Watching media images roll in from a storm-paralyzed New York last week, I tried to count how many times I've seen the city struck by apocalypse.
It happened at the movies. The Statue of Liberty practically drowned in "Independence Day" in 1996; dogfights with aliens filled Manhattan skies in "The Avengers" this year. The events of 9/11 briefly halted Hollywood's Big Apple Armageddon, but when Sacha Baron Cohen started doing terrorist one-liners in a Manhattan tour helicopter in "The Dictator" last summer, it was clear the statute of creative limitations was over.
Why New York is such a popular target for end-of-the-world scenarios is open for discussion. But the reality of Sandy was a reminder of just how wimpy even the best special effects are in the frightening face of the real thing, whether it's a hurricane or merely a "super storm."
We get periodic reminders of this here in the islands. Two Saturdays ago, the MACC stopped two evening events mid-show to allow patrons to clear the parking lots and head for higher ground before the estimated arrival time of a possible tsunami wave.
The ocean surge caused no actual damage, but that didn't diminish the better-safe-than-sorry relief the following morning. Nature's nurturing, inspiring beauty comes with a fascinating flip side of danger - but Mother Nature has no love for daredevil fools.
Hawaii showed Steven Spielberg's team the difference between camera tricks and acts of God in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki sent the crew scrambling for shelter while they were on Kauai filming "Jurassic Park."
Some movies offer deeper ramifications to ponder amidst the visions of chaos. But is destroying the world is the best we can come up with for entertainment? Are we really that bored?
The real events along the East Coast last week spurred much different reactions, from a renewed discussion of climate change, to illuminating the thin, brittle line between desperation and altruism.
As New York and New Jersey begin the long process of climbing out of the devastation, they remind us of the fragility of so many things we take for granted - and shine a bright light on the immeasurable value of caring and kindness in an unpredictable world.
Meanwhile, back at the movies, this week's latest special effects evoke memories of New York's real-life "Miracle on the Hudson" in 2009. But the outcome is far different for Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis' powerful "Flight."
As you already know from the TV spots, "Flight" revolves around a harrowing airliner disaster guided to an unbelievable landing by Washington's ace pilot, Capt. "Whip" Whitaker.
As terrifying as that sequence is, it's not the film's climax, but its starting point. The truly scary stuff is back on solid ground. After his superhuman feat, Whip Whitaker turns out to have very human shortcomings. He is still unconscious when he is admitted to the hospital following the crash, where routine exams reveal serious amounts of alcohol and cocaine in his system at the very time he was so brilliantly guiding the plane to safety.
"Flight's" plane crash, it turns out, is just a way of getting audience's attention. Surrounded by a superb co-stars Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman and Melissa Leo, Washington is magnetic and nuanced as a deeply flawed hero whose demons are equally matched with his strengths.
Cocky at one moment, then scary, then charming and charismatic, it's another great role in a career full of them.
Religious symbols and 12-step programs are available, accompanied by the film's hopped-up '60s soundtrack, but there are no easy fixes, even for men who can fly. Addiction, it turns out, is far more challenging than trying to land a free-falling airliner, as this iconic actor comes down to earth to take everyone along on a bumpy, sobering, ultimately thrilling ride to redemption.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org