Movies Watched, September 2020

Movies Watched, September 2020

I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a terrific movie title for a year in which each month that passes has taken a “hold my beer” alacrity to one-upping the awfulness that preceded it. The fact that the movie was directed by perpetually inventive misanthrope Charlie Kaufman would seem to promise at least a diverting, brain puzzle-type examination of human experience.

For a while, this movie is that, but then it gets lost in its own head (something which you’d actually expect to happen to Kaufman movies more often than it does). It starts out as a fairly compelling two-hander, with its leads bantering on an extended drive to visit family, interlaced with a surprisingly deft voiceover (voiceovers are never surprisingly deft). Eventually though it starts falling back to standard Kaufman shorthand: dream logic blocking, elliptical editing, jump scare cutaways etc.

No one else can do this stuff like Kaufman can and so few even try, so it’s somewhat forgivable that little of it rises above the amusing. But the last third, which is by turns reminiscent of a rather unenthusiastic David Lynch or Jean-Luc Godard flick, feels much less assured as it devolves into a game of semiotic Clue, leaving the viewer to match up wryly dropped hints with narrative twists. Kaufman does not want to telegraph the “meaning” of it all or do all of the expository work for the viewer, which is fair, but I’m not convinced he’s fully doing his job as a storyteller, either.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a disappointment but then again most of what we’re getting to see this year has been disappointing. I wrote in August about how subpar most of the direct-to-Netflix fare has been in general, but we’re also living through a pretty rough drought of genuinely entertaining movies that may stretch on for a long time. On the one hand, studios are holding back their most anticipated films until such a time when theater-going is a thing again. And on the other hand, the pandemic has surely paused or deferred production for a ton of what would have been entertaining to see next year, too.

Sorry, didn’t mean to be such a downer there.

In total I watched fifteen movies last month. Here’s the full list.

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) ★★
    Rewatched. Supposedly benign but takes a lot of offensive liberties with race and history.
  2. Millions” (2004) ★★★
    Smartly directed fable of a kid’s experience dealing with the death of a loved one? I’ll take it. Corny sermonizing on the power of faith? Not so much.
  3. Monsters University” (2013) ★★★½
    I know these back catalog Pixar sequels are not supposed to be well regarded but I really liked this one.
  4. Motherless Brooklyn” (2019) ★★
    Edward Norton did his homework and he wants you to know it.
  5. I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (2020) ★★½
    Diverting for a while until it turns into a game of semantic Clue.
  6. The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Warmly imagined romantic comedy about pre-War Hungary.
  7. Sleuth” (1972) ★★★★
    A delicious acting feast rolled up in a parlor room whodunit.
  8. Star Wars” (1977) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Enjoying this movie today requires not just suspension of disbelief but also summoning up a willful ignorance of all the crap sequels that have followed.
  9. The Birth of a Nation” (1915)
    Talk about complicated. A disturbingly well-made paean to hatred and bigotry.
  10. An American Pickle” (2020) ★★
    Starts off with crackle, then limps along to a whimpering finish.
  11. The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) ★★★½
    Rewatched. The best made installment of the entire series, but perhaps not essential at all.
  12. The Traitor” (2019) ★★½
    Goes deep inside the Italian mafia, reveals surprisingly little.
  13. How to Build a Girl” (2019) ★½
    Shamefully squanders a terrific premise: excavating the way British music weeklies used to build up and tear down bands.
  14. Dazed and Confused” (1993) ★★★
    A great hangout movie, sure, but in retrospect, quite toxic.
  15. The Violent Men” (1955) ★★★★
    An old western with a terrifying view of how power is amassed.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in August, in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, and a full list of everything I watched in 2019, in 2018, in 2017 and in 2016. And, if you’re really interested, you can follow along with my movie diary at