Return of the Blockbuster or Something Different?

When theaters open, will we choose to see them? Will we be so eager to leave the house, we won’t care what’s showing?

Out of other options to reach D.C.’s Uptown Theater to see the original “Star Wars,” we rode our bikes from Arlington to the subway that let us out right next door. If we had been in Europe, riding our bikes would have been normal, but this was during the 1977 Oil Crisis and the yellow Karmann Ghia’s fuel gauge registered empty. We really wanted to see the movie that we had heard so much about and it did not disappoint.

The strong characters—Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Lia, Yoda, Han Solo, Chewbacca (golden retriever Rowdy’s Halloween character)—endeared themselves to us, at least through the first four—1977, 1980, 1983, 1999—through Phantom Menace. Since then it has become a merchandizing extravaganza that continues unabated as the ninth segment pushed out earlier this year.

Studios caught up in the Pandemic have much more to contend with than ticketholders forced to hop on bikes during an international oil shortage fifty years ago. Although they seem to have difficulty understanding that eventually a good idea runs dry after a decade or so. Some movie buffs are looking for more than wall-to-wall spandex, black capes and masks (before public masking became a health v. personal rights issue), which had previously guaranteed a healthy payday not just here, but in theaters around the world. The willingness to spend mightily to create a seemingly endless array of look-alike, sound-alike, named-alike movies seemed to start with the oceanic monster “Jaws.” Those scary shark teeth brought in $100 million at the box office and kept some bathers on the beach in fear of the Great White in 1975, beginning the perpetual cash register ring-up of merchandize with the slightest connection to the beast from the deep. “Jaws” returned in 1978 and emerged again in 1983, before diving into streaming summer rotation. 

Even before the Pandemic, studios began to question throwing millions after a movie, when there was no guarantee that the box office would return in kind. As ticket prices rose and the quality of movies streamed from home increased, consumers began to choose to relax on their own couches and pop their own popcorn at a small fraction of the cost charged at the theatres. Once the Pandemic hit, theaters were struggling to find ways to establish a six-foot safety distance, but now are struggling mightily to adjust opening dates for theaters and release dates for anticipated movies. The lure of Marvel Comic-based stories has continued until now, when closed theaters around the country have pushed the opening dates for already completed movies from May-June to October, now into 2021, guaranteeing some studios will struggle along with the theaters as their coffers are drained.  

Normally studios are willing to invest millions in their “tentpole” movies, planned to bring folks in to see the coming attractions in hopes they will select what they’d like to see next. Theaters have worked to enhance the movie experience as a one-stop night out—no need for dinner reservations. Inside upgraded theaters: gourmet ranging from pizza to steak dinner, wine, cocktails augment a movie viewed from plush seats as comfortable as the couch at home with no day-old peanut butter sandwiches tucked in the cushions.

“Tenet” Up in the Air

Before the madness began, Warner Brothers with Syncopy willingly ponied up $225 million in a potential tentpole movie by someone who has an excellent record for bringing in an audience for just those blockbusters. Sir Christopher Nolan delivered box office bounty with “Batman,” “Dark Knight,” “Inception,” and “Dunkirk,” the massive World War II pic for which Sir Christopher Nolan received a 2019 Best Picture nomination. He showed his versatility in directing “Dunkirk” in 2017, while completing the closely held script for the previously expected 2020 tentpole: “Tenet.” Nolan ruminated on the scenarios for a decade, this twist and that. Once he was done, he took the cast and crew to seven countries to shoot film segments, some with IMAX cameras: Denmark, Estonia, India, Italy, Norway, UK, and US, which indicates the scope of the movie. Film being more difficult to shoot and edit than video, but that’s how Nolan delivers exceptional work audiences have come to expect.

Initially “Tenet” was scheduled to open this month, as he likes to slate his films in July. With the theaters closed for the Pandemic, “Tenet” was initially moved back into August, but now this international thriller sits in limbo, awaiting a thaw in the Pandemic that will allow movie theaters to reopen and provide the marketing worthy of leading men John David Washington and Robert Pittman and newcomer Elizabeth Debicki, a 29-year-old actress from Australia, who appeared as a golden-clad alien in a Marvel movie, but has proven herself in the Great Gatsby and “The Night Manager” opposite Hugh Lorrie.

While we wait for that to appear, some are lamenting the lack of women directors, though the numbers are slowly rising, and that men still seem to dominate the screen. You might thing it was always like that, but Ann Hornaday (below) reminds us the ‘70s were a strong decade for female-centered movies—think Jane Fonda in “Klute,” “Coming Home,” and “The China Syndrome,” Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall,” Shirley MacLaine in “The Turning Point,” and Jill Clayburgh in “An Unmarried Woman.” But the performance that many forget is Diahann Carroll in “Claudine,” opposite James Earl Jones in a comedy-drama from 1974 with humor, tough love and something not usually seen on the big screen—middle-aged romance. This warm-hearted tale got lost under the tsunami initiated by “Shaft.” Just like the blockbusters, the blaxploitation films could be counted on financially and they were much cheaper to make.

In any event the movies of the ‘70s did not resemble each other, rather they were standalone, offered different flavors, different ideas to mull over after leaving the theater. Studios, not wanting to alienate their audiences in the midst of the nation’s political divisions, boil it down to a pablum. That formula might not satisfy an audience that’s been home for months watching Hulu and Netflick. The current lineup through 2020: “Wonder Woman 1984” with Gal Gadot on October 2, provided the date is not extended further. Followed by “Candyman” (a remake from 1992) by Jordan Peele on Oct. 16 with Watchman Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and “Black Widow” with Scarlet Johansson Nov. 6.  Jamie Foxx and Pixar partnered on the animated “Soul” with Angela Bassett. The final movie scheduled for 2020 release, perennial favorite Daniel Craig on Nov. 20, in what is rumored to be his final Bond, “No Time to Die.” What is playing well this summer in open theaters in Europe and Japan?  Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women.”

In closing, an appreciation for the diminutive lady who seemed most vulnerable in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind,” Olivia de Havilland. At 104, she outlived the entire cast. Maybe Paris agreed with her—she lived there for 60 years, avoiding Hollywood hassles. Actors and creatives there still appreciate her work to improve their opportunities in negotiations with the studios. In 1943 she sued Warner Brothers for illegal contracting practices. Previously actors were suspended without pay if they were under contract and turned down a role. Their contracts were automatically extended after a seven-year agreement, without opportunity to amend them. She won and was able to pull down roles in “To Each His Own,” and “The Dark Mirror.” Olivia won Oscars for both roles.

Washington Post Movie Critic Ann Hornaday wrote about the current crisis in the film industry that stimulated my thoughts about movies.   

Life is in the Transitions

Butterfly Metamorphis by Vision Studios. Is not life a series of transitions?

Transitions can be the most challenging moments in our lives, if we aren’t prepared for change. Leaving home for the first time looks like a great deal until the first load of laundry or when living can-to-mouth. Moving in with someone, getting married can be glorious, but there is usually an adjustment that can go well or ill depending on if our sense of humor is onboard. Moving to Austin, Texas, from Washington, D.C., barely ahead of, then surrounded by an ice storm listened to Adele singing “Rumor has it” to keep my mind off the radio reports of jack-knifed trucks. Questioned my sanity. But after surviving four weeks of 100-degree days that summer, it just melted into life lived with family in a modern Southern tempo.

Bravery and that dash of humor are required to meet today’s tests on all fronts—health, finance, career, education, and family situations. Even before the world turned upside down, Bruce Feiler, author of Life is in the Transitions, saw change coming and went out to talk with hundreds of people in all 50 states about their “life quakes” and how they managed to plow through and conquer.

In the 6,000 typed pages from those interviews and the year analyzing the results, Feiler came up with personal and family stories that formed the foundation on which they devise practical solutions to climb out from under their challenges—cancer, bankruptcy, lost jobs, divorce, and loss of family members.

Several other best-selling authors (see below) attest to Feiler’s storytelling skills. He divides the process of building oneself out of a hole into three parts: 

Bidding Goodbye. Leaving the old world behind. Maybe devise a ritual to indicate you understand the world is forever changed. Forever Grief will only chain you to the past, which is gone as much as many would wish it would return, making it harder to focus energy on creating a new future.

The Messy Middle. Writers know all about this—where you try to pull the threads from the beginning to match up with the strands working into the future at the end. This is where you work with “what is” to make it into what “could/will be.” The skill, talent, ambition, and reality roll around together as you try different combinations to restart the engine, keep it running, push it into another gear. The engine may stall once or twice, while you devise another solution, while becoming an inventor of sorts or an entrepreneur. Up to you.

A New Life: After applying a good bit of effort, intuition, humor, and a bit of sheer luck to the Messy Middle, plus some external positive action to move the Pandemic along, eventually we will arrive at another life station. (This won’t be the final destination until the game is through and we’re not ready for that!)

Work to shake off any remaining pessimism moving forward in a world changed by tragedy, but renewed with a spark of human energy, a dash of human kindness, and, after going through all this together, more than a little generosity.

 Understandably some would pay to learn what life will look like on July 20, 2021, but the script hasn’t been written. This ‘life quake’ has hit every last one of us in some aspect of our life. Where will we be six, nine, twelve months from now? The script is up to each one of us to write, each and every day. Won’t be over until we are! Check out Feiler for suggestions to help along the way.

+ Bruce Feiler, Life is in the Transitions

 The book can be purchased online to get a peek into the stories and the life strategies to assist us in our transitions.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project, says the stories here “are impossible to forget.”

Dave Isay, founder, Story Corps, “Bruce helps us understand our stories and lives through listening.”

Lift the Load of Life! Reframe Your Outlook

GoGraphic Life is a matter of perspective.

Sometimes when I hear myself screaming at the computer because I cannot conjure up the proper password, my mind wanders to imagine dire mental consequences.  That is not resilience—over-reacting and negative thinking. Then I realize it is not the mangled password that is threatening to tip my composure. Rather it’s the drip, drip, drip of little things that fall together—seeking the last tax form online (another password!), running out of my 16-grain bread I pop into the toaster every morning, ditto the last scoop of my Dulce de Leche ground coffee, and an hour and a half wait in the car in 97 degree heat to grab a “ready-for-pick-up” book.*

Maybe “reframing” is needed to realize most of my little problems come from how I am mismanaging my life. The “just-in-time” approach to life does not work well in this turned-around, slowed-down world, when you never know if or when a delivery will come.

 What happened to my positive outlook? Time to lasso it, put the passwords in a notebook, order the bread and coffee a week ahead and get back in touch with my sense of humor.  If I looked at it from 30 feet, I could probably see hilarity in my screaming at the computer screen.

Can’t think of a better definition for resiliency than “the core strength you use to lift the load of life,” offered by Amit Soog, M.D., executive director of the Global Center for Resilience and creator of the Mayo Clinic Resilient Mind in Minneapolis. Just being alive today requires extraordinary fortitude, gumption, and resilience, according to Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk, PhD, RN, VP for Health Promotion and Chief Wellness Officer, Ohio State University. Both have studied resilience for years and believe it can be learned. These are unchartered waters, but you are not put out on the waves without a paddle.

If you want less fear, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, depression, and sadness, to improve your health, relationships, and overall happiness, resilience is your best bet. You can easily find organizations online addressing resilience. Everyday Health has a guide: “What is Resilience? Your Guide to facing Life’s Challenges, Adversities, and Crises.” (

Quick tips on how you can build your Resilient muscle to help you now and during whatever challenges will/might come your way. Over the past several months, people, even you, are learning to adapt to circumstance like never before. Bouncing back can take more time for some. That is fine. Be good to yourself, but do not suffer needlessly without reaching out for a hand.

Build Connections   (American Psychological Association Strategies )

Meeting up on Zoom can help break the isolation and build bridges when you are much more inside than out. If you were part of an organization before the Pandemic, reconnect by phone to see when they are reconnecting online. Meeting a face online certainly does not match in-person, but it is better than being completely isolated.

Foster Wellness

Make sure to take care of your body with good nutrition, ample sleep, plenty of water, and practice an exercise you like so you will stick to it. Following this pattern will help reduce or prevent anxiety and depression. Alcohol is not on this list because it might drown your sorrows, but it cannot guarantee how you will feel the next morning. Moderation–best route.

Find a Purpose in Life if you do not have one now

Volunteering or assist by making phone calls for a local organization you support will stretch your gratitude muscle. If you ever wanted to learn more about gardening or photography or to learn a new language, now’s the time. Helping to solve a community problem will build your sense of worth or appreciation for your life. Stretch the goals you have for yourself or create new ones.

Embrace Healthy, Positive Thoughts

If you find yourself slipping into negative ideas, redirect your thinking to productive ones. Takes practice but can be done. This situation will not last forever, so we need to think forward into the future, no matter what we are in the middle of right now. What helped you disentangle yourself from the negatives in the past? Go there to help yourself move forward.

Use Humor to Find Hope

This may be the most important of all. Times like this it is easy to allow the humor to slip from our lives, but this is when we need it most. Think of the stories in your life that brought you joy and a moment of mirth. Dig deep to pull them out. The tail end of them will carry a bit of hope to carry you through until you are naturally finding laughter again.

Seek Help

If you can find no joy in what once carried you along or can find no substitute for it, find someone to talk with. A counselor would be ideal. Sharing with a trusted friend would be a good first start, while you seek help maybe from a county health agency, an HMO or a private physician. Now is not the time to hold your problems inside. Get on the path to resiliency!

Watch and Become Part of the Solution

Since a picture is worth 1,000 words—here are some movies that focus on resilience—more fun than reading sentences.     I have included a few movies that carry some of the same messages and a link to a wider list.

When They See Us, the story of the Central Park Five, wrongly convicted of beating a woman, years later exonerated

Heroine, a documentary about the female fire chief in West Virginia dealing with the opioid crisis

He Named Me Malala, the Pakistani girl who withstood a bullet to the head for her belief in educating girls like herself

Selma, based on the march in Alabama and the last three months of Martin Luther King’s life

Want to check out your own Resilience Score?


Resilient people do not yell at their computers but meet with others (even in ZOOM meetings) to devise ideas and compromises to perplexing problems. Rest up because come 2021 you all will be needed as problem solvers on the other side of this. Between now and then, be active, make time to register now and vote in November.


*(The Secrets We Kept by Laura Prescott, “Mad Men-esque period style with a spy story worthy of John le Carre.”—Entertainment Weekly) Will take you to another place—isn’t that what a good book is supposed to do? The heroine is resilient as well!)

What Does Freedom Mean? July 4 + 244 Years

July 4, 2019, Kellen Lenz, 4, and Kallie Crawford

My best July 4th? A picnic on the National Mall, red-and-white-checkered tablecloth laid out with fried chicken, butter-dripping off the corn-on-the-cob, and large slices of watermelon to listen to the Washington Symphony play John Phillip Sousa’s marching tunes. Inevitably my daughter would need a PortaPotty visit when they would begin to play my favorite Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. We would be back in time for the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture complete with cannons—the signal that fireworks would begin.

 Not just any fireworks, but the loudest, most colorful display we would ever see. Red, green, blue, yellow, purple bursts high above us that seemed the size of a city block—one on top of another, then side-to-side, flipping and disappearing, so another could appear to complete with a waterfall of white bursts shimmering nearly to the ground.

Washington’s fireworks are also the smokiest display with the smell of gunpowder descending into the audience, bringing me back to the origin of July 4th, 1776. Fifty-six men from the 13 Colonies (it was just men then) signed the Declaration of Independence. By signing they were acting against a powerful British Crown and several of them paid dearly for their bravery. Five men were tortured and killed for treason at the hands of the British. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons as revolutionary soldiers and two other sons were captured.

How are we addressing basic freedoms in 2020?  A year ago my blog “Celebrating a Nation of Promise. . .and Contradiction” gave a hint of the future ahead of us. We struggle to deliver  “freedom” and we’re realizing it isn’t doled out equally, either economically or in health care. Now in a Pandemic, fighting a disease we cannot see or taste, some feel paralyzed unable to fight a ghost. Others, now several months in, are emboldened, eager to make a stand against it by going out into it, fearless to combat it as if it, too, were a human prepared for battle, only to find it is deceptive.

Months confined to working from home or not working at all makes us eager to escape to life as we once knew it. Those at the bottom of the Pandemic economy, brought on full force by March 2020, some in the nursing homes deepest hit, cleaners in houses and offices forced out of employment, workers in fast-food or restaurants, have greater struggles feeding families and paying rent. What happens to their financial freedom under Coronavirus?

We struggle to find answers. The nation’s been a financial colossus, leading the world in output– Gross National Product for the U.S. in 2019 was over $19 trillion, and growing 2.1 percent. But in the first quarter (January through March, when the coronavirus was not at its peak) GNP dropped by 5 percent, a huge hit. This may seem far afield from the original thoughts of Independence, until you think about what independence means to each of us.

At first when I think of “Independence, ” I think about the natural desire of teenagers, who fight their parents to get adult responsibilities, only to find themselves not totally prepared to shoulder all of them. In this economy some young adults return home not just to find solace, maybe they’ve lost a job or their college is closed. Once back, the price of dependence, living at home, becomes a bit steep.

Now as adults we can get bogged down with our responsibilities, as we struggle to weave our own safety nets. Freedom has more than one meaning when you are in close quarters with others—you can’t be free yourself if you are endangering others. The phrase “what goes around comes around” seems trite, but we see we are not at the end of this as the number of Coronavirus cases tops 500,000 across America. Thursday, July 2 hit a record 55,000 cases reported in a single day. A second wave threatens to sink the progress we have made.

People with the virus don’t turn green or have red spots like measles, so we can’t immediately treat them, then go about our lives. To avoid spreading the disease, we need to take the health risk seriously. Wearing a mask may cover the all-important smile and wear on the ears if not adjusted, may make it tougher to breathe in hot weather, but would you really want to carry the disease to a friend, neighbor, or grandparent? Washing hands, is that such a difficult task? Is social distancing such a burden when it can mean a hospital bed will be available for you or a co-worker if you become ill?   

Now freedom requires responsibility. This is a domestic battle and we are called upon to make sacrifices. If you look at it in a different way—it gives new meaning to the word “freedom.” It is being part of something greater than yourself.  It is a modern take on re-establishing a nation– to declare independence from a insidious disease to protect others.

Now you don a mask and respect the 6-foot markers on the cement in front of you. The odds seem in your favor. It is easier than toting a gun—you can still be a fatality or be injured (lungs, heart and mental capacity) for life. But your chances are much better if you take precautions, suffer a little discomfort to protect your community get back to moving the economy forward for all Americans.

Enjoy the fried chicken, cherry pie, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon, squeeze your family members, and carefully send up some fireworks. Set aside a moment to think about what freedom means to you in 2020 and how you can make a difference moving the country forward, not backward.

Kids – What Does Freedom Mean?

July 4th artwork 2019. Kellen Lenz and Kallie Crawford

My best July 4th? A picnic on the National Mall, a blanket laid out with fried chicken, butter dripping off the corn-on-the-cob, and good-sized slices of watermelon. Finish up with from-scratch cherry or blueberry pie oozing with fruit on tender pastry. 

 Independence Day combines family, food, and fireworks with John Phillip Sousa’s marching tunes. Another tradition on the National Mall–we knew to listen for Tchaikovsky’s (War of) 1812 Overture. On the Fourth they used real cannons and we knew what came next—the fireworks.

Not just any fireworks, but the loudest, most colorful display we’d ever seen. Red, green, blue, yellow, purple bursts high above us that seemed the size of a city block—one on top of another, then side-to-side, flipping and disappearing, so another could appear to complete with a waterfall of white bursts shimmering nearly to the ground.

Washington’s fireworks are also the smokiest display with the smell of gunpowder descending into the audience, bringing me back to the origin of July 4th, 1776. Fifty-six men from the 13 Colonies (it was just men then) signed the Declaration of Independence, putting Britain on notice that they would no longer be subject to its rule.

So America’s Independence Day 2020 isn’t just a display of fireworks, food, and family gatherings. It’s Freedom, but it comes with a price. How are we addressing basic freedoms in 2020?  A year ago my blog “Celebrating a Nation of Promise. . .and Contradiction” gave a hint of the future ahead of us. We’re still struggling to deliver that word “freedom” and we’re realizing it isn’t doled out equally.

After months confined to working or studying from home makes us eager to return to life as we once knew it—to be independent once again. Freedom has more than one meaning when you are in close quarters with others—you can’t be free yourself if you are endangering others. The phrase “what goes around comes around” seems trite, but we can all do our part.

People with the virus don’t turn green or have measles or mumps, so they can be treated before infecting others. To avoid spreading the disease, we need to wear a mask if we’re older than ten and wash our hands frequently. Maybe the hardest part is staying six feet away from people who are not in our family, depending on where we live.

Now freedom requires responsibility. If you look at it in a different way—it gives new meaning to the word “freedom.” It is being part of something greater than yourself.  Take precautions, suffer a little discomfort in to protect your community and eventually get businesses opening their doors.  It’s what they attempted to do in 1776 to begin to create a nation. You can help create a healthy nation.

So enjoy the fried chicken, cherry pie, corn on the cob, the music, squeeze your family members, and carefully send up some fireworks, but set aside a little time to think about what freedom means in 2020 and how to make a difference.