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Not watching movies (but two drive-by reviews included)

Four months since my last movie overview – and only a couple of movies watched in that period of time. Before I get into an explanation of why my movie-viewing habits have become so insignificant, let me tell you what those two viewings were, and anyone who couldn’t care less would be then free to skip this post altogether. (As always, there’ll be spoilers, too.)

Hancock 2008
No Country for Old Men 2007

So, let me count the reasons I practically stopped watching movies in recent weeks.

  1. The proportion of time that I can devote to movie-watching has decreased dramatically compared to what we used to have in England. When not traveling, I used to have reasonably lengthy week-nights spent in idle homebound pursuits; viewing a recorded movie was a frequent participant in the activities rotation. Nowadays, I have shorter week-nights – my daily commute is nearly three times longer than in London; there is simply less need to find a diversion for myself before it’s time to go to bed.
  2. However rarely we ended up going to a movie theater in London, it was mostly prompted by the desire to get out of the house on the weekend days when we did not have a fun destination to explore. My weekends in New Jersey are so full of social events and friendly visits, that fitting in a trip to the movies would be a logistical challenge, if it occurred to me to try.
  3. We always watched at least a handful of TV drama series weekly. Right now, we have House, NCIS, Bones and Lie to Me that are weekly recorded and have precedence over any movie. With less time devoted to the TV in general, the time left for movie-watching gets the axe.
  4. Then, there are baseball playoffs, English Premier League, NFL Sundays. Not mentioning occasional interesting programs on four Russian channels that we are subscribing to. Try fitting all of that in just a couple of hours of TV-watching every night!
  5. As I discovered that my DVR has a lowish storage capacity, I started being considerably more selective in choosing movies to record. And, truthfully, there are very few “really-want-to-watch” movies that I see in my cable listings. Somehow, I feel that I had considerably more attractive choices on the two dozen Sky Movies channels than I have on the assorted HBO, Starz and Encore channels. All of the best movies seem to be on the Cinemax package that I don’t have… So, if in England I might record a “possible” movie and eventually pick it off the queue, these days I filter all not must-haves before recording.

In summary, I have a lot more of what I call “a life” these days than in the last couple of years, and whatever little time there remains for TV does not get spent on moving pictures.

I’ve been holding off with re-subscribing to Netflix, because I don’t think I’d get my money worth with the limited time I have to devote to watching. Then again, it might give me a spur to get back into it…

But two movies did slip through all of these defenses.

Hancock just happened to be shown at the right time, on a night when I did not feel like going to bed, with nothing else to watch and nothing on the DVR demanding immediate viewing. I read too few reviews of this movie to have any preconceptions about it, and I normally find Will Smith movies to my general liking, so why not? And, at first, it was a reasonably interesting viewing, about this deeply flawed superhero who nonetheless was clearly a good guy. It featured Charlize Theron, who always topped my Friends-inspired list of celebrities my wife should allow me to go out with. Justin Bateman’s acting was pretty good too… But somewhere in mid-movie the story turned into the confrontation/self-preservation dance between Hancock and Mary, and the bad guys picked that exact moment to exact their revenge on Hancock, even though they started their planning when they knew they had no chance against him and just happened to luck into his sudden vulnerability… And, of course, there was enough – just enough! – life left in the hero to make it all a happy end in the end. Not that I am against happy ends – I prefer them to the alternative – but the way the movie got there left me rather underwhelmed.

No Country for Old Men was, conversely, a movie I wanted to watch for quite some time. I have heard differing opinions about it beforehand and most of them not too glowing. Only those who count themselves connoisseurs of Coen brothers’ art were offering any praise. But having already seen a couple of movies that were up for Oscar in the same year, I needed to see for myself what beat them. And while I am not really a fan of Coens’, I can’t deny that I am intrigued with their style a little.

But this movie is not my cup of tea, I have to admit. Probably will turn me off any other Coens’ movie in the future.

I found it incredibly boring and disjointed, with scenes that to me felt like being there for no good reason except the directors liked them too much, followed by scenes that suddenly brought characters together so that they could bump each other off. I could be too shallow in my appreciation of high art, but what exactly is the significance of the shadow a sitting person casts on a turned off TV? Twice, with different characters. Why do we follow up the show of Carson Wells being really good at what he does – first, by easily locating Moss in a hospital in a town South of the border, and then, painlessly figuring out where the money is “hidden” – by him so amateurishly getting ambushed and offed by Chigurh? What is the point of Sheriff Bell going to that deserted motel room, with Chigurh seemingly waiting for him inside? Only the room turns out empty – and with money in it? And then the conversations that the good Sheriff has with an old friend and later with his wife – could that get any more incomprehensible?

To be honest, I could barely understand half of the dialogue as it was. It could be my years listening to British English – or were the Texan accents of the characters so exaggerated? I understood non-American Javier Bardem the best of all (although I suppose he could have been dubbed).

I seriously contemplated putting just a single star against this entry (which, as I once explained, would signify a tremendous waste of time). But I did find Bardem’s performance to be chillingly good, and that earned the movie the other star on this review.

Well, back in four months with more of the same, I suspect. Don’t look so heart-broken!


  1. Brian Greenberg

    Ilya: a recommendation and a comment.

    Like you, I don’t watch as many movies at home as I’d like (more on the weekends or as a cure for insomnia as you suggested, but still – not that many). That said, my laptop plays DVD’s, and my longish commute (1.5 hours each way – average in the New York area, horrifyingly long to just about everyone else) allows me to watch about an hour of something each morning and evening. I’ve been leaning toward runs of old TV dramas (West Wing, Ally McBeal), as they provide enough entertainment to last for several weeks each (at two episodes per day). Movies could probably fit into a single day with the work day acting as an extended intermission. It’s fun and it makes the commute fly by. Just a thought…

    As for the movies you reviewed, I saw Hancock (at home, on cable!) but not No Country for Old Men. Like you, I liked Hancock a lot, although I found the ending a bit contrived. I think I’d have given it a third star using your scale, though, given that I’d recommend it to friends but would probably not sit through it again from start to finish.

    As for NCfOM, I will say that, also like you, I’ve never understood the appeal of the Coen brothers. It’s like a club that everyone else is in, but I’m not – movies dubbed “excellent” that just don’t speak to me at all. All well. Good to know that this one was no exception…

  2. Ilya

    Er… watching DVDs during my commute would replace reading, which I don’t find any other opportunity for these days either…

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