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Monday Movies: A new beginning

A click on the category to the right will reveal that Monday Movies has been an unreliable feature at best, perhaps because the idea of an informed essay on a movie every week was too ambitious. I’m going to start a more low-impact version, therefore, simply listing the movies that I watch during the course of the week and perhaps making comments. That will be the baseline; if I feel more inspired, or if someone else has something to add, more will be done. (If you want to take over this feature, let me know — I’m all for more group involvement.)

This week was a banner week as The Girlfriend and I cleared out our Netflix queues. We watched the following:

  • Being There — this movie was a major disappointment. Once you know the premise, you can fantasize a much better movie than they actually made.
  • The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy) — I’ve been trying to go through more French New Wave directors, and I had no idea it was a musical. The story was okay, but I found the pure recitative, where 100% of the dialogue is sung without being a proper “song,” to be a little much to take.
  • Revolutionary Road — This was better than I expected. As a friend said, this is probably the best Sam Mendes (of American Beauty fame) will have done. A topic this movie brought up: Is Leonardo DiCaprio a good actor? Most say no, though one friend of mine said that Scorsese is able to draw good performances out of him. (A also reread this post of Anthony’s and found it to be a good analysis.)
  • Doubt — Probably the best we watched this weekend. If we’d seen it as a play, I think we would’ve been totally blown away. I came in with very low expectations after seeing the preview 17 million times at the Landmark Century (“arthouse”) theater, but it actually managed to be pretty insightful about religion, etc. I daresay that black mother deserved an Oscar for her performance, with the proviso that she really needed to wipe her nose!
  • Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut) — I really wanted to like this one, but it wound up being a collection of a few interesting vignettes that failed to add up to any kind of coherent whole.

Coming to my queue next week: The Child (Dardenne Bros.), Harold and Maude, and a recording of Richard Strauss’s opera Salome (inspired by my recent reading of Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise, a history of 20th century classical music). Haneke’s The White Ribbon is opening in Chicago on the 15th, and we will likely see it that weekend.

Did anyone watch movies this week? Does anyone have anything to add?


January 4, 2010 - Posted by | Monday Movies


  1. I watched The Thin Man for the nth time. It was much the same as ever.

    Comment by ben | January 4, 2010

  2. I saw the most recent Star Trek film over the weekend, which turns out to be fairly good. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that from the trailers.

    I also saw The Hangover, which strikes me as a worse and worse film the me the more I think about it. Surely the whole point of the hungover amnesia plot structure is to unravel a convincingly absurd narrative. A series of scenes in which one guy says “I was drunk” and another guy says “You did [insert stupid thing here],” with no attempt to connect these various stupid things, squanders the whole set-up.

    Comment by voyou | January 4, 2010

  3. I snuck into Up in the Air with some friends on Christmas. We had intended to see something else, I don’t remember what, and so I had no expectations going in, but I enjoyed it. I also watched Valley Girl, it was not interesting.

    Comment by currence | January 4, 2010

  4. Recently saw Public Enemy, which was fine for what it was: pretty much a 30s stylistic glorification of gangsters. It was enjoyable and is worth a 1 dollar red box rental, but it’s too long. I saw it on Christmas Day, and another alternative, suggesting by me, was The Road, which I’m sure is a good movie, but probably would have been a little bleak for Christmas day.

    I’m surprised you didn’t like Being There. I really liked it the first time I saw it, about two or three years ago, although I did recently rewatch it and it wasn’t as good. (The first time I watched it, I didn’t know anything about it other than it had Peter Sellers in it).

    Also saw most of District 9, as my family was watching it. Not bad, although it was pretty apparent to me where they were headed with it early on, and I was half-watching it from the other room.

    Comment by Dave Mesing | January 4, 2010

  5. I saw a few movies over the past week or so. We went and saw both Avatar and Sherlock Holmes at the theater and watched the sixth Harry Potter and the first two Lord of the Ring movies on TNT.

    Avatar was interesting in that the story didn’t totally ruin the experience as I expected. I actually noted to myself that the story was so simple it kind of reminded me of a children’s story, just with a lot more violence.

    Something else I noticed is the 3-D effects – while often jaw dropping – still seemed to have a lot of trouble with rapid movement and blurring. This especially stuck because nobody else seems to be talking about it, which makes me wonder if my contacts were acting up.

    Sherlock Holmes really didn’t need to be made and it certainly didn’t need to remake the original idea as an action movie. But I suppose that’s what I should have expected from Guy Ritchie. The only good part was the interaction of Downey and Law and that certainly didn’t need all the fast-paced action.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | January 4, 2010

  6. Revolutionary Road – depressing and well done. I can’t really connect with the whole “marriage sucks” thing. (loved Decaprio’s abortion speech)

    It’s a Wonderful Life – perfect as always

    Transformers 2: not quite Citizen Kane

    District 9 – loved it. unique take on alien movies.

    Comment by Chad | January 4, 2010

  7. Will you never learn? For what it is worth, I didn’t think the message of Revolutionary Road was that “marriage sucks” (since the female lead and the director are, by all accounts, happily married). I also think you’re missing the point about abortion, but that’s to be expected. You guys excited for the rapture? May 2011.

    Comment by Anthony Paul Smith | January 4, 2010

  8. I should clarify I saw Harry Potter on DVD, not TNT. I don’t have some special feed of TNT that shows the specific movies my wife wants to watch. If there was a movie in that series that just serves to move the overall project along, this one was it. But I don’t want to seem like I’ve spent too much time thinking about the HP movies.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | January 4, 2010

  9. Sherlock Holmes lacked verve. Guy Ritchie, why won’t you just keep making Guy Ritchie movies? Maybe I should have had a drink; I saw Snatch at the Brew and View in Chicago in 1996 and had a great time.

    It occurred to me that the circle-of-life new-age boilerplate in Avatar, when viewed through the anti-Bush-wars prism that the movie explicitly and awkwardly endorses, might be a riposte to the “culture-of-death” slur that the racist right employs.

    It occurs to me that “anti-Bush-wars” is almost entirely obsolete and that there are altogether too many hyphens in the above paragraph.

    Nine was fun and bad.

    Comment by K-sky | January 4, 2010

  10. I didn’t say that the message was “marriage sucks.” And I didn’t miss the point about abortion…I simply liked the speech about how insane it is.

    What is it about you that turns you into an instant dick whenever I post?

    Comment by Chad | January 4, 2010

  11. …and that speech was put into the mouth of a completely unsympathetic character, who was relieved that she was pregnant because it would give him an excuse to continue in his mediocrity. There could be no clearer example of the fact that lack of access to abortion serves to coerce women into traditional roles.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 4, 2010

  12. Pro-lifers are simply coercing women into traditional roles. If you actually believe that, then I understand why it pisses you off so much. I assume your family is pro-life; is that how you feel about their motives?

    Comment by Chad | January 4, 2010

  13. Exhibit 1. “I can’t really connect with the whole ‘marriage sucks’ thing.” — Chad

    “For what it is worth, I didn’t think the message of Revolutionary Road was that ‘marriage sucks'” — APS

    “I didn’t say that the message was ‘marriage sucks.'” — Chad

    Exhibit 2. “There could be no clearer example of the fact that lack of access to abortion serves to coerce women into traditional roles.” — Adam

    “Pro-lifers are simply coercing women into traditional roles.” — Chad

    I find it interesting that what you see as a twisting of your point in the first grouping of quotes is almost exactly what you did to Adam’s statement.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | January 4, 2010

  14. I’m not talking about motivations. I’m talking about concrete effects. People have all kinds of reasons for being pro-life, and obviously few would say, “We need to make sure women are at constant risk of pregnancy so that they will be easier to control.” Life is about more than people’s motivations or intentions.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 4, 2010

  15. It’s exactly the concrete effects that pro-lifers are so upset about. It’s the speculation about our motives that’s such BS. If you believed that the fetus was a human worth saving, think of how maddening it would be if you were accused of hating/oppressing women.

    Comment by Chad | January 4, 2010

  16. You’re being upset by the death of potential human beings you’ll never meet. In most cases they won’t even have reached anything like a recognizably human shape. In order to protect these entities — who you think and believe are the moral equivalent of post-born human beings — you are willing to tolerate the screwing over of people you know for a fact to be morally relevant human beings. You’re basically claiming to love the embryo you don’t see while being indifferent to the woman you do see (except in extreme cases like rape, incest, or life-threatening complications — and some pro-lifers wouldn’t even go along with all that). It’s moral lunacy.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 4, 2010

  17. Oh God, what am I doing?!

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 4, 2010

  18. Oh, Adam.

    Comment by stras | January 4, 2010

  19. Scanning back over the last few comments, I also notice that Chad kind of fumbled the “I know you are but what am I” defense there — which makes the fact that I responded seriously even more embarrassing, if possible.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 4, 2010

  20. I’ll never meet plenty of people who die needlessly.

    It’s the phrases like ‘screwing over’ and ‘coercing’ and ‘indifferent’ which drive me nuts. It only seems like we care more about the fetus because there’s no reason to defend the woman. She’s fine. Her existence isn’t in jeopardy. Of course plenty of knuckleheads show zero compassion for the woman which makes everyone look bad, but which “entity” deserves the most compassion here?

    Comment by Chad | January 4, 2010

  21. If you want to be in denial about the fact that lack of access to abortion hurts women, then that’s your choice — but I’m not going to help you by using only the most neutral language and pretending that all pro-lifers are good people with noble motives.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 4, 2010

  22. “who you think and believe are the moral equivalent of post-born human beings” — No…that’s your cute little word game to justify yourself…you want to make it about morality and faith, when it’s about science. They are human beings, and yes, I am willing to put their ability and freedom to LIVE over the ability and “freedom” to be comfortable, convenient, and without responsibility. Moral lunacy is putting the comfort level of a woman free to make her own decisions about whether or not she wants to be married or pregnant over the right of an unborn child to live. I’m protecting lives…you’re protecting some myth about oppression.

    Comment by Chad | January 4, 2010

  23. But I digress…let’s talk about Transformers 2

    Comment by Chad | January 4, 2010

  24. Man, Chad, you’re about as much fun to be around as the Leonardo DiCaprio character in Revolutionary Road.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 4, 2010

  25. Adam, how do you think all of this ties into the relationship between science and religion :)

    Comment by micah | January 4, 2010

  26. What do you guys think about the hyphens though?

    Comment by K-sky | January 5, 2010

  27. The right’s fetishization of fertilized eggs is so mystifying to me. Like for one thing (one of many!), from the statistics I’ve seen anywhere from 30 to 80% of fertilized eggs don’t implant, or are otherwise lost before the woman even misses a period. Which means that if you really believed that every egg that met a sperm was a human life, by the time they reach 40, many women’s uteruses would be cemeteries of baby deaths that they were completely unaware of. Is this really what people believe? Maybe so, but it seems intuitively bizarre to me. Also, and more pressingly, Sherlock Holmes was exactly as entertaining as I expected it to be. But I thought it was weird how they spent so much time explaining things that seemed perfectly obvious already, while leaving more important questions unanswered. Like, of course he was wearing a harness when he was hanged, and obviously he took kind of some catalepsis-inducing drug before his execution. But for God’s sake, how did Moriarty find out about the magic cult’s plan? And why didn’t he kill Holmes when he had the chance?

    Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of my favorite films of all time, and in fact one of the reasons I loved it is the recitative — it felt impossibly natural and beautiful. Of course, my feelings about the film are probably influenced by my own experience of it — I saw it when I was very young, and in love for the first time. If I recall correctly I was wearing an orange pea coat and bawled my eyes out in front of the Castro Theater when the movie let out — I cried so hard that I could hardly walk straight, all the way down Market.

    Comment by jms | January 5, 2010

  28. some kind of, I meant.

    Comment by jms | January 5, 2010

  29. “What is it about you that turns you into an instant dick whenever I post?”

    I don’t like you. I think you’re an idiot and that you do everything under the illusion that you’re very intelligent. You’re part of a culture that I think is ruining people’s lives and perpetuating barbarism. So, when you come around, I want you to go away.

    Comment by Anthony Paul Smith | January 5, 2010

  30. Someone: find out what % of comments are Chad or responses to Chad. He may be sustaining this weblog!

    I doubt that there are (m)any genuinely anti-marriage movies (by ‘genuinely’ I mean to exclude tragi-romantic “good in theory, bad in practice” or “many are good, but check out this bad apple” evaluations, which are boring and quotidian). In general it’s tough to find what I would call genuinely evil cinema, or films fashioned with evil intent. (Maybe old slashers or some torture-porn?) Some say Solondz’ work is misanthropic and cruel, but I find it to be pretty sympathetic. Same thing with Haneke, I think. Also, OP, thanks for mentioning The White Ribbon, I had almost forgot that it was out soon. I’m still kicking myself for having missed The Road when it was in theaters back in November.

    Comment by currence | January 5, 2010

  31. JMS– I had the same reaction to Sherlock Holmes regarding what I thought were obvious illusions. And I think the only response to the unresolved Moriarty plot is that the producers want our attention for the sequel(s).

    Comment by ebolden | January 5, 2010

  32. I found Sherlock Holmes to be mindless fare. I enjoyed it immensely, but yeah it wasn’t very interesting beyond “oh look at the attractive people fighting!” I had no suspense.

    Comment by Anthony Paul Smith | January 5, 2010

  33. Has anyone seen “Up in the Air”? The critics seem to like it, but most people I’ve talked to don’t.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 6, 2010

  34. Loved Umbrellas of Cherbourg – I was charmed when the mechanic sang about the clogged carburator.
    I loved Sherlock Holmes, but my bias is that I like Guy Ritchie; I think his films are smart and intelligent and I’m a sucker for RDJ.
    Avatar – big blue smurfs meet the terminators, meh.

    Comment by grackle | January 6, 2010

  35. Up In The Air has wonderful scenes it. The relationship between Clooney’s and Farmiga’s characters unfolds with beautiful sex and sadness. The addition of a third character to the mix — in the farthest thing from a romantic triangle — adds a welcome and unusual dimension to it.

    The unfortunate thing about it is that its treatment of Clooney’s character’s job–laying off people in person–is wholly on the level of metaphor, but its bedecked in a few social-realism touches that make the whole enterprise come off with a whiff of bad faith.

    Thanks for asking — I’d been trying to sort that out.

    Comment by K-sky | January 7, 2010

  36. I love Shoot the Piano Player, in part because it is so disjoint and off-kilter.

    Comment by redfoxtailshrub | January 8, 2010

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