yes, he’s the villain from “Jungle Book,” but he’s undeniably great. He’s droll, he’s cunning, he’s merciless. He also has the voice, heavy-lidded eyes and lantern jaw of the urbane British actor, George Sanders.

TONY THE TIGER

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Frosted Flakes icon Tony the Tiger. He’s no villain – he’s more like that gregarious uncle who let you stay up past your bedtime and showed you wrestling moves like the Backbreaker and the Spinning Toe Hold. He’s not PC, but he’s ggggrrreat!

DETROIT TIGERS

Can’t say this is one of my favorite teams, since I’m a National League guy. But still, props to a Major League franchise that’s been around since 1894, boasts four World Series titles and has had players such as Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg and Al Kaline in the lineup. Best of all, the Tigers stayed in one city all these years.

TIGGER

Dear lord, what a great creation Tigger is! Anyone with little kids (or grandkids) knows that Tigger is a welcome infusion of energy, action and humor in all situations. He’s dangerous and tame, simultaneously. Thank you, A.A. Milne and Paul Winchell.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON

Ang Lee’s 2000 film classic is the cinematic equivalent to a tiger: it’s powerful, graceful, violent and visually arresting. You want tragic heroes and villains? You want epic history and scope? You want some kick-ass swordplay and wire walking? Your search is over. Also, it’s only fitting to include Mr. Lee in a List inspired by “Life of Pi.”

DIEGO

Dennis Leary is the voice of Diego the prehistoric tiger in the “Ice Age” movies. Although he curbs his normally robust language as Diego, Leary does a nice job of lending a soulful quality to the proceedings.

DANIEL STRIPED TIGER

Of course, there is no pop culture tiger with more soul than Daniel Striped Tiger from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” This little gent had the voice of Fred Rogers, which explained why he was so darned nice. Another thing in his favor? Sporty wristwatch.

TIGER WOODS

No, he is not a model citizen. He’s a tremendous golfer, though. For years, he absolutely commanded the attention of his competitors and sports fans in general. Very tiger-like.

HOBBES

This guy – how could you not like him? Half of cartoonist Bill Watterson’s brilliant comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbes,” tiger Hobbes is the savagely sophisticated counterpoint to incorrigible little boy Calvin. Young Calvin believes Hobbes is an actual tiger and not a stuffed animal. I’m inclined to agree.

EYE OF THE TIGER

There are several tiger songs I could have chosen, such as “Hold That Tiger” and “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail,” but instead I have selected Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from 1982. Why? Because it’s in “Rocky III,” fool.

And now I’m off to see “Life of Pi.”

On the Couch: Memorable TV & Movie Therapists

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Pop culture and therapy are an amazingly good match. First of all, most worthy comedies and dramas are populated with people facing sizable problems. Secondly, introducing a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker cuts to the heart of the matter without special effects or car chases. It also makes for insightful writing and acting.

LORRAINE BRACCO IN “THE SOPRANOS”

Lorraine Bracco was as crucial to the success of “The Sopranos” as the sex and violence that punctuated the show. Dr. Melfi’s sessions with Tony brought clarity to the proceedings and had an electrifying intimacy separate from everything else.

BOB NEWHART IN “THE BOB NEWHART SHOW”

I have a feeling Newhart’s portrayal of psychologist Robert Hartley was more accurate than most TV and movie therapists. He used jargon, he rarely raised his voice and he kept incredibly regular office hours. Thank goodness he also treated the occasional clown.

ROBIN WILLIAMS IN “GOOD WILL HUNTING”

Not everyone is a fan of Williams as the feisty therapist helping Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.” I liked his performance; I thought it had tons of heart and soul. How do you like them apples?

MARIAH CAREY IN “PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH’ BY SAPPHIRE”

It’s easy to lose sight of just how good Carey is as the social worker in “Precious.” She’s as tough as she needs to be in a film about hope in the face of brutal reality. Is there anything in this world more courageous than standing up for an abused kid? An amazing job.

JUDD HIRSCH IN “ORDINARY PEOPLE”

This fine performance is central to the effectiveness of 1980’s Oscar-winning “Ordinary People.” Hirsch’s scenes with a young Timothy Hutton have a real urgency to them, while noting the limitations and boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship.

LISA KUDROW IN “WEB THERAPY”

Lisa Kudrow is a master at delivering the disarming remark. She did it to perfection on “Friends” and she continues it on “Web Therapy.” As highly-flawed Dr. Fiona Wallice, Kudrow levels her snark on everyone, including herself.

STEVE CARELL IN “HOPE SPRINGS”

For such a skilled comic actor, it’s surprising how good Carell is at playing a subdued character. This is a great quality for his therapist in “Hope Springs.” He’s patient, probing and decent, without being boring.

ALLAN ARBUS IN “M*A*S*H”

Allan Arbus was always a welcome sight on “M*A*S*H,” as psychiatrist Sidney Freedman. Funny and fatigued as that character was, his appearances never failed to remind viewers of the insanity of war.

JOANNE WOODWARD IN “SYBIL”

Joanne Woodward brought a wonderful sense of authority and humanity to her part in “Sybil.” Sally Field, as a woman with multiple personalities, had the showier role, but Woodward had to give the whole thing plausibility.

KELSEY GRAMMER IN “FRASIER”

I doubt that any actual therapist has as soothing a voice as Kelsey Grammer. On “Frasier,” he offered a tour de force of comical compassion, without hiding the quirky side of the people giving the treatment.

HELEN HUNT IN “THE SESSIONS”

Helen Hunt is her usual, decent-but-intense self in “The Sessions.” She plays a sex therapist here, and much has been made of her willingness to bare everything onscreen. I thought her most revealing scene was in a car in a motel parking lot, fully clothed.

RICHARD BURTON IN “EQUUS”

In “Equus,” Burton is a doctor treating a very disturbed young man who has blinded several horses. What unfolds during their sessions is a deep well of guilt, trauma, religion and sex. As you’d expect, Burton brings heaps of dramatic heft to the part, for which he earned an Oscar nomination.

DYLAN McDERMOTT IN “AMERICAN HORROR STORY”

Worst. Therapist. Ever. I don’t know where this joker went to school, but I’m pretty sure they tell you on the very first day, “Don’t have sex with patients who are ghosts.”

JANE LYNCH IN “TWO AND A HALF MEN”

As Charlie Sheen’s therapist on TV’s “Two and a Half Men,” Lynch was able to talk tough, but also be sympathetic. It was a clever way to reveal Sheen’s – I mean the character’s – insecurities and motivations.

BILLY CRYSTAL IN “ANALYZE THIS”

Light fare, to be sure, but Crystal generated very solid laughs as a shrink forced to work with a mobster in “Analyze This.” He clearly loved being in a film with Robert DeNiro, who was in full self-parody mode.

J.K. SIMMONS IN “LAW AND ORDER”

What a superb job Simmons did with this small, occasional role as a psychiatrist who sometimes testifies in court cases on the various “Law and Order” shows. He was calm, yet razor-sharp in his scenes evaluating suspects and victims; he could seem jaded and cynical, yet also honest and hardworking.

ANNA KENDRICK IN “50/50”

Therapists have to start somewhere, right? It was brilliant to have Anna Kendrick as the inexperienced caregiver to cancer patient Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It flipped the normal power dynamic and felt much more real.

RICHARD DREYFUSS IN “WHAT ABOUT BOB?”

This movie about a therapist (Dreyfuss) who can’t get away from a patient (Bill Murray) has many devoted fans. Dreyfuss gamely gives in to the rising exasperation the part calls for, which is why it works so well.

BRUCE WILLIS IN “THE SIXTH SENSE”

What I often like about Bruce Willis is his ability to be very still. It comes in quite handy in “The Sixth Sense,” where he’s trying to help Haley Joel Osment deal with a … tricky situation. Willis listens with a thoughtful intensity.

GABRIEL BYRNE IN “IN TREATMENT”

“In Treatment” isn’t simply a great TV show about therapy; I think it’s one of the best shows ever. Byrne plays Dr. Paul Weston, whose patients range from a cancer patient and a troubled businessman to a little boy caught in the middle of his parents’ divorce. Each season, the show tracked the progress of several patients, session by session. Byrne is astonishing, as is the delicate-yet-powerful writing.

But I see our time is up. I didn’t even get to the therapists in “Annie Hall,” “Mad Men” or “The Prince of Tides.” Which are your favorites?

6 Comedy Bits I’m Thankful For

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In this time of gratitude, how about a moment of appreciation for some great comic gems? It’s a personal thing, of course, but each of us has a collection of classic scenes or routines that make us laugh every time we encounter them. These are some of mine.

JAY THOMAS & THE LONE RANGER

This one will be coming up again in a few weeks. Every year, just before Christmas, David Letterman brings out Jay Thomas to tell the same, hilarious story. It has to do with a car dealership, a traffic accident – and the Lone Ranger! I love it.

REV. JIM & THE YELLOW LIGHT

It’s a classic scene from the sitcom “Taxi.” Here, Rev. Jim (Christopher Lloyd) is taking his driver’s test to become a cabbie, and he needs a little help with one question.

THE 2,000 YEAR OLD MAN

Comedy geniuses Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner used a combination of written premise and improvisation to create the masterpiece that is “The 2,000 Year Old Man.” Mel’s voice alone is priceless, but the material is amazing, too.

“HEAD” SCENE FROM “SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER”

It may be an obscure movie, but among many of my friends this scene is close to perfection. First of all, Scottish accents are terrific for comedy. Add in a gruff father character and you’ve got something special.

INDEPENDENT GEORGE

In a show brimming with top shelf comedy, this bit is particularly funny. Jason Alexander, as George, is explaining to Jerry how dangerous it is to have his relationship world collide with his friendship world. “Seinfeld” at its finest.

WHO’S ON FIRST?

Now we come to the Thanksgiving feast of comedy routines. It’s Abbott and Costello’s famous, “Who’s On First” bit. I used to practice it when I was a kid, trying to master its rhythms. These days, there’s a certain 9-year-old in my family who laughs just as hard at it as I do. For that, I’m very thankful.

I hope your weekend has its share of jokes, too. Happy Thanksgiving.

11 People You Don’t Expect to See in Classic Movies

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Tell me if you’ve had this experience. You’re watching a classic film, really enjoying it, when suddenly – BAM! – some celeb pops up completely at random, in a minor role. Throws you off a bit, doesn’t it? In that spirit, here are 11 examples of folks who have no business distracting us from our viewing pleasure.

JOHN RATZENBERGER IN “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”

I have to say, seeing Cliff from “Cheers” in the best film of the “Star Wars” saga doesn’t leave me with a good feeling about the Rebel Alliance, upon repeat viewings. His big line has to do with closing the Hoth base shield doors, I believe. Here’s something even more surprising: Mr. Ratzenberger also appeared in “Gandhi.” How do you go from India and a galaxy far, far away to a barstool in Boston? Gotta be the ‘stache!

CARL ‘ALFALFA’ SWITZER IN “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE”

Any fan of “The Little Rascals” has to raise an eyebrow at the classic “swimming pool” scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” There’s good, old Alfalfa, causing trouble by opening up the indoor swimming pool underneath the high school gym, as a way to get back at Jimmy Stewart. You half expect to see Spanky and Buckwheat crash the party in a homemade go-kart. Say, what’s the big idea?

SAMUEL L. JACKSON IN “GOODFELLAS”

You KNOW something is amiss when gangster Joe Pesci pays a call on a low-level hood and Samuel L. Jackson opens the apartment door! What happens next is an even clearer indication that this classic Scorsese flick was shot before Jackson became a big star.

DON RICKLES IN “RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP”

This photo says it all. Burt Lancaster! Clark Gable! Don Rickles! Wait, what? Rickles has always dabbled in drama, but it was never so jarring as his turn in the great submarine war story, “Run Silent, Run Deep.” It’s a good part for comedy’s “Mr. Warmth,” but he didn’t get to call anyone a hockey puck even once.

ROBERT DUVALL IN “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD”

Duvall never has a problem with the occasional bit part. Yet his appearance as Boo Radley in “To Kill A Mockingbird” remains truly memorable, decades after the fact. He does as much with this haunted, halting shadow of a man as he later would do with swaggering soldiers, singers and cowboys.

KATHY GRIFFIN IN “PULP FICTION”

Luckily, the oddity of seeing comic Kathy Griffin show up as a bystander in “Pulp Fiction” seems to fit right in with the edgy vibe of the movie. The only thing that would make it better is if she started riffing on John Travolta’s hair or Uma Thurman’s outfit.

WILLIAM SHATNER IN “JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG”

You may have asked yourself, “Did the Shat ever work with Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich?” Well, he did. Long before “Star Trek” and Priceline.com came along, Shatner emoted alongside those Hollywood Giants in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” a 1961 movie about a military tribunal in Germany after World War II. And! He! Didn’t! Overact!

RICHARD DREYFUSS IN “THE GRADUATE”

Tiny part here, but Dreyfuss gets some decent face time in the second half of “The Graduate.” He plays a student living in the same rooming house as Dustin Hoffman, when landlord Norman Fell begins to suspect that Hoffman is one of those “outside agitators.”

MARILYN MONROE IN “ALL ABOUT EVE”

Here’s an amazing, 1950 film about an ambitious young actress trying to supplant an older, highly successful actress, played by Bette Davis. But is the iconic Marilyn Monroe playing the ruthless young woman? No. She’s a side character, totally irrelevant to the plot. It’s amazing how Monroe’s later status completely changes the way you take in the movie now.

GEORGE REEVES IN “GONE WITH THE WIND”

Folks of a certain age will understand how utterly distracting it is to watch the first part of “Gone With the Wind” and discover that one of Scarlet O’Hara’s suitors is none other than Superman! George Reeves, the tragically typecast star of TV’s “Superman” in the 1950s, also appeared in “Knute Rockne All American” and “Rancho Notorious,” before Metropolis consumed him.

TED KNIGHT IN “PSYCHO”

This one is my absolute favorite. Here, you’ve been on the edge of your seat through all the visceral, creepy shenanigans of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” – including the shower scene – and you’re ready for the big finish. Anthony Perkins is cooling his heels in the local lock-up, waiting to give you one last surprise. But then, who steps out of the doorway? Ted Baxter from the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”!? Wow. Didn’t see that one coming.

I’m sure there are some other great examples. I’m all ears.