Watching Movies When Not Watching Baby

Since becoming a dad, I’ve been able to go out to the cinema to see just three movies in three months. Luckily, at home, the situation is a little better, thanks to Netflix, Apple TV and the new Blu-Ray player that I got for the holidays. Still a general lack of free time makes it hard to see as many as I’d like, and I feel lucky that I get to see any movies, let alone write about them here on this blog. The days of being able to knock out lengthy reviews of the sort that I once did for, say, last year’s “Public Enemies” or 2008’s (still underrated!) “Speed Racer” seem a long way off now.

I still like writing about movies though, still enjoy articulating my thoughts about them, trying to get at the core ideas in filmed media that matter to me. Whether or not anyone really likes them, or whether the generally design-centric audience for this blog finds anything relevant in them, I’m not sure. But writing about shit you like is one of the perks of having your own blog, so I’m going to keep doing it — when I can. I’m just going to have get used to writing more succinctly, and get over the embarrassment of sometimes only publishing my thoughts long, long after the movies have left the current spotlight. Here are three write-ups to get started.


First up: Duncan Jones’ superb “Moon,” a retro-minded psychological science fiction rumination that not a lot of people saw in the theater last year but that I just watched last weekend on Blu-Ray. It was excellent and beautifully done, shot on a tiny budget but still a fully realized and persuasive imaginary space with only, at worst, hairline fractures in its ability to evoke suspension of disbelief. Its premise of loneliness and subverted authenticity is mildly surprising but rarely less than hard-working; Jones employs every tool at his disposal to surprise his audience not just with fantastic propositions, as science fiction is obligated to do, but with emotional accuracy too, something far rarer in any film featuring space suits and talking robots.


There’s also an alternate reality quality to “Gomorrah,” an Italian gangster film that’s more like an even grimmer, starker and less orchestrated version of “City of God” than the fluidly operatic folk fable that was “The Godfather.” I watched it the night after I saw “Moon,” which may partly account for why it too seemed to have a quality of science fiction to it. “Gomorrah” convincingly apes some of the tropes of documentary filmmaking, creating a feeling of cinema verité otherworldliness as it dives into a crime-ridden slum in Naples, Italy. Watching it is like poring through a reality completely unknown to most of us, getting dirty and maybe a little sickened on the way. I was transfixed the whole time, mouth agape, as if I were witnessing a live transmission from another planet.

“Crazy Heart”

I actually managed to get out to see the country music drama “Crazy Heart” in the theater this past weekend, a movie ostensibly about the harrowing depths to which a fictional musician sinks at the hands of alcohol. You can count me among those for whom Jeff Bridges can do no wrong after “The Big Lebowski,” and he was truly superb in this film which is perhaps otherwise most remarkable for being incredibly nice. In a way, “Crazy Heart” was like an elaborate cinematic stunt: can a halfway decent movie be made out of a situation where not a single character is anything less than well-meaning and reasonable? The answer is ummm, yeah, I guess. The premise makes for a pleasant two hours, but aside from Mr. Bridge’s rendition of the most likable self-destructive alcoholic in recent memory, I’ll probably remember “Crazy Heart” most for the fact that it was the movie that Laura and I went to see the first night we left the baby at home and went on a real, grown-up date.

  1. I always enjoy your movie write-ups.

    When a thing (a movie in this case, but it would be easier to list the things that wouldn’t work here than to list the things that would)is supposed to do something, and that thing does that something well, it’s often enlightening to get at why that is.

    The thinking here seems of a piece with that behind your ongoing dialog on good design and inspired and effective communication.

    (Plus, even if all of the above is bullshit, these things give you a chance to put down some well-turned sentences/smartly expressed observations, which is reason enough, I say, to post this sort of stuff whenever the hell the fancy strikes you!)

  2. Hey, thanks Steve for the encouragement. And you’re right; sometimes I’ll write a blog post just so I can turn a particular phrase or lock down a particular idea. It keeps it fun for me.

  3. My streaming Netflix pick is “Primer” – a real brain teaser – beware of the wikipedia entry as it is a spoiler. Best to just dive into the film.

  4. Glad to see you gave nods to Moon and Gomorrah. Moon is easily worth a Best Actor nom for Sam Rockwell, and presented a fascinating angle in science fiction. Gomorrah, I loved at release and just picked up on Criterion blu-ray last week. I’d only seen it once, but it made such an incredible impression that I simply had to follow up with it.

    My next major recommendation for you would be The Hurt Locker, based on elite bomb diffusion units in Iraq. It just came out on blu-ray/dvd two weeks ago. While it saw a very limited release, it’s well-deserving of all the awards it’s getting, and a major sleeper hit destined to become a classic. Jeremy Renner may very well win for Best Actor, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it snap up at least 2-3 other awards, not the least being Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow.

  5. Devon: I saw “The Hurt Locker” when it was in theaters, actually (just before we had our baby) and I liked it. But I wasn’t amazed by it. I’m not so sure it deserves all the accolades it’s gotten, and while Jeremy Renner did do a good job, I think too many rote dramatic scenes undercut the effectiveness of his performance for me. But that’s just me.

  6. I completely agree with you about Speed Racer being underrated. It boggles my mind that something so, to quote Will Ferrell as James Lipton, “Splendiferous” could be totally disregarded as “just a kids movie.” Also I have a two year old daughter and understand how you feel. The last movie I saw in a theater was Daybreakers, not worth the 8 dollar ticket. And before that I can’t even remember it’s been so long. Enjoy it while you can because from year 2 to probably 13 it’s going to be Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks movies only.

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