Friday, August 21, 2020

(Pandemic) Family Movie Night

Building on my last post about book suggestions for your pandemic reading pleasure, I've decided to share some movie picks.

Our extended family "pandemic pod" includes my wife and me, as well as three of our children young adults (two in college, one in high school) and my 83-year-old mother-in-law who lives down the street from us.  

Every week someone gets to choose a movie that we all watch together.  Since there are three old(er) adults and three young(er) adults, we alternate every week between the groups.  It has been a fun way to break up the monotony of pandemic lockdown, but, needless to say, it is tricky to find movies that everyone in our extended family will enjoy. (Draw any conclusions related to museum audiences in this statement that you like.)

So, without further ado, here are my lists of movies that were universally liked, movies that we all disliked, and a couple that split our family audience.  I've used the excellent movie info website, as a reference for all the information below:


A simple Jewish man named Herschel Greenbaum (played by Seth Rogen) works in a pickle factory in Brooklyn. One day he falls into a vat of brine and stays there, perfectly preserved, for 100 years. He comes back to life and goes to stay with his great-great-grandson, Ben, in contemporary Brooklyn.  Once you get past the goofy conceit, it turns out to be a sweet and funny movie.  Much better than I expected.

Two young gentlemen living in 1890's England use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") on the sly, which is fine until they both fall in love with women using that name, which leads to a comedy of mistaken identities.  An all-star cast and lots of snappy dialogue. What's not to like?  (Although I was surprised the younger set enjoyed the film.)

Classic Hitchcock.  Madison Avenue advertising man Roger Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, is on the run from the police. He manages to board the 20th Century Limited bound for Chicago where he meets a beautiful blond, Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint, who helps him to evade the authorities. Not all is as it seems, however, leading to a dramatic rescue and escape at the top of Mt. Rushmore. An exciting continuous chase movie filled with some memorable scenes. (Bonus! several early scenes feature the mansion at Old Westbury Gardens on Long Island.)

Hamilton (2020)
The life of one of America's foremost founding fathers and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Captured live on Broadway from the Richard Rodgers Theater with the original Broadway cast. It may not be "perfect" historically, but the film is as engaging as the live performance.

A classic that really holds up.  Awesome production numbers interspersed with constantly funny story arcs with engaging stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor. The "young adults" were all rolling their eyes when the movie started but were smiling and clapping at the finish.

A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.  That's the short story, but the movie takes sweet, funny, and sad turns in unexpected ways -- perhaps a perfect pandemic movie.

Still Billy Bob Thornton's best performance. A strange, slow movie that builds to its inexorable conclusion.  We all really liked this. I would watch it again.


On paper, this should be a hit -- Hitchcock directs, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly star.  It's a dud. A must miss.  A flimsy story that feels more like a travelogue through the south of France.

A movie that seemed so incredibly cool in 1982, is a massive snore in 2020. Adults fell asleep, offspring hated it.  Unless you want to relive your youthful crush on Sean Young, skip it.


This movie is on almost every "Top 10 Best Movies of All-time" list. I wanted my kids to see it because I like it and it's a "classic."  Our youngest walked out 10 minutes into the film, another stuck it out while constantly squirming in his seat.  While Citizen Kane's impact on cinematic history is unquestioned, it seems like a tough slog for modern audiences.

I might have been the only one to have seen this film before.  We all acknowledged the (still!) amazing special effects and the interplay with supercomputer HAL but were (still!) left befuddled by the ending and some of the sloooow set pieces.

I would say this movie actively irritated me. I would also describe many parts of this movie as "icky."  I had previously seen the unsatisfying agitation-fest called "The Lobster" by the same director, Yorgos Lanthimos. I will not be seeing any future films by this director, but all my kids very much enjoyed "The Killing of a Sacred Deer."  (Maybe because their father hated it so.)

What's this all have to do with museum exhibits? Perhaps nothing, although I do think museums are in the story-telling business -- so it is interesting to pay attention to the way movies are put together and what we might take away from their narrative structures and tricks to inform our own museum work.

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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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