My wife and I are going to be sans children next week, and we aim to go to the movies. We’re definitely going to see Tree of Life, which has finally come to Nashville. But we’re thinking about going to the movies more than once. What are your recommendations? I want to hear about what movies you’ve enjoyed lately and why. Besides those movies that are currently in cinemas, we’re also accepting recommendations for movies that are on Netflix Watch Instantly.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the movie theater, so my recommendations are going to have to be all Netflix selections. The selection on Watch Instantly is hit-and-miss, except for documentaries, which are surprisingly comprehensive. Two of my favorite documentaries are Vernon, Florida and The King of Kong.

Vernon, Florida is a very slow-paced documentary about a very slow-paced town full of some of the most eccentric people ever captured on film. I take that back; for the most part, they’re not flamboyantly eccentric–just an exaggeration of the eccentricity you’re liable to encounter in any Southern small town. There’s the obsessive turkey hunter, the worm farmer, the preacher who devotes more time than you would think possible to the word “therefore.”

The filmmaker Errol Morris originally went to Vernon, Florida to tell a different story. Vernon was the world capital for accidental dismemberment. The locals used to take out accidental dismemberment insurance policies on themselves. Then, lo and behold, an astonishing percentage of them got accidentally dismembered–hands got stuck in farm machinery, people accidentally shot their own feet off. When the filmmakers showed up in Vernon with their cameras to talk to these people, they were not well received. But they noticed a lot of other interesting people in town, and they became the basis of the documentary. The movie actually makes no mention of either amputation or insurance policies.

The King of Kong is about a guy named Steve Wiebe who decides to be the world champion of the Donkey Kong arcade game. It is much more fascinating than it sounds; it has one of the greatest villains you’ll ever see in a documentary. I heartily commend this movie to you. [I just saw that it’s no longer on Watch Instantly. That’s too bad. This is a very fun movie.]

How about you? What are you watching these days?

  • Canaan Bound
    5:31 AM, 24 June 2011

    These are some old and new favorites which you most likely haven’t seen:
    Local Color
    Bright Star
    Little Dorrit (BBC mini-series)
    The Man Without a Face

    • Canaan Bound
      3:22 PM, 27 June 2011

      I’m thinking if you only saw two of these, they should be Local Color and The Man Without a Face.  Seriously good.  Seriously.

  • Jenni Noordhoek
    1:45 PM, 24 June 2011

    I’d recommend some science fiction. I really enjoyed Stargate (SG-1 and Atlantis, not Universe!) and Doctor Who holds a lot of appeal for me, particularly season 5 – the Eleventh Doctor is a very fascinating character from a literary point of view. (and all the other Doctors but Eleven more so because he’s like the MC out of Manalive. Crazy but perfectly sane. Most days. XD) (It’s okay to start with series 5, btw, as it is nearly a reboot. :)) 
    As for actual movies/documentaries, I haven’t had netflix in a few months and don’t know what’s currently on… they seem to take things down and put new ones up every month or two. 🙂 

    For a while they had Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – that was a fun film. Retro-science fiction (50’s comic book style) is awesome. 

    They also had UP for a while… one of my favorite Pixar films. I recommend any Pixar film but especially UP, Wall-E, and Toy Story 1, 2, and 3. 

    If they have Tangled on instant play, that is also a great film. There was a lot of buzz among ultra-conservative Christian bloggers about it a while back but I’m happy to say that most of it was for naught — misinformation and over-zealous interpretation to an extreme. 🙂

    My brother was enjoying the Fight Science (I think?) documentaries; about different forms of martial arts, etc, and how they work. And of course Mythbusters is awesome… 

    • Drew
      3:36 PM, 24 June 2011

      I just finished up the fifth season of Doctor Who this week. Yes, I agree it would be a perfectly good starting place since everything is a bit of a reboot again. New head writer, new Doctor, new companions. River Song is the only read hold-over, and apparently rather important in the Big Picture . . .
      Anyway, this was the first exposure to Doctor Who for a friend of mine, who, after watching the first episode, instantly posted a lengthy discussion of Doctor Who and the power of Story, . . . which unfortunately is just on his Facebook page. But it’s a dang good essay, and I’m gonna go rattle his cage to come over here. (It’s the sort of thing the Rabbit Roomers would eat up.)

      Here’s an excerpt (which I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing):


      . . . “Doctor Who” is, at its heart, a story about Story, and that excites me.
      The Doctor’s new Companion, after all, is Amy Pond—but she hasn’t
      always gone by “Amy”: her real name is Amelia, a name that The Doctor
      tells her, when he met her when she was nine years old, is “like a name
      in a fairy tale.” Young Amelia’s nighttime visit from The Doctor (not
      St. Nicholas, although she prayed to Santa to “send someone”) gave her a
      story to which she could—and did—cling throughout a difficult childhood
      (like so many young heroes of fairy tale and fable, Amelia is an
      orphan). . . . And she never stopped “dreaming of the magic
      Doctor she [knew would] return to save her.” Despite The Doctor’s
      failure to return, Amelia told and told and told again the story—not
      just to herself, but to her family and friends.

      Until she grew up. Persuaded by (no doubt well-meaning) psychiatrists
      that The Doctor wasn’t real, Amelia stopped telling his story; and
      because she no longer told it, she no longer believed it. And she no
      longer lived within it: she changed her name (never done lightly in
      literature). When The Doctor confronts her about her name change, she
      explicitly identifies its “fairy tale” quality as the reason she
      rejected it. Twelve years of The Doctor’s absence took their toll on
      her faith in the story, on her faith in him.

      AMY: You told me you had a time machine!

      DOCTOR: And you believed me!

      AMY: Then I grew up!

      DOCTOR: Yeah, well, you never want to do that.

      For Amelia, growing up means becoming “Amy” and abandoning the story.
      Or, rather, trading in one story (a true story) for any number of false
      ones: she still plays dress up, after all, but she does so as a
      deliverer of “kissograms,” dressing up as stock characters in other
      people’s (i.e., men’s) made-up fantasies, rather than as the real
      characters from the fantastic yet true story she lived with The Doctor.

      Why is “growing up” in this way—abandoning the story—something The
      Doctor says “you never want to do”? . . . I think, instead, The Doctor means “you never want to” grow up and
      forget the story because remembering and believing the story is what
      saves the world.

      • Jenni Noordhoek
        10:36 PM, 24 June 2011

        This is exactly why I recommend it. The entire cracks-in-the-universe storyline is all about the power of story. To a story geek like me, it’s absolutely wonderful! 

        (I’ve only seen bits and pieces – don’t have netflix at the moment – but plan to sit down and watch it all this winter. Hoping by then netflix will have season 6, or at least the first half of it. XD) 

  • Drew
    3:15 PM, 24 June 2011

    With a 6 and 7 year old, we don’t get to the movies that often (although we are lining up for Cars 2 on Saturday). However, a recent “Watch Instantly” on Netflix that my wife and I both enjoyed was the first of the three new Sherlock Holmes movies with a modern setting. The new version was called “A Study in Pink.” We decided to watch a few minutes to see if it was any good, and got absolutely hooked. Kept us entertained throughout. I can definitely recommend it.

    • Kristen
      7:47 PM, 24 June 2011

      I just watched all three Sherlock episodes/movies in the last week – so good!

  • Charles Atkinson
    3:23 PM, 24 June 2011

    I went to see Of Gods and Men about four weeks ago. The movie is still vividly present to me. I am afraid of trying to describe what I experienced because I don’t think I am a skilled enough writer to do it justice without just exploding into superlatives.
    (Of course, anybody who says they cannot describe something tries anyways).

    In a harsh, stark, and tender way it was profoundly beautiful. In a divine, broken, joyful sort of way it was completely human. And that’s it. I don’t think I should go on. But I heartily commend it to you. I know it was a limited release so I am not sure where (and if) it is still showing. So if not in theaters, or instant Netflix, definitely on DVD.

    Here’s the trailer:

    • Charles Atkinson
      3:29 PM, 24 June 2011

      You’re in luck! A quick check on the movie’s website revealed that is still showing at at least one Tennessean theater:
      regal downtown west eight, knoxville, tn

  • Melinda Speece
    7:46 PM, 24 June 2011

    I’m going to stick with the documentaries-you-can-get-from-Netflix category:  Mad Hot Ballroom (about the 5th grade ballroom dancing program in NYC) and Spellbound (about the 1998 Spelling Bee season).
    (Oh, and I really enjoyed The Way Back, especially if you need some “otherness” in your life; otherness like a Siberian gulag, the Himalayas, and India)

  • Canaan Bound
    7:48 PM, 24 June 2011

    If you’re looking for a bit of (clean) comedic fun, I’d suggest Pushing Daisies.  It’s a TV series that sadly only ran two seasons.  Quirky humor and fast-paced wit made it an instant favorite for me.  So sad to see it end.  I believe both seasons are available on Netflix.

    • Canaan Bound
      7:50 PM, 24 June 2011

      Also, I think our friend S.D. Smith would really enjoy Pushing Daisies.  Seems to be the kind of thing that would tickle his funny bone.

      • Drew
        8:03 PM, 24 June 2011

        Pushing Daisies is very awesome, indeed. I didn’t believe the premise could actually work, and yet it does — fantastically. Also, in terms of set design, cinematography, and all that other artsy stuff, Pushing Daisies is visually awesome, too.

  • Julie Silander
    12:26 AM, 25 June 2011

    Cadfael  is a murder mystery series about a 12th century monk.  If you enjoy historical fiction (particularly the middle ages), it’s great fun to watch.   As a side note, we learned about Cadfael while befriending some monks during a field trip (ours, not theirs).  Brother Edward informed us that yes, monks do watch Netflix.

  • Drew
    10:04 PM, 25 June 2011

    As for “Cars 2,” I was unimpressed in the story and disappointed in the heavy-handed political message. Everything that made Pixar movies good is missing here. Skippable.

  • Hannah Joy
    10:02 PM, 26 June 2011

    Well, I know this is late, but we just saw The King’s Speech–Wonderful movie, though you might have seen it already. The acting was like a breath of fresh air, since so many of the movies I’ve seen recently have garbage actors. Very good anyway. 🙂

  • sally apokedak
    12:59 AM, 27 June 2011

    Wow, the Vernon Florida movie sounds incredible. I think I’d like to know about that dismemberment deal, though. I used to work for an insurance company, processing claims. I spent all day every day reading one-paragraph dismemberment descriptions and telling the claimants how much their severed or crushed body parts were worth.
    But about movies: 

    An old favorite that no one ever talks about and no one I know has seen: Wildflower–you can watch it instantly on Netflix. I love this movie because it’s a sappy, predictable love story.  ha ha. But really, Patricia Arquette does a great job of playing the deaf girl–she is so believable and funny and adorable–and young Reese Witherspoon is also a lot of fun. And the boy is just the right mixture of sweet, shy, and clueless, I think. 

    If you have not seen Serenity and the Firefly series, both available as instant plays, you should definitely watch those. Very well done.

    I really liked the first two seasons of Lie to Me (still available instantly), and the first two seasons of Leverage (no longer available instantly)–both of those because they appeal to the part of me that likes to work puzzles.

    I enjoyed several seasons of The X Files until I got tired of Scully being so stupid and denying the UFOs even after she has so much evidence for them. But the first several seasons are worth watching, I think. 

    The last documentary I watched was on North Korea. Chilling.

    I also love, love, love Little Dorrit. And I liked Bella a lot. And I like the new Sherlock episodes–A Study in Pink, too. 

    I’m off now to check out Pushing Daisies.

  • Patrick J. Moore
    3:10 PM, 27 June 2011

    A good sequel I saw last week was Kung fu Panda 2. To me it is a redemption movie. It deals with choice, consequences, the effects of how we perceive our childhood whether those perceptions are accurate or not… and not letting our life and identity be determined by where we came from but instead by where we want to go. That’s what I got out of it anyway. I loved that the villain was offered a chance repent of his wicked ways by the one he had hurt the most. Po’s identity crisis reminded me a bit of a certain feechie we all know and love.

  • Patrick J. Moore
    3:13 PM, 27 June 2011

    But if you’re not going to the theater the all time greatest movies ever made are The Princess Bride, and Forrest Gump.

  • stefanie
    9:07 PM, 5 July 2011

    I loved reading all the recommendations and added a few of them to my queue. I recommend a couple films – Sweet Land and Arranged, and the This American Life series (season 1 used to be available instantly, probably will be again soon).
    I enjoy reading your blog and I’ve lurked (on google reader) for ages. Thanks for writing things that make me think.

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