2018-02-11

Consumption and Creation
#svithe

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*walk to podium*
*eat one into microphone*

So once upon a time there was a guy named Jonah who didn’t want to be a missionary so he hopped on a boat and then into the ocean where a fish swallowed him up and then spat him back out so he went ahead and did the missionary thing and was a super successful one which irritated him so he went and sat in the sun and complained to God that he is waaaay too merciful and these people should have just been destroyed.

Man. SunChips are really good. I really like them. How in the world do they make something so tasty? Let’s check out the ingredients, shall we?

*read the first couple*

One thing you’ll notice as we go through the list is that SunChips no longer use any pig enzymes. Not that it ever said “pig” on the package—I think it fell under “Natural Flavors.”

*read the rest*

Pretty good list.

*eat another chip*

Now one thing about everything on this list? Dead. Even the cheese, if we’re talking its microorganisms. Dead corn, dead wheat, dead parsley. All dead.

Or look at what I’m wearing. This shirt is a cotton/poly blend. The cotton died a few years ago. Polyester is made of oil, which is just cotton that died a few million years ago. And my pants are dead hemp. Talk to Rob and John if you want to know more about hemp. He’s the expert.

The point is: we can’t live without the dead. There is no life without consuming the dead. And there’s nothing to consume without creation. And everything created will die. Even these larger molecules we’re made of are just the viscera of exploded stars.

Anyway. Jonah.

He’s pouting and says,

C’mon, God. This is why I didn’t want to come. You’re always forgiving people who should be destroyed. What kind of God are you, anyway?

So Jonah goes off to sulk. But the spot he picks is hot and sunny and he’s probably eating whatever awful substitute people had for SunChips 3000 years ago and he is not comfortable.

While he’s sitting there, God grows a tree over him which, depending on the translation, either had nice broad leaves or a giant gourd to block the sun. The gourd’s funnier, so we’re going with that.

The tree’s blocking the sun with this giant gourd, and Jonah starts feeling more comfortable, maybe even happy. Then God sends a worm which kills the tree and shrivels the gourd and there’s Jonah, back in the hot sun and mis er a ble.

Why are you angry about the tree, Jonah?

Why shouldn’t I be angry? I should just die, that’s what I should do.

Jonah. You didn’t plant this tree or water it. It was my tree. And if I can change my mind about a tree, why can’t I change my mind about a hundred twenty thousand people who don’t know right from wrong? To say nothing of all their innocent cattle.

That’s really what God says. Innocent people, innocent cows.

But there’s precedent for this concern. When God covenanted with Noah not to flood the earth again, he didn’t just covenant with Noah. He covenanted with every living creature. All flesh he had created, he covenanted with.

As Latter-day Saints, we believe that Jesus was the one who “did” creation. He created this world. And, with our creator’s death, we are recreated.

*point to sacrament*

There, under that cloth, lies our Savior’s body, broken and blessed. We have consumed it. And thus we live.


This world we’ve been given is complex and beautiful. And that complexity and beauty is based on everything that comes before.

*hold up SunChips*

Dead wheat, dead corn, dead parsley.

The snack-science geniuses who invented SunChips had, as raw materials, the dead.

We only live by eating the dead.

We will only live again by eating his body and drinking his blood.

But God made a covenant with all living things that never more will there be a flood to destroy the earth. What can we learn from that?

Hang on.

You know that scripture in the D&C that is sometimes quoted by people who, I assume, are more ignorant than wicked, to prove that we can just destroy everything and it’s cool?

For the earth is full,
and there is enough and to spare;
yea, I prepared all things,
and have given unto the children of men
to be agents unto themselves.

The earth is full and there is enough and to spare.

But: do you know what comes before this verse? After?

I, the Lord … built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.

And it is my purpose to provide for my saints …

But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

That’s what comes before. And here’s what comes after:

(so there’s enough and to spare and we are agents unto ourselves)

Therefore, if any [of you] shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not … unto the poor and the needy, [you] shall, with the wicked, lift up [your] eyes in hell, being in torment.

That’s pretty serious. I mean—we don’t even believe in hell! and yet God will send you there if the enough and to spare is not taken from the rich and given to the poor. There is enough and to spare only when our consumption is wise.

Remember what the Earth says, in Enoch’s vision?

Wo, wo is me, the mother of men;
I am pained, I am weary,
because of the wickedness of my children.

To consume is to live, and we cannot consume without killing. But there is enough and to spare for us and the poor and the innocent cattle and every living thing, if we use our agency to care for this world as her creator cares for us—if we do not kill more than is necessary for us to live.

Can I talk about Shakespeare for a moment?

This week, it was revealed that Shakespeare lifted topics and even some wording from a guy named George North, a guy who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. Richard III’s famous winter-of-our-discontent soliloquy is a riff on something this North guy wrote.

But this shouldn’t shock us, of course. Shakespeare also stole from Plutarch and Holinshed—both dead. And we all steal from Shakespeare. I mean, c’mon, even Disney eats the dead. The Lion King is Hamlet and even a dummy like Gaston can quote Macbeth.

We create from matter unorganized.

Dead wheat, dead corn, dead parsley.

For most of the two weeks I was preparing this talk, I was just keeping my eyes open, trying to see the relationship between consumption and creation in the world around me.

And this talk is created out of what I’ve consumed.

Which includes the Old Testament,
the New Testament,
the Doctrine and Covenants,
the Pearl of Great Price,
three Shakespeare plays,
two Disney movies,
and this delicious bag of chips that’s been sitting in our car for over a month, presumably just waiting for the opportunity to become an object lesson.

Then I sat down and figured out how to turn what I had consumed into something new ‖ and beautiful.

We create from matter unorganized.

Dead wheat, dead corn, dead parsley.

We only live by eating the dead.

*point to sacrament table*

We only live again by eating his body and drinking his blood.

The body and blood of he who created us.

Worms may destroy this body,
yet in my flesh
                           shall I see God.
O death, where is thy sting?

I believe absolutely that we were put on this earth to recognize our dead with gratitude, and to turn them into something new ‖ and beautiful.

And that we were put on this earth to accept our Savior’s death and thus become, ourselves, something new ‖ and beautiful.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, amen.




previous svithe

2018-01-31

The Feature Films of January 2018

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At home:


Shane (1953): I always intend to watch this film, of course, but Logan forced my hand. So we all watched it tonight. Lady Steed was troubled by the reality of the violence and the reality of the bad guys. The kids were quiet. We had to rush them to bed, so I'm not sure what they'll think about it as it moves into memory, but no question Shane paints a convincing picture. And it's not an easy movie. It may have a literal white hat and a literal black hat, but it's not simple. Sure, you could read it simply, but that's not what the movie deserves. It asks challenging questions.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): We've owned the dvds for, gosh, over ten years now? But we only now took the plastic off. The kids liked it! The callous loss of life is less fun for me now and the final face-melting is less distressing than it used to be, but it's indeed fun. I just wish Marion hadn't disappeared for so many films.

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956): The poster's a bit misleading (no San Francisco rampage, alas), but I really liked this series of films. None of them are "great" movies but each one was thematically distinct. This one, for instance, is about trust and kindness; the real monsters are the lead doctor who is cruel to his wife and the hired muscle who's always trying to force himself onto her. And they're the ones who get the comeuppance. I do hope, however, that The Shape of Water either leaves the science alone or tries a little harder.

Believe (2013): I had high expectations for this film based on who recommended it to me. But he did recommend it for my kids and they did like it. Me, however. This is not a good movie. Most of the pieces are good (the cast, the filming, the camera work), but they don't come together. Largely, this is because the script isn't good. It's a slapdash quilt of cliches. Or, rather, it's a brick wall of cliches held together with crap mortar. Nothing fits right; some bits are missing; it's all slowly collapsing.

One Man's Treasure (2009): I have no memory of hearing about this Mormon comedy, but it came up on Prime when I was looking for something else, and the set-up intrigued and I was looking for a Sunday night movie to share with my ten-year-old, so why not? It was unlikely to be Singles Ward bad, after all. And it wasn't! I won't defend it as a great film---certainly the acting wasn't always on and the set-up / continuance of the treasure-hunt device was a bit ... unlikely (although that's the disbelief the movie's asking us to suspend, and it's a reasonable ask), but overall, this is good stuff. This is certainly no worse than some of the '70s Don Knotts films my kids enjoy, and anything that normalizes missionary service is a plus. And I won't go crazy on a second watch, so I'm going to make sure the other boys see it as well. Thumbs up. (As an added bonus, the six missionaries are of two sexes, two accents, and two colors.)

A Goofy Movie (1995): This is an exquisitley crafted movie. One of the greatest father/son movies ever made. And it does it while simultaneously embracing its madcap cartoon universe.

Cast Away (2000): This movie was released later than I thought. Which means my memories of watching it are incorrect. I don't know when I saw it or where or how many times. But oh do I remember it. It's a great movie. It shows how to use a long runtime and to use it well. I can only see about thirty or forty seconds I would cut, but that's largely true only because Tom Hanks is bleeding amazing in this movie. We wouldn't think of this movie in the same way had it starred, say, Sean Penn. I also now realize why losing Wilson is so sad: it's a stand-in for everything he has lost and will lose as well. Wilson is a totem for everything. Which is a crass way to put it, but no one's paying me to write essays here.

The Avengers (2012): Not as good as the first time I saw it but better than the second time. This was Lady Steed's first (she had refused previously because of her anti-Joss bias). She did, as I predicted, love the schwarma scene.

The Wolfpack (2015): I've wanted to see this movie for a while. Almost talked Lady Steed into going to the theater with me. But we've finally made it. And on the one hand, it was about exactly what I expected. On the other, it had much more emotional resonance than I anticipated. It's a beautiful story. These kids became beautiful people. When it started, given recent news, I wondered if this was really a documentary I wanted to watch just now. The answer: was yes.

Faces Places (2017): This film made me so happy. It shares some elements with her first film (Gleaners and I), but having a constant companion and the undercurrent of mortality makes this film truly beautiful. Inspiring.




Elsewhere:


Hot Rod (2007): I don't know if this movie doesn't know what it is, or if I'm just thrown by not being able to fit it into a box. Maybe this is the issue professional critics have with Jared Hess? Anyway, this is a movie that recreates '80s sports films with zero respect, but massive love. I have no way to predict whether or not you will enjoy it.

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982): This has been a movie I've wanted to see for as long as I've been seeing it on video-store shelves. And I only finally got around to it because the '80s All Over guys were drolling over it and told me something I did not know: in addition to Steve Martin, there's is footage from old-time noir intercut. So this film's supporting cast includes Humphrey Bogart and Ingmar Bergman and Fred MacMurray and Bette Davis and Alan Ladd and Vincent Price and Veronica Lake and Kurt Douglas and Jame Cagney. Plus: this was Edith Head's last movie. So, in short, it looks right. Although, perhaps weirldly / perhaps appropriately, the movie it reminds me of the most is Chinatown. Parts of this movie are hilarious. Parts are successfully full noir. But that simultaneously means the movie's a bit uneven. As an aside, I was telling my students today that one watch is enough to have a reaction to a movie. But an opinion only comes with rewatching.

College (1927): I wasn't really watching this (alas) but I was present and the moments I caught were as wonderful as ever. Also, if you can, help?






Previous films watched


2017
jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2018-01-24

Make Mine Marvel

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010) The Vision by Tom King et al., finished January 23

Considering how little interest I had in this comic (why did I even pick it up?), this is about the best two volumes of comics I've read in some time. So while I wasn't thrilled about the seeming hint in the Infinity War trailer that this vision of Vision may be in the distant,
future, now I hope MCU has the courage to make this film. Which would be the most expensive Oscar bait film in some time (think American Beauty, Terms of Endearment, In the Bedroom, Little Miss Sunshine, The Kids Are All Right, Winter's Bone, The Ice Storm, The Descendants...). I'm not joking. Done right, a film based on this comic could be a serious contender.

It's not that unusual to read a Marvel or DC comic that dives into philosophy or religion or the meaning-of-life or whathaveyou, but these attempts don't always land. By keeping the canvas relatively small (one family's struggle), Vision has much more success. I've never cared about Vision (silly robot! feelings are for kids!), but this proves at least as well as Blade Runner or Ex Machina that robots can be topnotch metaphors. These robots' humanity pierces.


Anyway. I'm always happy when superhero comics surprise me by doing something small and beautiful. It's my very favorite thing. It's the sort of superhero comics I would right. Also, Tom King's thank-you at the end, this is related, warmed my heart.
three or four days


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011) Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds, finished January 24

I requested this book from the library because I don't know much about Miles but he seems like an intriguing character. When the book showed up and it wasn't even a comic but a novel, I almost didn't bother. But then I thought two thoughts. Some of my kids have ceased reading prose and who knows: maybe this was close enough to comics they might pick it up. And a more diverse set of protagonists would be good for them as well. However. They never picked it up. So I thought I should read the first couple chapters and see if them seeing me would make them pick it up.

No, as it ends up, but I kept reading. So there's that.

The last YA novel I started with a black protag was The Hate U Give.


I picked it up because my son will be reading it in class this year and I had never heard of it (because it's brannew, as it ends up) but only read a bit more than one chapter. Which I felt a little bad about (see diversity point above), but I was instantly bored by the voice. It tasted just like John Green or Rainbow Rowell. So I was sure it would be good, but I ... just couldn't go on. So it languished until the library wanted it back.

I didn't have that problem here. It was an easy book to slip into. And it introduced some heavy topics (racism, both personal and institutional, for instance)
with finesse. The final third of the book got a bit heavy-handed and overly mystical, I thought (both with the Big Ideas and some of the personal relationships),
but it was a smart and challenging book for its intended audience. (Not really recommended to adults, no. But seriously, adults: read a book for grownups. Geez.)

The funny thing about the climax though was the flashbacks it gave me to Get Out.


Sometimes, man. Sometimes the zeitgeist is just so ... zeitgeisty, you know?

Anyway! I've always voted DC over Marvel, but man. The last decade DC's been playing some serious catchup. Add both these books to Marvel's ledger of the legit.
under two weeks





The other books of 2018


1 – 4
001) Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book 3 by Ta-Nehisi Coates &‎ Brian Stelfreeze & al., finished January
002) The Complete Peanuts 1950-2000 by Charles M. Schulz & al., finished January
003) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, finished January 10
004) El Deafo by Cece Bell, finished January 12

5 – 9
005) Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice by Mike Maihack, finished January 13
006) Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve by Ben Blatt, finished January 15
007) Glister by Andi Watson, finished January 18
008) Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished January 20
009) The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun by J.R.R. Tolkien, finished January 21


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* the most recent post in this series *
_____________________


final booky posts of
2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013 = 2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017


2018-01-21

When I read a book, it stays read

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005) Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice by Mike Maihack, finished January 13

I'm so sick of this set-up. It was fresh and fun when I first saw it, but no more. Spunky badboy goodguy? Check. (Bonus points if this protag is not yet an adult.) Protag hates school / work / being told what to do? Check. Clean-lined cartoon forms? Check. Lots of action and weird aliens? Check. Protagonist is the subject of some prophecy? Check. Protag has amazing battle skills? Check.

I could go on.

Anyway. I suppose there's gold in them thar hills.
one night


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006) Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve by Ben Blatt, finished January 15

Although not completely unaware of word-level computational analysis of literary texts, I didn't really start thinking about it until an article in an alumni magazine. Then I started reading stuff from Stanford Literary Lab. I've been wanting to introduce these methods to my students, but I haven't really come very close to figuring out how until reading this book. His style is clear,
his questions are simple, his analysis is understandable. And while I don't know that I will be putting together giant corpuses for my students to work with, I do think that reading from this book will help explain to them how this kind of thinking works.

Incidentally. Dumb title.

Among the analyses Blatt does in the book are:
do adverbs actually track with book quality

is there a pattern to fine opening sentences

who uses the most cliches

how few words are needed to predict an author's identity
Definitely worth reading if you love nerdy math in your nerdy lit.
at most two weeks


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007) Glister by Andi Watson, finished January 18

I loved this book. Like Neil Gaiman or Orson Scott Card, Watson is taking the rules of fairy tales and creating something new and wonderful and appropriate to our age.
The only similarly accomplished work I can think of off the top of my head in comics is Castle Waiting, but Glister is superior in terms of childlike wonder. I'm not sure how old the title character is, but ten plus or minus seems like a good guess. She is a little girl who is surrounded by the weird. Her home is alive, she grows relatives on trees, she deals with dangerous fae--- But Glister is never fazed---at least not for long---she's smart and resourceful and optimistic. And so she gets just what she deserves.

The book consists of three primary stories, each in a different monochrome and accompanied by shorter accompanying tales. The volume also includes various Glister-themed crafts.

I don't think I can easily express how wonderful this book was. Get it for yourself, but tell your kids its for them.

couple weeks


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008) Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished January 20

I was reading customer reviews on Amazon following my disappointment with Cleopatra (see above) and someone recommended this series instead. And so the library provided. And the customer was correct. This was much, much better. First, as one example,
there was again a prophecy, but this time it was nonsense. That's so much better. Or at least, a nice change from all the stupid prophecies in all these sorts of books.

Second, something about the writing---the dialogue and interactions---just felt more honest and real. Zita seems more like a real girl. Which is refreshing. Instead of a bunch of marysues, she collects a band of misfits.

I just---I just liked this one.

one day


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009) The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun by J.R.R. Tolkien, finished January 21

In some ways, this long poem is a clearer look at Tolkein's ideas of myth and language and tapping into ancient forms and thinking than Lord of the Rings.
Here's what the volume consists of:

The long poem of the titles.

Two shorter long poems that also tell tales of corrigans (fae that steal babies or try to get mortal men to, you know, given them babies)

Two inbetween versions that show Tolkein's development from the second corrigan poem to the finished lay.

Plenty of notes and commentary, some from Christopher Tolkien and some from the volume's editor, scholar Verlyn Flieger.

As a work of scholarship aimed at a broad audience, it's a terrific example of how to put together a volume like this. I see it as aspirational, in that respect.

My personal favorite of Tolkien's works in this volume was the first corrigan poem, the one least connected to the other poems (the only one about a changeling).


Anyway! I doubt Tolkien's poetic work will get nortonized anytime soon, but that's more because it's not representative of its era. As poetry, I think it's pretty good.
three noncontiguous days


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The other books of 2018

1 – 4
001) Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book 3 by Ta-Nehisi Coates &‎ Brian Stelfreeze & al., finished January
002) The Complete Peanuts 1950-2000 by Charles M. Schulz & al., finished January
003) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, finished January 10
004) El Deafo by Cece Bell, finished January 12


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* the most recent post in this series *
_____________________


final booky posts of
2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013 = 2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017

2018-01-12

New books!

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001) Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book 3 by Ta-Nehisi Coates &‎ Brian Stelfreeze & al., finished January

A strong finish to the Wakandan civil war as the nation takes on a ... Scandanavian-like royalty. Sorta. But instead of sharing old issues of yesterdecade at end of the volume, it instead included a contemporary story that required waaay too much other-Marvel cosmic knowledge to be terribly enjoyable on its own for a noncarer like myself
a couple days


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002) The Complete Peanuts 1950-2000 by Charles M. Schulz & al., finished January

Instead of the concordance I'd been asking for, this was a book of books. Several of the standalone books (like Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, but not that one as it's never been hard to find) are included. Some I'd never seen. Some I had only seen on the walls of the museum (eg, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night). It also includes much of the insane amount of good work Schuz did to promote the Ford Falcon. And a bunch of other like things. All great work. All of which merely hints at how much great work is NOT in the Complete Peanuts.

It also includes a nice note from series designer Seth. And a lovely afterward by his wife Jeannie.

The nice thing about this closing volume is how clearly it reveals that this has been a labor of love.
A money-maker, I'm sure, but a labor of love as well.

Now: Time to start over!
a couple weeks


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003) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, finished January 10

I shouldn't have interrupted my reading to fit in a couple library books. I lost some of the emotional momentum. That said, it's not hard to see why this book has moved so many people. I finally read it because I got tired of admitting to my students than I had not. It comes up every year. They read it the previous year and want to make connections to Slaughterhouse-Five. So I'm a better person now.

He is indeed some kind of writer. I'm not sure I understand the passion for him, but we'll all be a little better after reading this book. If I never read another Vietnam collection, at least I've read this one.
couple months


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004) El Deafo by Cece Bell, finished January 12

A charming comics memoir aimed at kids. It manages to walk that dangerous line between sentimental and ridiculous, to show the darkness of childhood without falling into cynicism.
over a month




final booky posts of
2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013 = 2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017


2018-01-08

Looking back over 2017's books

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Hi. No complicated statistical analysis here. It's just---every year I have a sense of what I read. But am I right? I logged over 140 books in 2017, but I don't feel like I read that much. I feel like I read a lot of comics and poetry. Books that aren't as word heavy as finally getting Gibbon read.

So here's a pdf.

I did read a lot of comics (62 volumes---almost half the total) and what I guess is probably a lot of poetry (17 volumes), but there were surprises as well. For a fellow who does not think of himself as a big reader of nonfiction, I fit in 17 volumes. Which ain't shabby, even if a couple of them are humor books. I even read multiple straight-up political books in 2017! Crazy!

I should note that not all the books' categorizations are inarguable. For instance, if I'm putting Letters to a Young Mormon into the minors category, shouldn't I also for Between the World and Me? Could well be. There are multiple examples of such conundrums. Books are complicated things.

Other interesting things I noted:
Only one Mormon novel this year (unless you include the Orson Scott Card scifi number.

Speaking of Mormon stuff, depending on how you count, add two comics, a YA novel, two nonfiction tomes, five volumes of poetry.

Picking up a manga series bulks up a books-read list real fast.

I averaged two works of adult fiction finished per month. Not terrible, but not a happifying number either.
Anyway. That's enough navelgazing for one day.

2017-12-31

2017: Tʜᴇ Mᴏᴠɪᴇs
fourth quarter

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In theaters:





Thor: Ragnarok (2017): The music is great, the acting is good to better, the high stakes actually feel high. Plus, it's funny. Taika Waititi is a treasure. I'm glad he's getting an enormous audience. I'm curious what he'll do with his new cachet. The film was like playing with every toy in the toybox---not to mention some old metal album covers set up for background. Just fun. A bit more violent than I expected, but the kids seemed fine. Good stuff. The word we're looking for, of course, is badass.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017): This movie is all kinds of fun. It even improved with a second viewing. (Although some of the best jokes, alas, spoiled by the trailer.)

Murder on the Orient Express (2017): This is a movie of many good parts. For instance, the scenery and train are utterly beautiful. They are also utterly CG. The actors deliver their lines wonderfully. But very few of the lines are at all interesting. These are deadly problems for a film that is supposed to be gorgeous to look at and that is filled with words. So many wonderful pieces. Pretty forgettable whole.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): Never judge a movie on one viewing, but I think this is the best Star Wars film since the original three. It was bold and dangerous. The acting was terrific and the writing strong. Perfect? No, of course not, but excellent. It calls back to the original film(s) sometimes directly and sometimes deceptively. I'm upset we don't get to see the film #9 that was intended for Leia (and don't envy them trying to make anything work for her at all), but this was her finest moment. I don't think I can say more without spoiling anything, and you can get spoilers anywhere else you like.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): The only flaw I can see is, occasionally, its relationship with time and distance (which matter, but that manipulation is what film does). Largely, the other complaints folks have I'm either agnostic about or straightup disagree with. Like Haldo. It shouldn't have been Leia or Ackbar. Haldo was the right choice. I have more. Fight me.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): Okay. I've now seen this movie in theaters more times than anything since Napoleon Dynamite (and I think fourth most of all time, after that, Jurassic Park, and Phantom Menace), and I think I can make an informed declaration that this is a good movie and haters should back down. Some comments (this paragraph may be more spoilery than usual for these paragraphs): Hitchcock said that film is the art of manipulating the audience's experience of time. Johnson may not be 100% successful with that here, but he makes good decisions. Absolutely Haldo was the correct choice to make that sacrifice and for three reasons. First, Laura Dern is amazing. Second, one of the major themes is whether/when it makes sense to die for a cause and her placement in that debate means her decision has a resonance throwing Ackbar or even Leia into that situation would not have. Third, Haldo, by virtue of being a new character, can be shaped to take this space in the way no preexisting character could. One brilliant aspect of Rey's rejection of Kylo Ren is that his pitch to her could, with very few changes, be lifted and dropped into the romantic climax of many a romantic tale. Even on a third watch, it's easy to miss how evil and manipulative he is. For all the brouhaha about women taking a strong role in this film, it's this moment that is the most feminist---in the sense of creating cognitive dissonance for men who think the world is already great for women. A lot of the complaints I've heard about out-of-nowhere plot/Force/humor moments are supported internally by the film. Here's a piece of advice for you: don't confuse familiarity with objectivity. By which I mean the only real difference, in Star Wars terms, between a walking carpet and a chrome dome is you've had forty years to get used to the first one.

Coco (2017): Not a top-five Pixar film and a slow burn in the first half and one of the climax resolutions was sooo obvious, but everything else about the last half of this film was lovely and brilliant and surprising and I wish I wish I wish we had a similar holiday.



At home:



La La Land (2016): I wanted to like this movie. I expected to like this movie. I didn't. I found it pretty hollow and derivative in uninteresting ways. The final stretch finally found some real emotion and the recursive bit at the end worked its way through a lousy start to a strong finish and an emotion that, unlike when it appeared in Cafe Society, actually worked. I think I can see what people like about this, but for my time in life, a rewatching of Hail, Caesar! makes for a better 2016 look at old Hollywood. Even if it is more literal.

WALL-E (2008): We checked this out from the library because I just took the Big O to see 2001, so we got this and Interstellar to demonstrate its influence. An having just watched 2001, I caught waaay more 2001 references than the first time. But WALL-E has waaay more feels than 2001. Like, way more. On the human level, it's a better movie. If you're into, you know, human stuff. No judgment.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017): Yes, this movie is shamelessly dumb. Just like the books. No, that doesn't make it stupid. It's not anything I need to watch ever again. I don't care, for myself, if there are sequels or not. But I'm glad this movie exists. It celebrates mostly good things (friendship, creativity, personal growth, empathy) most of the time, and it's so, so kidcentric that it will always belong to kids. They can share it with adults, but this is kids' domain. Proof that its heart's in the right place? They had Weird Al write and perform a song for the closing credits.

Boy (2010): Although my first experience with Taika Waititi, his Oscar-nommed short, perplexed me more than anything else, I've become a big fan. I count him with the Hesses and Wes Anderson as one of the most beautifully human comedy filmmakers out there. I encourage you to watch the first five minutes and tell me you aren't enthralled. The only equivalent introduction to a character I can think of off the top of my head is to Max in Rushmore. And it's just as good. Which is saying a lot, as the abbreviated version of that intro, seen in a trailer, changed what I wanted from film. And I didn't even see the full movie for, like, another ten years! Anyway, never mind that. Boy is the '80s in poor, Maori New Zealand. The Michael Jackson haka at the end of the movie---seriously. This movie. Hilarious and sad and ultimately redemptive.

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009): I can see why I haven't heard about this movie since it arrived on video. It's not a bad movie. It plays with B-movie tropes in fun ways and has some nice (if very 2009) jokes and voice work, but ultimately it's pretty forgettable. Fun to watch with kids. Nothing to remember. If this DVD hadn't fallen to us free, we never would have rewatched it. But we last saw it so long ago it was fresh to all the kids. We'll see if they forget it as well.

Kong: Skull Island (2017): The Godzilla that precedes and sets up this movie was, I said at the time, a dumb monster movie but a really good dumb monster movie. This is a really good smart monster movie. I mean, c'mon, it's still a giant ape, but the characters are rich and it wasn't easy to predict who was going next. It made smart callbacks to the 1933 original but wasn't really beholden to it in any significant way. It found the humanity in the ape we always believed was there, but somehow this movie made it truer than in the others (or rather the 1933 which I am always surprised is so minimal when I rewatch it because it is so rich when remembered, and the 2005 Peter Jackson movie which was the movie I remember 1933 being only ... not quite; these are the only two I've seen). Plus the action was expertly paced and always enjoyable. This is a great Kong movie and gives me a lot of hope as the so-called MonsterVerse moves forward.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): What a great movie! It was---SO many kinds of horror movie! Just one on top of another on top of another. And so wonderfully melded. Even though I split it into two viewings I was completely riveted. Doesn't hurt that two of my favorite actors play the leads, of course, but it's the writing and the visual/editorial conception that really make it sing. And such an empowering denouement.

Coraline (2009): This is the movie we played outside our house this Halloween (after the requisite four runs of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown") and I missed a big chunk looking at the scary houses with my beloved, but man. I should not have waited eight years to watch this again. Crazy movie.

Wonder Woman (2017): Honestly, I think I like it better the second time. Gal Gadot has a wonderfully expressive face (and Chris Pine ain't bad either) which is important because this is a movie that is willing to rely on its actors. I found the final battle less weak this time around, although it's still a little bit less than the rest of the movie. Nevertheless, that can't defeat how thoroughly satisfying an experience it is to watch.

Frankenstein (1931): I missed everything after Maria is brought to town to go on an Architecture Hike with my beloved, but it's worth mentioning anyway. Little Lord Steed is digging the old monster movies.

Monster of Frankenstein* (1981): I can't defend this film as particularly well made or even "good," but as a burgeoning Frankenstein flick connoisseur, I have to say it did some interesting scrambling of the mythos and, for all its half-baked moments and wrong choices, it still managed emotional resonance and some decided shocks.

The Wolf Man (1941): Universal had made a few werewolf movies before this one arrived, but this is the one that really entered our consciousness. Besides Lon Chaney Jr's look, there's also the introduction of silver weapons and that getting bitten makes you a werewolf. The film is weirdly inconsistent on some points, but those seem to be not the screenwriter's fault based on the late-90s documentary on the dvd. Little Lord Steed was upset by the ending which he found grossly disappointing. I was more disappointed by the way Larry Talbot was introduced. Hard to imagine that was ever charming or romantic rather than creepy creepy creepy. My first vision of Chaney as the Wolf Man was in Abbot and Costello and I wanted him to be that likable, troubled gentleman throughout. It seems like that developed over the films' run, however.

Nacho Libre (2006): I haven't seen this since opening day over a decade ago. I was very disappointed that day (Lady Steed loved it), but perhaps expecting Napoleon-like results was unfair (it was based on one of my all-time favorite shorts which I had seen many times, and the first time I saw it, I laughed all the way through except for a bit in the final act). I have since loved Gentleman Broncos (the other Hess films I have but have not watched yet---why, I'm not sure). But kids love this movie and it was about to leave Prime so we watched it with the kids today. It's definitely third place in the Hess parade for me, but except for my general distaste for wrestling, I'm not sure why I didn't like it. It's great! I mean, not great great, but fun and sweet and heroic and ambiguous. I think probably that religio-sexual ambiguity was offputting last time as well. Maybe it still is, but not as it was once. Anyway. We're good.

The Kid (1921): A long overdue viewing. It wasn't the kids' favorite Chaplin, but me and the missus were moved. More of a parents movie, perhaps.

Free Fire (2016): Lady Steed tells me a jumped a lot, watching this movie with my headphones on. I'm not sure if I liked this movie or not, but there is something very Ether about a bunch of badguys in a warehouse slowly killing each other. And I do love movies that take place in constrained places. (I seem to be one of the few people enraptured of Phone Booth.) There's a certain elegance to the set-up and execution here. Also, after seeing this movie, I now consider Sharlto Copley the South African Murray.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954): Twice I've had the opportunity to see this movie in 3D at a theater and twice I've missed it. So I said I was holding out until the opportunity arose again. But my eight-year-old reeelly wanted to see it (he's the reason we've finally started watching all these old Universal monster flicks) and I wasn't going to say no. It was pretty good. Like the first couple acts of King Kong. And the suit is amazing. I'm looking to see what Guillermo del Toro does with the creature, but a lots of what's here doesn't need to be reinvented. Keep the look.

Revenge of the Creature (1955): In most of the Universal monster movies (I think---haven't seen them all yet) the monster develops into a fuller personality as the movies continue. Most sympathetic. After all, in the first film, they come later in the film and are the enemy. In the later films, they're often the only one returning. They're the marquee. That's rather true here as well, in King Kong's third act. (Note: This updated suit's face not quite as strong as that in film one, but it's nice to see the actor can breathe now.) Overall, I liked this film better than the original (and I won't believe you if you tell me Jaws 3-D and Jurassic Park/World didn't take some cues from this film) although I should say that anyone wanting to do a vicious feminist / critical race / marxist reading of this film could have lots of fun indeed. Speaking to the first one, the romantic relationship would always have made me uneasy, but thanks to recent news articles, I'm better able to define just what's wrong here. And two or three lines of altered dialogue would have made it go away.

Surf's Up (2007): This film seems largely forgotten, and that's a shame. It's really a perfect, family-friendly, comedy jem.

The LEGO Movie (2014): The third act still drags for me---and yet it moves me as well. How's that work? It's hard to imagine anyone other than Will Ferrell pulling it off.

A Knight's Tale (2001): First time. And largely I wanted to see it because Chauser's in it. The modern medievality works reasonably well, though some of the rich chick's hairstyles date the modern half. The jousting scenes were great. The rest was reasonably enjoyable glue.

Boy and the World (2013): This is a lovely film. And it has a very curious shape. "Recursive" is the word that comes to mind, but that's not quite right. "Folded," maybe, would be better. Anyway, even though it delves deeply into sadness and regret and melancholy and nostalgia, the opening sequence's pure joy carries through to the end. I wonder, even, if this isn't a film that can explain aging to children in a way they feel instinctively but can't quite touch unless it's drawn in colored pencils?

Thor (2011): Having fallen in love with Ragnarok, the fam wished to catch up with Thor. So we got this from the library and ... it's no Ragnarok I mean, I guess it's fine, but it's kind of dumb. Thor's character development is a bit hard to believe in and the love story's rather absurd. It has some nice elements, but, well. It's kind of a whatever movie. That's all.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): A couple issues still, but honestly? I liked it better this time. Might it get better each time I see it? That would be exciting.

Thor (2011): It has its elements, but on third viewing, it's not a very good movie. The romance is straight-up horrible. The dutch angles and moving cameras are out of control. So many off details. But I love where Thor (and Loki) ends up in movie three. So I suppose I need to watch two?

A River Runs Through It (1992): I always knew I had to see this movie some day. For a decade or more after its release, everyone told me my dad looked like the dad from A River Runs Through It. But it finally happened because my son is a fly fishing nut. I'm glad to say he liked it. I'm a little less enamored, myself. It's awful earnest and although it acts like it has a plot it's really more of a one-summer picaresque. I don't see why the romance ever needed to get serious, for instance. Anyway. It was fine.

Baby Driver (2017): The funny thing is, by marrying music and action, it's less obviously stylized than other Edgar Wright films. Isn't that weird? Great movie though. Was making the hotshot pilot look like Han Solo---that wasn't an accident, right?

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992): Although I don't remember the novel well, this film captures how I feel about it today. Silly. Over-the-top. Maybe less dumb and certainly sexier, but I like that this movie is so stylized and absurd. It's like what I imagine Hammer films must be like only much more beautifully executed. The highlight of MY viewing experience was, unquestionably, as the men were invading Dracula's London estate and I, watching alone on my laptop as everyone else sleeps, was suddenly greeted by the phantom head of my wife, underlit in blue, floating above my screen. I about died. Thanks, hon.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945): So people love this movie. Not sure why. It's not very Christmassy. It has, like, one decent human being. Great cast, sure, but to what end? It's awkward and uncomfortable now, seventy years later. I laughed, but as much at the movie as with it. But now I can check off one more holiday classic without adding it to my holiday repertoire.

Elf (2003): The strong parts of this film are exquisite. The disrespect for children's publishing and professional Santas is staggering. Also, some bits have aged quickly. Even with this film came out, the idea that everyone in town would be watching the same local newscast was ludicrous, but we still remembered that as a possibility. Now it feels like another world.

The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979): Not a good movie. Don Knotts and Tim Conway do their jobs well enough but there's a lot of not-them time. And this has to be one of the most revolting shortcuts to romance ever. (Note: the lawman's performance is an only slightly less version of the lawman he plays in Young Frankenstein.)

The Invisible Man (1933): Sure, some things I would be less forgiving of in a modern film, but Claude Rains is so great anything that seems less likely is pushed to the side.

Lilo & Stitch (2002): Never seen it! Had no interest. It appeared in that era (beginning with Pocahontas and ending with Tangled) where I just didn't watch Disney movies. And if I did, I didn't like them (Mulan, Tarzan, Hercules) (notable exception: The Hunchback of Notre Dame). But this movie, which I had no expectations for, has not gone away. People still talk about this. People still like this. And so, fifteen years after its release, I finally watched it. The kids loved it. Wife said it's okay. She's right. The story has some holes. Development certainly could have been tighter. But it was fun and the core relationship (the sisters) was strong and, ultimately, I liked it. (Addendum: We stayed up late discussing the movies and it's certainly loaded with flaws. But I can see loving it as a kid. Sort of like how I loved the Fluppy Dogs.)

The Big Sick (2017): Just as good as everyone says. It's nice to see a romantic comedy that takes things seriously and goes a little longer but earns every moment. I wish we still watched movies like we did prekids. I would love to see this enough times that part of our shared vocabulary is lines from the film. After one viewing, however, I don't even know which lines those would be.

Cars 3 (2017): When the trailer came out, I went from utterly disinterested to genuinely excited to see this movie. Then the critics were less thrilled and the summer was busy and ... I lost interest again. After all, the first film was good if not top-notch and the second was unquestionably Pixar's poorest offering to date. But this one---this one surprises. It's weird for Pixar to present an anti-technology subtheme, but the issues of aging and moving from one stage of life to another are handled with aplomb. It's never going to make an AFI top-100 list, but it's absolutely worth watching.

Home Alone (1990): The kids wanted to see it. I figured anything directed by Chris Columbus will not hold up to an adult viewing. I'm happy to say that although I can see a few flaws I couldn't in 1990, it does hold up. It's a good movie. It's still a fun watch. Color me relieved.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928): Can you think of a better way to come up to midnight on New Year's Eve than Buster Keaton?




Elsewhere:


Edward Scissorhands (1990): I haven't seen this movie in over 15 years (and that was the first time) and although I do still believe that Tim Burton made good movies before he became a self-parody, I didn't really know what to expect. But it was beautiful. It makes me happy any time natural emotions are created by an unnatural world.

Young Frankenstein (1974): Yeah, it's funny, but I don't think it's a movie I personally can watch 25 times. I may need to pull the plug on this one at some point....

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): The first time I saw this movie, I was perplexed and shocked by how ... odd it was. Now, the third or fourth time I've seen it, I straight-up love it. The opening sequence is still peculiar (as are the little people) and I would still pay good money to see more of Elsa Lancaster as the Bride, but this is a wonderful film.

Frankenstein (1931): The pacing is so fast compared to modern films. That's not a terrible thing, but it is a bit alien to the youths' experience. Anyway, thanks to a shelter-in-place, we got another film in! I like this one fine---Karloff is terrific---but Bride is better.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): Lovely film. Improves, I think, upon rewatching.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): This was playing on repeat at the ward party, so although I didn't get to sit down and enjoy it, I saw several sizeable chunks of it and I can safely say I still love this movie. I just love it so much. There's a reason the first song I sang to my first child as I held him in the hospital was Sally's song. This movie has soul.

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991): This was Film Club's most recent selection. The final sequence still drags, but the highlights of this movie are high.

Clue (1985): Don't know if I've ever watched this before. I remember it playing on a small tv over the door of the local video store and having it slowly dawn on me that THIS IS A CLUE MOVIE and I've seen it or parts of it a few times since, but straight through? Don't know. In short, I get the points of both the cultists and the original critics. They're both right.

Train to Busan (2016): This is an amazing film. There's not a lot of competition for me, but this may well be my favorite zombie movie. It doesn't waste time explaining zombies to us and it gets to third-act action as soon as they show up. Then it is unrelenting. Lots of jumps but ultimately not a terrifying film---a laugh-out-loud, yell-at-the-screen, jump-and-scream film. Nonstop pleasure.

Silence (2016): I'm glad I dared to watch this movie again. I wasn't sure I could handle it. But having suffered through the first time, I'm prepared now to see how beautifully it is constructed. Hidden layers in the sounds and visuals. And I was worried, but it was a great film for discussion. The Nineteen Eighty-four parallels, sure, but it also shocked my students out of their assumptions and let to really dynamic conversation. Suddenly, their open-mindedness tasted like closed-mindedness, and vice versa. A truly great film.

Ministry of Fear (1944): This film, made near the end of WWII, is about Nazi spies in England and a man who knew too much getting to know a bit too much. It's got plenty of twists and turns, and a reasonably affable lead and a gorgeous female lead. The way the man falls into the mystery is terrific (cake!) and there's nothing inherently absurd about any one step. The final line is pretty dang funny. Yeah. I think I liked it.



Previous films watched


2017

2016

2015

2014

2013