This year we decided to make the week between Christmas and New Year’s “Movie Week”, catching up on as many of the good movies that had come out as possible. While it was impossible to get to all those we wanted to see – we missed Invictus, Precious, and Up in the Air—I did see six movies during the week. Two of them were very good, three were okay, and one was absolutely awful.
The first movie of the week was “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. We were hoping to see Up in the Air, but it and It’s Complicated were both sold out (an experience we hadn’t had at our local multiplex for many years), so it was either The Morgans or Alvin and the Chipmunks. We should have chosen the latter. Within the first five minutes of the film, I wish I hadn’t heard about the Morgans. It was trite, it was predictable, it was stereotypical (some of the small western town stuff seemed downright insulting to me), and it was anything but romantic or funny. It was, in other words, a total waste of money and time. The best thing about the two hours spent in that show was the stale popcorn I ate, fresher than the ideas and jokes in the movie.
Movie number two was “It’s Complicated.” If there was one movie from the week that I’d say every woman over approximately forty who has ever been in a relationship that has ended should see if they want to just enjoy themselves, this movie would be it. (I’m not sure if this is a “old hen” flick or whether men might also like it.) There’s not much that’s deep or that stays with you for days afterwards, but the movie is both well-acted and funny. I laughed a lot and generally enjoyed every minute that I was sitting in the theater watching it.
Film number three was “Sherlock Holmes.” I’ve never been a big Holmes fan, though I had enjoyed seeing Crucifer of Blood with my mother on Broadway and with Danny at Purchase College and I’ve also had fun reading Laurie King’s Mary Russell mysteries (where she is Sherlock Holmes’ wife). The movie presents a rougher, less cultured, darker Holmes than I’d imagined him. I could have lived without so many fighting scenes—especially those done twice, first in slow motion then again at regular speed—but as a whole the film presented a good afternoon’s entertainment.
The next day we went to see “Avatar” in 3D. The movie lived up to just about everything I’d heard about it. I was captivated by the world that Cameron has created, the fact that the computer animated characters are actually real actors rather than just voice-overs makes a big difference in the reality of the world of Pandora, and the philosophy behind the film was well-presented and resonated with me. I was also glad that I saw the film in 3D. Having the plants blow in the breeze around me, the small jelly-fish-like spiritual beings float above my head, and the dragon-birds flying toward and away from me pulled me into Pandora in a way that a 2D viewing probably would not have. (It would almost be like the difference between having an avatar in Second Life and having one of the avatars that are created by the team in the film.) I suspect that Avatar successfully did several things. First, it revived the idea of seeing movies at the movie theater rather than viewing them at home. No home screen- not even a very large HD screen- is going to be big enough to capture all the wonder of this world. Ideally the film should be viewed at an IMAX. Second, it raises the standard of expectation for what computer games that come out in the next five to ten years should be like, since people are going to want games that allow them to be avatars in this much more engaging way than virtual worlds currently allow. And third, it offers what Joseph Campbell suggested that Stars Wars offered in the 70s and 80s—a new mythology with a spiritual message that speaks to those of us living in the 21st century, in many ways offering language and experience that religious institutions should be offering but too often don’t.
We headed to the Jacob Burns a few days later to see “A Single Man”, based on Christopher Isherwood’s book that came out back thirty or more years ago, I think perhaps when I was in college. The film is well-done—one could almost get caught up in all the things that remind us what life was like in those days—the cigarettes, the rotary-dial phone, the cars, the children’s toys—and, as would be expected given the storyline, depressing. It was a good reminder of what life as a gay man would have been like in the 70s.
The last film I saw was "2012". It was exactly what it has been touted as being—a film that is meant to entertain you through calamity after calamity. It’s improbable, it’s got lots of action, and it’s got heroes and anti-heroes (all of who meet the fate they should meet). What I expected from it as I began to watch it was exactly what I had gotten as the credits rolled, nothing amazing but a decent action film.