Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Best of paternity leave

Because my wife's family lives in Australia, my family lives in New England, and we both like to discover new destinations when we don't have to visit our families, my vacation time is pretty much spoken for.

It was like its own kind of exotic destination, then, to dream of a break from work in which I'd just sit at home watching movies, eating bad food.

This past week, I reached that exotic destination, albeit with help from a baby who needed changing and cradling at regular intervals.

That's right, watching movies was a major component of my so-called "paternity leave" -- which actually was a vacation, in the sense that I had to use vacation days to do it. My company doesn't give you any paid family leave -- you just get a guarantee that your job will still be there when you get back. You can actually take up to six months, but then you have to figure out how you're going to pay for diapers while you're not working.

I watched 21 movies in 9+ days home from the hospital. (Just to make things a little easier, I'm going to include the 2.5 movies we saw in the hospital -- The Proposal, The Baxter, and half of Ghost -- as part of my "hospital stay," not as part of my "paternity leave.") Why so many? Well, your options are pretty limited when you have a baby. Fortunately, they can also sleep through almost anything. So we just plunked our son down in his cradle in the living room, and made use of our streaming Netflix and the physical DVDs and BluRays we rented from the library, Netflix and Blockbuster. Under normal circumstances, we would have watched a fair amount of TV during this time as well, but it being the end of the summer, our DVR had been pretty much picked clean. This suited me just fine, as I'm always more interested in movies anyway.

You know I like ranking things, so why not rank the movies I saw while I was out of the office?

They fall into three categories: 1) Movies that my wife and I were both seeing for the first time; 2) Movies that one (usually me) or both of us had already seen; 3) Movies that I watched by myself, most likely because I had to review them. And when I'm ranking them, I'm not necessarily ranking them only on their absolute quality, but how they fit into our needs at the time we watched them.

So, here goes:

Movies we were both seeing for the first time:

1) Date Night (2010, Shawn Levy). Big mea culpa here, as I was a big doubter of this movie. We watched it Sunday night after our first full day home, which was a very good day, even though we should have been dog tired from our recent ordeal. But Steve Carell and Tina Fey -- and the many hilarious cameos -- made us laugh and laugh. A real winner.
2) Chop Shop (2008, Ramin Bahrani). Strange choice for second on this list, as this serious indie didn't fit into our quest for light and comedic entertainment, and I had to stop watching after 15 minutes yesterday afternoon in order to take a nap. But upon completion, I really liked this movie set in Queens, in which a 10-year-old boy works five jobs in order to save enough money so he and his sister can buy a roach coach.
3) I'll Believe You (2007, Paul Francis Sullivan). Although I'm reviewing this, my wife watched it with me, so it counts in this category. A small indie comedy about aliens and conspiracy theories starring some familiar comedic faces (Patrick Warburton, Chris Elliott, Ed Helms). Low-budget and funny only in spurts, it was nonetheless more enjoyable than the other films on this list.
4) The Runaways (2010, Floria Sigismondi). Stylish rock biopic that had no substance that interested me at all. Though I liked Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, neither she nor Dakota Fanning (who's in the midst of an awkward growing-up phase) made me feel the emotional journeys of their characters. In the end I found it pretty tedious and boring.
5) Legion (2010, Scott Stewart). Only good scenes were in the trailers, and those scenes were not even very good. This movie is scattershot and boring. I wish I had anything positive to say about it, but I don't. Although, I guess I sort of liked that scene where the grandmother scampers up the wall of the diner. We had been "saving" this -- for no good reason, it turns out.
6) The Back-up Plan (2010, Alan Poul). Insipid, predictable and charmless throughout. I may devote an entire post to why I think Alex O'Loughlin sucks so much.

Movies at least one of us had already seen:

1) Parenthood (1989, Ron Howard). I don't know for sure that this was the best of the following movies, but I do know that it was the most pleasant reminder of how good it is. I turned to my wife and described it as a "perfect movie" after the credits rolled. It holds up incredibly well for a 21-year-old movie, and each plot is well-developed, heartfelt, and insightful. Bravo, Parenthood.
2) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988, Frank Oz). Another Steve Martin starrer (we actually saw three Martin movies on my paternity leave) that was better than I remembered it being, even though I'd remembered liking it. It was a fight to get this started, as we originally couldn't get good enough Netflix streaming on it, leaving it pixelated and unwatchable. But we finally bested that obstacle and were richly rewarded with a movie that's hilarious and exquisitely unsentimental -- mainstream comedies rarely get to be so unsentimental these days.
3) Step Brothers (2008, Adam McKay). My affection for this movie runs so high that I can't believe I am ranking it only third here, but I have to admit that I was not quite as enthralled on my third viewing as I had been on my previous two. That is probably inevitable. I still think this movie is absolutely freaking hilarious, and it was a fun headliner for my final Saturday night of paternity leave.
4) Star Trek (2009, J.J. Abrams). As I already wrote about, looked great on BluRay. A truly fun movie.
5) The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985, Woody Allen). The only movie on this list that my wife had seen but I hadn't. I found this delightful, funny, and bittersweet in its unexpected coda. Something I had been meaning to see for years finally got watched on Friday night.
6) Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009, Phil Lord). Actually more fun than I remembered it being. But it's still a relatively minor animated film in the scheme of the last couple years.
7) Boys on the Side (1995, Herbert Ross). One of my favorite true chick flicks of all time. I was eager to show it to my wife, and was glad she seemed to like it as much as she did, as I felt myself just a wee bit impatient with it this time, on my third or fourth viewing.
8) It's Complicated (2009, Nancy Meyers). A bit too long, probably, but this is one of Meyers' most likable and most observant movies, with a terrific cast (Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski). Never has divorce seemed so richly, well, complicated, and so full of fond laughter.
9) Waking Up in Reno (2002, Jordan Brady). That this is last on the list says more about the quality of the list than it does about this modest little romantic comedy with the likable foursome of Patrick Swayze, Billy Bob Thornton, Natasha Richardson and Charlize Theron -- two of whom, I sadly realized, are now dead. Miramax shelved this wife-swapping road movie several times before mercifully releasing it, but it's actually pretty fun, and the characters are sweet if flawed.

Movies I watched by myself:

1) Zulu (1964, Cy Endfield). Already extensively praised this in this post, so check there for my thoughts. A great film.
2) Hairspray (2007, Adam Shankman). Simply delightful. It's probably a tad too long, the consequence of being an adaptation of a Broadway musical, but I found that this movie oozed cuteness throughout. That can be a backhanded compliment, but it's not here -- "cute" is strong praise in this context. Loved the production design, loved the performers.
3) Machete (2010, Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquis). Wrote about this one here.
4) Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns (2008, Tyler Perry). The best of the movies I watched in order to review them. And because my wife wasn't watching them with me, that usually meant I was watching them in pieces, while up at 2 a.m. or 5 a.m., rocking the baby to sleep. Aside from an utterly pointless Madea scene that I will be sure to harp on in my review, this is a nice story about a single mother (the always wonderful Angela Bassett) trying to make it, with help from a well-meaning former basketball star (real-life former basketball star Rick Fox).
5) Left Behind: World at War (2005, Craig R. Baxley). The third and final movie in the series starring born-again Christian Kirk Cameron, about the Rapture and its aftermath. I reviewed the first two, so I thought I'd make it a threesome. These are not good movies, but they are not as bad as you'd think they are, either. The third movie continues in that vein, and is probably slightly better than it should be because of a fun appearance by Lou Gossett Jr. as the president of the United States.
6) My Summer Story (1994, Bob Clark). You'd hope the sequel to A Christmas Story would be better than it is, but it's just not. Jean Shepherd is back narrating, and everyone else is a reasonable facsimile of the actor who played the character in the classic original -- with one glaring exception. As the old man, Darren McGavin's large shoes are filled terribly by Charles Grodin, who submits one of the worst cases of over-acting I have ever seen and absolutely torpedoes the movie. It doesn't help that all the little vignettes are pointless.

Faces who kept on showing up: Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Caine, Tyler Perry. Okay, with Whoopi, I'm cheating a bit and including that half of Ghost.

Okay, back to work ... and back to all future vacations involving ridiculous amounts of travel.

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