2018-11-15

Nod then laugh/nod then laugh then really laugh then stroke thy chin

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094) The Möbius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone, finished November 2

The collection's split into two parts. I is entirely about the titular club save the final poem. II is not about said club until a couple near the end.

The Möbius Strip Club of Grief itself is a nice conceit. It's a play on another poem's title, the author of whom's foundation Stone now runs. In the Möbius Strip Club of Grief, the dead do the entertaining. Most of the poems that explore this place are quite good, though a couple approach fillery.

It was also a surprise to have a Mormon poem:

Back during our brief Mormon days
Mom wouldn't let us go to temple
out in Utah and baptize the dead.

"But I can baptize your father," I insisted,
who'd hanged himself all those years ago.
"He was a Jew," Mom said. "He doesn't want
to be baptized into the three Mormon heavens."

And that was that.

Soon after, we stopped attending, and really
I was glad. I didn't want to baptize the dead so much
as get into a swimming pool and be held down
by a gentle hand of the priesthood.

"Your brother got too serious," Mom said, smoking
in the car in her wool jacket with the elastic loops for
      shotgun shells
and the flannel insert and loose M&M's in the pockets
(I loved her coat). "He said I was sinning for
      drinking coffee." (59)

This is a bit of the third part of "Blue Jays," a paean to Stone's mother. Some of the collection's best lines are in this poem, but, like all of the longer poems, it also has patches that reveal Stone's distinct need for a limiting (and thus liberating) form. By the end of the book, her poetic techniques at times feel like poetic crutches. And the longer poems, in general, come off more as lazy prose than poetry. The reason I quoted only a bit of III from "Blue Jays" is because the rest of it didn't feel that connected. Not lazy prose, in this case, but disconnected. And that might be the same problem---an unwillingness to trim. Use of form would help.

That said, back to the Mormon bit, pretty good, right? Clearly she wasn't an attending Saint for more than a few months, but it's a good poem.
weekish


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095) Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters by Ted Cohen, finished November 7

I'm fascinated by the science and philosophy behind humor. I love this Wired article, I love Asimov's musings, I love what the Whites have to say. And now I'm charmed by Ted Cohen, philosopher.

Like Asimov (relevant fact: a fellow Jew), Cohen muses at length at the traits and uniquenesses of Jewish humor. On the one hand, is this just because it is their native waters? Or is there really something different? I'm coming to believe there is. I'm a bit unsold by all the reasons proposed, though that soup of reasons is probably more or less accurate. With a book only sniffing a hundred pages to dedicate more than twenty to this question is fine as a case study, but I'm ... I don't know. It's hard, in American culture, in which we are simultaneously aware of these things and attempting not to be to know how to juggle the two demands.

Cohen's arguments regarding jokes (that they signify community, create intimacy, etc) and compelling and he is a jolly host. I'm not interested in reading his book on metaphor and, at least, the essays on baseball and Hitchcock here. Off the library!
probably two years


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096) Sunday Funnies by Gahan Wilson, finished November 9

Gary Groth wrote a brief afterword and from it we learn that Wilson doesn't really remember how he started drawing this newspaper strip, which newspaper took it, how many papers carried it, or why he quit. How about that?

The strip is a collection of gags. Some are better than others, a couple are repeated. The strip works best later on as he started matching the gags thematically---sign painters, optometrists, hats. Sentient furniture. Often the final gag is either Future Funnies (a space-themed strip that tells us more about the '70s, naturally) or The Creep (a spy/vampire/weirdo being over-the-top macabre). This strip makes Wilson's role as missing link between Charles Addams and Gary Larson is clear.

Another thing revealed by this collection: that tired gag style of shoulda-been-retired strips still appearing in papers? Either Wilson is satirizing that gag style or it was popular then even when it's grotesque rather than cute.

maybe a week


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097) Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, finished November 15

At BYU, I started hearing about the movie. Which I finally saw circa 2001 but barely remember. Mostly Stephen Fry talking about whether or not women have souls.

Some years later I started hearing about the book. With at least the enthusiasm with which the movie had once been discussed. And I developed an interest and a must-someday-read opinion. Well, that day has come. The Relief Society's ancient but unofficial book club selected it and read along with them. And I'm so glad I did.

As a comic writer myself, I don't laugh at books often. Instead, I appreciate them. I see the joke, I nod with professional respect, I mumble things like "Well done" or "What a clever way of doing that" or "Yes, quite funny" and then I move on. I rarely actually laugh. I envy people who laugh at books.

I laughed frequently at Cold Comfort Farm.

One unexpected blow hit me at the end of chapter three as I was walking home. I immediately stopped walking beause it is unsafe to laugh as I was laughing and walk simultaneously. I cried out to the empty air around me such things as "What the---" and "How did she---" and "I can't even didn't---" and other such unprofessional nonsense.

For those who are familiar with the book, I am referring to a certain bovine ailment.

It is a brilliant piece of comedy. So brilliant I, like most readers of comic art, am barely aware after first read of the art. I can smell it under the surface, but I barely noticed it, to be frank. I was too busy trying to marshall all the funny. Which is no easy task, believe me.

The aspect of Cold Comfort I was most looking forward to is that it takes place in the near future. I'm quite fond of near-future fiction. That's largely why the final season of Parks & Recreation might be my most believed final season of a television show. The weird thing was, everytime I mentioned this aspect of the book to its fans, they all told me I was wrong. But then I started reading and a clear announcement that the novel is near-future was in large letters right below the epigraph! What the heck!

The near-future aspect is not glaring, as it ends up. Rich people own personal aeroplanes and you can go in town to use the television-enhanced telephone, and you get details of future history like an annual Spanish Plague and the Anglo-Nicaraguan wars, but it's not much. And the details of life feel, from here, honestly, pre-1932 if anything.

Still. One more thing I like about it.

I reread so rarely I don't want to make a promise, but Cold Comfort is a book I hope I'll reread someday.
maybe two weeks


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098) Green Monk: Blood of the Martyrs by Brandon Dayton, finished November 15

I preordered this book shortly after I learned Image was publishing it. I had been trying to follow it online, but it wasn't getting updated regularly and I kept forgetting to seek it out. I was also stoked that Image picked it up. I love Brandon's work and I want it to find a larger audience.

This volume picks up long before the original independently published version---it's an origin story, really. (Upon finishing Blood of the Martyrs, the first thing I wanted to do was reread that first book, but ... I can't find it. Dang it, Theric.) How the orphaned child was raised by monks. How, when he came of age, he first joined the monastery, then had to leave in order to redeem his sins. I loved the in media res-ness of the original, but this is a lovely and moving origin story. I hope it sells well and we get to hear many more tales of the Green Monk in years to come.

(In the meantime, you can read a related story I commissioned for Sunstone 160.)
afternoon


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2018-10-31

The Films of October 2018
(as seen by theric)

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ELSEWHERE
Frailty (2001)

This is the second film* of the Elder Quorum's unofficial new film group, modeled after the Relief Society's decades-old unofficial book club. I'm not quite sure what I think of it yet....

I have a couple complaints, but many of those complaints were resolved in the conclusion. But that doesn't mean the conclusion is satisfying. It's more ... unsettling. It warps easy definitions of right and wrong, good and evil. But it's shaped like a clean conclusion. And so I need to let it settle. Luckily, I'll have some blokes to discuss it with tomorrow. That may help.

(Incidentally, it also made me want to rewatch Unbreakable and finally watch Take Shelter.)

ELSEWHERE
The Truman Show (1998)

I believe I've seen this twice, once in theaters and once when it arrived on VHS.* I liked it okay. Aspects of it really stuck with me. Moments.

Seeing it now, into my adulthood, my opinion is higher. I think it's terrific. Moving and intelligent. Strong.

Truman's not trapped so much by his choices as by outside forces---and that's not entirely unlike the world. His heroism in asserting the right to choose over the machinations of an entire world built to prevent his greatest desires. And, in place, what do they provide? Peace. Happiness. Safety.

Reminds me of George Orwell (i) . . . and the Devil.

HOME
Batman Begins (2005)

I still love this movie, but after a decade of constantly watching superhero movies (thank you, Marvel), I'm better able to see its flaws. They're not serious flaws. The constant reexplaining of the water-main issue, for instance, is handled well even though it's rather a lot. And years of superhero films has also made me consider more deeply, mid-action sequence, the fate of innocents during, for instance, a massive citywide carchase. "It's a miracle no one was killed," says Alfred. But people were certainly hurt.

The question of risking others to save Rachel (or whoever) will be more seriously addressed in the next movie, but here it's just a couple words of dialogue and on we move.

The watching of this film was to finally introduce the kids to these films. I gave them the choice between this or Lord of the Rings. You tell me if they picked the right one to watch first.

ELSEWHERE
When Marnie Was There (2014)

This movie is beautiful and lovely and fun and perplexing. I never quite felt like I was sure what was going on, but that was okay. I was happy in the world and willing to follow the plot wherever it led.

For quite some time, I was thinking it was a ghost story (and maybe it was?), but it was never a tale of horror. Even when it did get a bit scary. It's important you believe that, because movies it reminded me of include The Shining, The Haunting, and Sixth Sense, but Marnie IS NOT a horror film. Not even close. But that same sense of confusion and bewilderment is key to what Marnie IS doing. And doing well.

I also thought it was a prepubescent lesbian love story, but given the explanations that flow out at the end, this must not be true. Better not be true, anyway.

The Explanation Portion of the movie is its weakest spot. I'm satisfied with the explanation, but it's a bit ... well, you know how it is. Explaining things too much can kill them. And while the payoffs that are possible after the explanation are moving, the explanation is still a bit much.

(Disclaimer: I watched the movie over two days, so that might have messed up the storytellers' ability to win me over.)

One last comparison:

Early on, I assumed this would be Spirited Away without supernatural elements. Not so. But after one viewing, I feel it's likely Marnie holds its own against that masterpiece and they would make an interesting pairing if you're putting together a doublefeature.

ELSEWHERE
Children of the Corn (1984)

I can't believe I've been living in fear of this movie my whole life.

I mean, to be fair, it probably would have terrified me at age eight---I still haven't worked up the courage to rewatch Gremlins---but now, it's pretty hokey. And the final act is just stupid.

That said, props on its jump scares. It had me popping like corn, for sure.

HOME
Justice League (2017)

Wow is this a stupid movie. I mean---the reviews were not exactly glowing but it comes up in conversation enough I thought maybe there might be something to it. But not really. It's bad. Zack Snyder's overdramatic impulses are largely unchecked, most of the jokes aren't funny, the writing is terrible, the actors---many of whom I know to be good---can barely work through the material, the editing is awkward, and, after a decade of Marvel movies, the fight scenes and cosmic elements feel derivative.

It's just a bad movie. Which is a shame. Because I still think DC has a leg up on Marvel, at least for me personally, in terms of quality of universe. It would be nice to see them figure it out.

(Which is not to say I think a Marvelesque incorporated movie universe is the way for DC to go. I would rather see them turn the DC universe into a playground laboratory where good filmmakers can try out different ways of using the characters. Some of the recent announcements make that sound possible.)

ELSEWHERE
My Friend Dahmer (2017)

The book has stuck with me lo these five years and so I've been looking forward to seeing the film. It captures much of what I liked about the book---Dahmer is a sympathetic character, filled with confusion and self-loathing as he begins to understand himself. He's an exaggerated and distorted version of any kid that's struggled to understand his sexuality.

Watching the movie, it's not easy to tell how accurate this movie might be. So supplementing with the book ain't a bad idea. Unless you're happier believing there's nothing to see here, ha ha, what a charming entertainment. (But good luck with that.)




LATEST POST
Previous films watched

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2018-10-29

I gotta coupla fine Halloween books, either of which you could still manage to read before trickertreaters arrive

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091) Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, finished October 22

I was pretty pissed off the first time I opened this book. Nick Hornby had promised me blank verse and this was blanketyblankin free verse. Is there no fact-checking at The Believer???

Anyway. Everything else Hornby promised ended up being true. This was a great read---propulsive and lovely and jawdroppingly violent. It also had a few weird typos I suspect would have been caught in prose.

Here's the gist: FREE-verse novel about rival gangs of werewolves in L.A. Explicit sex and cannibalism. Mostly awesome. A few narrative cheats are taken but this is Poetry so somehow it's closer to okay. Some true things said about personal relationships and community. Makes you both want a dog and fear dogs. The cover's awesome---consider going for the hardback.

I won't claim it will still be here in a hundred years, but you can't do much better if you're looking for a Halloween book. And, ahem, free verse reads fast.
under three weeks


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092) Homespun and Angel Feathers by Darlene Young, finished October 29

MS policy. (But it's really good.)
three noncontiguous days


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093) A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, finished October 29

This is a marvelous Halloween read. And if you're still looking for a book to enjoy this Halloween, it's not too late. You could read it in a couple cozy afternoons.

First, the dedication:

To—
Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker,
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury,
Robert Block, Albert Payson Terhune,
and the makers of a lot of old movies—
Thanks.

This novel is a scrapbook of one author's beloved references. He's woven Larry Talbot and Sherlock Holmes and Shub-Niggurath into a single coherent tale. And done it so well.

Perhaps the purest stroke of genius here is to have it all narrated by a world-weary, good-natured, honest, diligent, intelligent, ancient dog.

I know. That doesn't sound like a great idea. But then you have not met Snuff.

Here's the gist: Every time the full moon and Halloween coincide, somewhere in the world a group of ... people, let's call them, come together to play the Game, in which openers and closers jockey for position and fight to open (or prevent the full opening) or a door which would allow the Elder Gods to conquer our world. So far, we've been lucky.

Each "human" participant works with an animal familiar, and A Night in the Lonesome October largely follows these animals as they investigate small mysteries and try to discover who is on which side as they prepare for Halloween. Each night marks one chapter in the book and they vary in length.

The novel is immediately compelling, but early in the month things are slow to get going. Which is sensible of course. Snuff makes his rounds and does his chores, etc etc, but slowly things come together and we pass through moments of insanity and violence and clashing climax. It's a dandy book, it really is.

Sadly, because of the cover by James Warhola, the interior illustrations by Gahan Wilson felt incorrect for maybe a third of the novel. Which was a shame because they are vastly more appropriate companions for the actual words. This is Zelazny's October:


Anyway, I don't want to say much more as much of the pleasure of the novel is recognizing old friends in new guises. That's something you'll want for yourself.
three or four months


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2018-10-16

The title image of one is both comforting and haunting. Can you guess which? I'll bet you can.

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086) Murder in Manhattan, finished October 7

This authorless giftbook is 89 pages of interviews and facts uncovered by the lead detective. And then---can you solve the case???

The short answer, for me, is no, because the berry cobbler is being served and I don't have time to think very long. But the solution seems reasonable and if I run into another of these (if there are others) I would trust that the mystery is solvable and, if in the mood, would plan to give it more of my time.
an evening


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087) The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, finished October 10

This violent play takes place in a police interrogation room in a totalitarian dictatorship. It does some fun things with metanarrative and the structure of the play is quite nice. I'm not 100% sure I like what it has to say about narrative, but hey. (A writer's stories are taken as evidence of his criminality. Ends up his stories actually cause criminality instead. So.)

My only real issue with the book is the "retarded" brother whose intelligence and lucidity and capacity for language seem to be unstable. A good actor can even out that weakness in the writing, but on the page it doesn't work so well.

That said, I liked it. I would kind of like to teach it when I'm talking metafiction but never would because of the language. Don't want to read that out loud.
two noncontiguous days


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088) Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, finished October 10

I've been putting this particular Vonnegut off---largely because I've heard it is not good. It came out seven (seven!) years before Sirens of Titan announced the arrival of a New Voice and it's not, this is true, peak Vonnegut. But it's a terrific look at what Vonnegut is because all the hallmarks of his style are evident. Onomatopoeia in quotation marks as if the fireworks were speaking. Classic Vonnegut move. And all the absurdity and irony etc etc are there, but not in the amounts you would expect based on his later work. The smell of Vonnegut is there, but if you don't know the aroma, you might not recognize it.

I was reading it because I'm putting it on a list of dystopian novels I'm handing out to students next month. This dystopia, like all dystopias, is a utopia. In this case, a utopia for engineers and managers. The rest of the world has nothing to do and a crisis of boredom has set across America. As you might imagine (or if you've read the opening chapters of Cat's Cradle or chunks of Breakfast of Champions, for instance) Vonnegut finds ample room for satire. But (excepting the time at the Meadows) it's just less. Vonnegut, but not Vonneguty enough.

That said, as a first novel it does take some chances. And with hindsight, no reason to be surprised this virgin would go on to write Slaughterhouse-Five.
ELAPSE


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089) Lumberjanes, vol. one by Noelle Stevenson and village, finished October 16

This is more or less exactly what I was expecting and, having finally begun it, I'm happy to say it delivers in spades. I'm not utterly in love with it, but there's at least, like, seven volumes out and at the library already, and I think that love is apt to come.

The skinny: strange things are afoot in the woods, and the Girl Scouts-esque organization Lumberjanes is there to investigate. Happily, by the end of this volume, their troop leader has discovered the girls are telling the truth about monsters in the woods, so that won't be snuffleupagusing up the works going forward.

The book is fun and that makes its agenda fun too. And what's its agenda? Girls are fun and messy and dangerous and it's okay for some people and not all people to be lesbians-in-embryo. I guess. Whatever. All that matters is that the girls are fun to be with.
evening


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090) SkyHeart Book I: The Star Seed by Jake Parker by Jake Parker, finished October 16

It's been almost three years since I provided Jake with notes on the working script he shared with me and now I finally have the book in my hands and get to see how it turned out.

The short: it's good.

I won't have a long, but here's a medium:

I love the characters as they were originally presented (as collected in Antler Boy) and it's still hard for me when the pig and the whale show up and everyone doesn't have the camaraderie that I loved from those original stories. But that aside, the story here in SkyHeart is stronger. This volume ends on a cliffhanger, but by the time that rolls round, we're already fully invested in the world and our leads.

For the Latter-day Saint reader, there are at least two nods to the endowment to watch for.
evening


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2018-10-01

I finally finished Middlemarch!
(also, some other books)

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082) Beyond the Light by Ryan Shoemaker, finished September 17

Ryan sent me his collection back in May and I've been reading it off and on. I have mixed feelings about his stuff. His funny stuff is hit/miss for me (the shorter the missier) and his serious stuff largely involves taking awful people and letting them be awful. I do prefer ones with a hint of redemption ("Great Heights") or that are willing to be surreal without succumbing to the silly ("Lost in Furniture Land"---which [absurdism aside] is almost an identical tale to "Great Heights" and follows it immediately in the book, which is a strange editing choice...). I appreciate the craft of his awful people behaving awfully stories, but sometimes the push credulity ("Our Students"---although this story might just push my buttons because it takes place at a high school; Ryan has it out for high school, both students and teachers).

One thing I find interesting about Ryan's CV is how he ... I don't want to say recycles, although that's not unfair, but how he revisits works, like Magritte painting rocks in the air over and over and over. I don't just mean publishing the same story in two places---that's great and more outlets should be willing to do that. Nor do I mean really liking the name Hector.

The sort of recycling (I'm going for it) is "Brigham Kimball: Mormon Missionary Extraordinaire" also appearing as "Parley Young: One Mormon Life"---a longer (and, in my opinion, better) version of the same. (The two version appear to have been published just months apart.) Or taking "Bing," originally published in Irreantum, and giving it a new title ("Beyond the Lights"), sending it successfully through Santa Monica Review's slushpile and republishing it. (Full disclosure: Ryan told SMR that it had been previously published.) Again, I don't have problems with these reuses, but in neither case is the first-publisher-under-an-alternate-title cited in the Acknowledgments. Which seems a bit weird to me.

I'm intending to write a longer review exploring the good and the hmm about Beyond the Light for AML, but that largely depends on my health and catching up on all my other responsibilities that have slipped while I've been sick.
almost four months


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083) Space Cat Meets Mars by Ruthven Todd, finished September 22

This ... I dunno if I'm accurate here (and I returned the first two to the library), but this felt slighter. Perhaps it's just because there's less intentionality on the part of our heroes. They went to the Moon on purpose. They went to Venus on purpose. Then they're captured by an asteroid's gravity and have some mechanical problems and making an emergency stopover on Mars. That sounds good, but....
I like the faux pre-Apollo science of these books, but Mars is pretty far to walk for a gallon of gas. I dunno.

Anyway, Flyball meets the last Martian cat and she's coming back to Earth (via the moon) with them, after which they'll get busy, but the whole thing felt shorter and lesser. Charming, but insubstantial. In comparison, I mean. I'm not claiming the first couple are great literature or anything. But I liked them.
two days


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084) Invisible Gifts by Maw Shein Win, finished September 24

I intend to write a longer review of this (I hope for Whale Road Review) so I'll hold off for now.
perhaps fourth months but actually two separated bursts


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085) Middlemarch by George Eliot, finished September 29

I began Middlemarch long, long ago. And I loved it from the very beginning. But then the main character made a very upsetting decision at the end of book one and I ... just set it down.

I picked it up again when our ward Relief Society book group (ambitiously) picked it to read earlier this year, so I read along with Lady Steed.

No one finished it in the month. Well, like two people did. So book group discussed the first four books only. But Lady Steed and I kept reading and we both finished it this week.

After book one, the idea of a "main character" seems almost laughable. Its subtitle is "A Study of Provincial Life" and it truly does take us through and around an entire town. The characters we spend the most time with connect, but every spot and soul of Middlemarch is fair game.

However, with the last two paragraphs of the novel, we are thrown a reference that (with one exception) we haven't heard since the prelude. And it is the prelude and those final paragraphs that make Dorothea---that first-book main character---the heart of the entire novel. Her goodness drives hope and possibility; her strength is what makes us believe humanity should yet continue.

Dorothea is a complicated character but she's motivated by a pure goodness that makes her one of my favorite characters in fiction. I love her because I cannot be her.

Other characters I more clearly see myself in. For a few pages, I was certain Casaubon and I were the same person. (Happily, we are not.) And Bulstrode's justifications for his sins rang much, much too true.

My failures are much like Lydgate's, but I'm in a better marriage. (Fun fact: Occasionally I give my students an essay prompt originally part of the 2011 test that includes a passage from Middlemarch; all but two or three of the best readers always misinterpret it, and believe that Lydgate is abusive and cruel towards his wife. I don't know if this is a comment merely on my students' reading ability or if it somehow revealing of modern entitlement....)

In short, Eliot understands people. I loved Silas Marner and I love this too. It's a loving look at humanity while clawing its criticisms deep. If we're unhappy with Dorothea's fate, it's not because of any failure of hers. And she is happy. But in a better world, she, a woman, could have been everything we know she could have been.

I understand why people read and reread this book. It feels borderline irresponsible to not. But no doubt decades will pass before I return. And I will be different then and I will understand it in new ways.

I'll see you then.

[Final note: Although I'm generally skeptical of narrators waxing philosophic, I would never deny Eliot that freedom.]
possibly over five years


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2018-09-28

Not so many movies in September 2018

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ELSEWHERE
Murder by Death (1976)

First, it's remarkable how closely Clue follows this template and that I can't remember having heard of them together before. I found the film because it's a Neil Simon I hadn't heard before and he, well, he just died.

The gimmick is the worlds greatest detectives---a Sam Spade, a British Nick & Nora, a Miss Marples, a Hercule Poirot, a Charlie Chan---are pulled together into a gloomy country estate and there ends up being a murder to be solved. The greatest thing about this movie has to be its cast: David Niven, Alec Guiness, Maggie Smith, Elsa Lanchester---it goes on and on. Peter Sellers as the Chinese detective is grating now, but it makes some logical sense as, I imagine, Charlie Chan was probably always done in yellowface. Though I'm not sure the movie is really mocking that....

Some very funny moments, a very meta ending, a scene that lets Guiness shine---worth watching once, to be sure. I doubt I'll feel much need to revisit it.

HOME
The Little Hours (2017)

First, I know very little about the Decameron. Mostly that it exists and when it came to exist and how niftily early that date is. I have no idea how this movie is as an adaptation.

Second, although I know little about 1970s Italian exploitation films, I could see the references starting right from the opening credits. And so the eventual sex and witchery should not have surprised me. Probably it would not have earlier in the film, but the deadpan, modern comedic phrasing of the film, pushed me far away from exploitation expectations.

The trailer, in other words, is honest.

ELSEWHERE
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) x2

This is a movie I love and have seen many times---though not recently, and not since Sullivan's Travels. So it was fun to see with that in mind and notice echoes such as the theater scene.

One nice thing about watching it twice back to back* was, for viewing two, now all the music was back in my head and I could sing along.

Other small observations and questions:

What's with all the butterflies?

I'd noticed the Greek-ruins column before, but in the restaurant, there is a Greek bust. Homer?

When the cyclops says the word "psychology," he emphasizes it in a way to make one imagine he might be about to say cyclops. I don't think I'd noticed that before.

The clips of movie they see in the theater feel so familiar to me now I was sure I had seen the film. Not so.

Such a great movie.

HOME
The Lost Express (1925)

I read about Helen Holmes and the The Hazards of Helen series in The New Yorker and I've been meaning to check her out ever since.

The plot was about a half-baked as expected (and some weird cultural things that have changed a bit in the last century), but I'm only disappointed that this feature did not include anything truly crazy/amazing in the stunts department. C'mon, Helen!


ELSEWHERE
A Boy and His Dog (1975)

This movie made a splash in science-fiction circles a bit before I was born, but most folks don't remember it anymore---like Andromeda Strain it was lost in the wave of films that followed over the next ten years (Star Wars, E.T., Mad Max, etc). These days, I think, those who have heard of it would think: weird, (I mean, Harlan Ellison so obviously weird), weird sex, weird violence, postapocalyptic, too weird.

I'm basing this on what my impression is. Which largely comes from the back of VHS boxes.

They were pretty much telling the truth.

We're in a post-nuclear desert. People are scrounging about looking for canned food to survive on and women to rape to death: "Hell! They didn't have to cut her! She could have been used two or three more times!"

If you weren't already expecting ugliness, you should now.

The film offers two plots. The first is a classic love story: they fight and bicker but rely on one another and sacrifice all else for each other. That's the boy and his dog---a hyperintelligent "police dog." The second is another type of love story, a redemption story. Boy meets girl who shows him a new sort of life and together they make that life. This story is boy and actual girl.

They can't both end happily ever after.

THEATER
Art + Belief (2019?)

We went to the New Parkway which had been rented out by the Bay Area Mormon Arts Council to see the nearly-done version of this film submitted to Sundance. It was much more complete than the version we had seen before, but it also lost a few of the nuances I liked.

(Incidentally, I haven't decided whether or not to reach out, but Nathan Florence? Matt Black? if you see this, the narration needs an edit. I would be willing to volunteer my time. If you haven't heard from me yet it's because I don't know your timeline and I'm busy and I just haven't decided if I can commit. [Or I've lost track of time and am on to other things.] But I'm good at this. I could help.)

Anyway, the turnout was good, the film was good. I really hope that it becomes something Mormon artists watch and share with each other. We need to stop believing, each of us, that we are the first and that there is no tradition and that we have to blaze a new trail alone. I hope this film helps Mormon artists find their community.

Which is one of the reasons, I think, the Q&A featured multiple questions about artistic women of the time. We are all hungry to know that we are not alone, that others have come before. This film can be that. Hopefully it can be that for many.

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One Man's Treasure (2009)

Since Son2 and I watched this in January, he showed it to Son3 and tonight they showed it to Son1. Although it is a bit cheesy, sure, it's a fun ride and a fair look at being a missionary that's less likely to traumatize, say, than, say, this.

The bits that I curl a nostril at don't matter so much. The boys like it and the elders and sisters are real people and this is something worth doing someday. That's enough.

Not every movie has to move the artform forward.

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2018
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2018-09-12

Hella comics and the biggest Mormon book ... ever?

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074) My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris, finished August 29

Drawn entirely in ballpoint pens (Bic-style) with the occasional colored pencil and seemingly on notebook paper complete with blue lines and binderholes and metal coiling, this is supposed to be a sequence of notebooks by an elementary-school girl. She's a helluvanartist for her age, let me say.

This is multilayered comics on the level of Chris Ware or Duncan the Wonder Dog. Although it begs us to ask how autobiographical it is, I'll avoid that topic. There's enough without it. We have monster movies/magazines; we have childhood cruelty; we have mob violence; we have all kinds of sex; we have family dynamics; we have the Holocaust; we have a mysterious murder; we have questions of sexuality; we have human duality; we have fine art---

All these pieces click together nicely. It might be hard to imagine all those things coming together without becoming either maudlin or oppressive, but no: Ferris shows real skill in balancing all this stuff. It's a heavy read, but not at all unpleasant. The only awful thing about it is the likely wait we have in front of us before the story will continue.

two weeks or so


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075) The Customer Is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond, finished August 30

Another enormous comic book! This one is a much quicker read, but it's remarkable how much they have in common. This takes place in the late Seventies rather than the late Sixties, but Madge is about ten years older than Karen, so I suppose they're still contemporaries.

We're in a different American city now (Oakland rather than Chicago) but we still get to see much of the seedy underbelly---only now we're a bit more involved as our protagonist is an adult.

Madge is working at a cafe, saving her money so she can move to New York and pursue her dreams of being a cartoonist. Her boss is Lazlo (imagine Scott McCloud in a trilby), a well meaning would-be poet. Everyone is doing alcohol and/or coke and/or speed and/or "Persian" and/or mj and/or tobacco and/or heroin and/or methodone etc etc etc. It's not a life I'm interested in, but Pond's look is kind without being romantic and truthful without being vindictive.

Although it's born of her actual experiences, Pond's ficionalization is very satisfying as fiction. The story is well organized and structured. It's a great piece of writing and it works well as a novel.
two days


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076) Bandette: Stealers Keepers! by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, finished August 30

This picks up where volume one dropped off and provides a satisfying conclusion. There is a third volume, but it seems likely that it will take a new direction. I hope so as this volume, while wonderful, couldn't match the bright delight of newness we encountered in volume one.

All I really really want to do now is show my kids Charade....
afternoon


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077) You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld, finished September 6
078) Baking With Kafka by Tom Gauld, finished September 7
079) Mooncop by Tom Gauld, finished September 7
080) Goliath by Tom Gauld, finished September 7


The first two volumes are collections of his short comics, mostly originally published in the Guardian as part of his literary series. They're good. They have the heightened starkness of Jason and the deadpan intelligence of Edward Gorey.

The latter two are booklength narratives that excel in quiet. Silence is one of the great powers of comics, and Gauld has almost weaponized it. These odes to loneliness, to being an outsider, to calm consideration---they're peaceful even when they are wrought.

I'm fond of his work.
evening, day, afternoon, afternoon (respectively


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081) Educated by Tara Westover, finished September 12

I can't think of a "Mormon book" that's made this big of a splash. Maybe ever. Amazon's top recommendation? President Obama gave it a recommendation? That never happened to Scholar of Moab.... So I suppose I was in some sense obliged to pick it up. But if Lynsey hadn't read it as part of an online book club, I would have just kept waiting for it to show up in a Little Free Library.

I think my favorite aspect of the book is how Westover made transparent her efforts to be accurate in writing the story of her childhood onward. Footnotes that lay out the variances in different character's memories give the book an honest sheen that most memoirs simply do not have for me.

One of my instinctive reactions is similar to how I reacted to Elna Baker's memoir: I'm frustrated by how a character who is growing seems to have no access to intelligent faithful Mormons in their moments of need. At BYU (and in Manhattan) there are numerous concourses of such people, yet they're just not there. In Baker's case, she seemed to avoid Mormons when she was shaky; Westover, on the other hand, having had such a "conservative" upbringing had already drawn her to people who were likely to tell her unhelpful things. Given the ties she had to cut, however, it's hard to imagine there were many pathways where the Church did not become collateral damage.

The writing itself is simple, clean, and readable. I don't know how natural it is for her to write this way, but she and her team put together some wonderful prose.

On a personal note, this book hit close to home. I don't know anyone quite like her family, but she's local to me. Franklin County is next door to Bear Lake County---the Bear River runs right past her homestead. The nearest town was the same town Napoleon Dynamite lives in (although Westover kindly refers to it by a historical name), and we all know how much I identify with that bit of Idahoiana.

The greatest bit of Idaho she accomplishes, however, is the dialect. I often want to write Idaho, but I can't get the words to sound right. Tara Westover nails it. That's just how my family talks.

It's also heartbreaking to see how cut off our corner of Idaho is from the rest of the world. My own hometown, when I enter it, looks essentially identical to its appearance when I left, thirty-one years ago. A healthy town changes in three decades. You feel nostalgia for what was. My nostalgia is for what does not have the economic health to grow and change. Although I never met any hardcore fans of the apocalypse and was never treated by homeopathics, it fits; it makes sense.

So I think my primary feeling is one of shared tragedy, although mine is far less violent. And I thank her for sharing.
about two weeks


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2018-08-31

20[july&augustmovies]18

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HOME
Logan Lucky (2017)

We ended June watching Ocean's 8 and Ocean's Eleven and the first hour of this movie. Finished in July. Hello, July!

One interesting thing is that it has a final-act introduction of an investigator ala Ocean's 8. I don't know if it is inherently better or worse, but it's not as strong as the rest of the movie---opposite problem of Ocean's 8. I do like the misdirection and the clever bit of twisting around at the end. The accents made it hard to understand everything that was said. Lady Steed liked the movie a lot more than I did (I'm still undecided) and is wanting to watch it again to try and decipher some pieces now that we know how it ends.

Some things definitely weren't answered. For instance, did the white gang leader get a payout? If not, why not? What about Joe Bang's brothers? I'm guessing now, but I'm not clear. Maybe only if Joe gives them some?

Maybe there's a bunch of explanatory stuff on Quora or Reddit I can seek out....

HOME
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Holds up. Caught a minor continuity error and it's much more bittersweet having seen Infinity War, but it's still charming and fun and smart. Comparing Cate Blanchett here to Ocean's 8 just emphasizes how wasted she was there.

Although Black Panther is a strong contender, for my money, this is the best score Marvel's done to date.


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The Disaster Artist (2017)

So no, I have not seen The Room. But I enjoyed this movie immensely just on the knowledge I have. I like how it balanced being able to laugh at people while still making us empathize with them.

It's really terrific. We laughed a lot. And we felt some pain. I'm happy to report the most painful moment in the film (for me) was not factual, but it's a good example of why sticking straight with facts isn't always the most truthful option.

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The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

I missed big chunks of this because I was doing some parenting (appropriate). Although immensely enjoyable, this is by no means a favorite Batman film of mine. However, the Nolan and Burton films do not have any lines half so hilarious as the best lines of this film. Really. Some of the best one-liners in recent history.



THEATER
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

I like so much about this movie, but it's not better than the first movie and doesn't do all that much that's new. Although Michelle Pfeiffer looks great and I would buy her toy as seen in the credits.

It was awesome, though, the audience's reaction to THAT post-credits sequence. That was great.




HOME
Finding Dory (2016)

I missed half or more, but my impressions are the same. Good with great moments, inferior to Nemo.







THEATER
Sorry to Bother You (2018)

What a great movie! And I love this new trend of Oakland starring in movies. I guess I need to go see Blindspotting next.

The film is as smart and strange and clever as its trailer promised. Actually, more so. The problem with the film is that it's got so many clever pieces it sometimes forgets about the shape of the film as a whole. Or, in other words, it's twenty-some minutes too long and has a hard time finding its ending. It took me ten minutes after leaving the theater to realize it was the correct ending, but that may be because the ending took too long coming.

Also, there's a practical effect (the mere existence of which I appreciate) which reminds me of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. And makes me realize why digital has become so pervasive. But I'm still glad it's practical. I think it's more effective than digital would be.

One way to think of this movie---much of it, not all---is Idiocracy but in the present day.

THEATER
Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

I was moved throughout. I don't really remember MisteRogers' Neighborhood that well, but because I get weepy every time he shows up on my social-media feeds, I'm sure he made a big impact on me. And I know enough about him to know that he was a swell guy. But WYBMN gives the most sweeping look at him I've ever encountered. And it's wonderful.

We took my parents and sister with us and they also left full of admiration for the man. Whoever it was that suggested this film be shown in LDS wards to teach ministering was right.

But also, we should all watch it, as humans, to become better with children, and to calm our own urges to interrupt.

HOME
The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)

Fred MacMurray is so good at stuff like this, it's impossible to understand how Double Indemnity even exists.

This film is aging just fine. My kids enjoyed it immensely. Its over-the-top slapstick that never gets old, if done well, and some of the jokes seem at least as sharp now as they ever could have in 1961: "I'm an American! See it? My credit cards!" (The absent-minded professor, however, it seems to me, should never be trusted with credit cards. Egad.)

In short, worth revisiting and passing down to the next generation.

HOME
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

I've been wanting to see this movie since it was first announced stateside and I've probably checked it out of the library at least six times, but only now did we finally watch it. And: wow.

First, the art was as lovely as I expected, but there was an unexpected effect to the simply composed art. My eyes felt relaxed. Watching films can be so taxing, but this movie allowed my eyes to settle into the whitespace and simple lines and natural compositions. They could relax.

But the film itself is not simple. It kept complicating as it betrayed my expectations. It's not a quiet or easy film. In a way, it would have been easier had my kids not watched it, but now it has left them with some heady themes to grapple with. That must be good.

It's a beautiful film, even when it is displaying ugliness. And it is a warm film even when it is wading through disappointment or error or deceit. People make mistakes. We can still love them. Or, at least, not hate them.

Incidentally, if you're liking to give a film a rich Mormon reading, try this on for size. You'll have plenty to consider.

HOME
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I had a curious reaction to this, my third viewing. On the one hand, the film felt overlong. On the other hand, all those moments that made it overlong felt layered with symbols I had never seen before. Falling phalluses, Calcifer becoming Donne's flea. And because of its length, I had time to really think about all the Miyazaki elements that recur again and again and to consider what they are doing here, this time: amorphous black creatures, cascading feathers, magical old women, flying humans, pseudo-Victoriana, flying machines, smoke and steam, beautiful androgynous men.

Both those lists can go on and on, of course. Miyazaki is a true auteur in the sense that all his work is part of one great whole.

And that whole is so great it's rather difficult to hold onto it all at once.

HOME
Dunkirk (2017)

Such an amazing movie. Amazing. I've already praised Mark Rylance who deserves special recognition in a film where everyone is excellent. This time though, let's give a nod to Hans Zimmer whose score melds so perfectly with the sound design. Sometimes it's not clear if that's orchestra or footsteps, orchestra or warship. And that pulsing uncertainty helps us feel for the soldiers.

Also, if I haven't already mentioned it already, props to the editing. This film wouldn't work without exquisite editing and that's what we have. Swish it around with the sound and we're unsettled at all times but clarity is also available around the corner. For instance the cut near the ends that seems like a dream sequence but is not. That's the result of careful coordination between seeing and hearing, knowing the history of film and understanding the film you're building.

It's a remarkable work of art.

Also worth pointing out: Lady Steed, who was utterly uninterested in this film until we saw Darkest Hour, was moved. Stunned, really, for about an hour after it ended. We haven't seen Shape of Water yet, but she's appalled it beat out Dunkirk for Best Picture.

THEATER
Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

Nonstop action, yes. Less tech but a tricky use of the classic face. The two female leads could have been more dissimilar for legibility. That would have been nice.

The politics of superagents is complicated and troubling, of course, and the MI film address that. The use of the CIA here was a hard thumb. But it was the throwaway lines about a fictional president that I found most unsettling this goround. Fictional presidents have always been an average president. But one outlier can change the nature of "average" quite a bit.

Tom Cruise is again well. At the beginning of the film, he looked my age. The film sure did a number on him though....

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Porco Rosso (1992)

I wanted to revisit this on Kohl's recommendation. I had a fever as I watched it so who knows if I saw it accurately, but it doesn't make my top-five Miyazaki films.

It came out two years after TaleSpin and there are some remarkable similarities. I wonder if Miyazaki ever saw Disney Afternoon--?



HOME
Your Name. (2016)

What an amaaazing movie! I was expecting to be amazed and so, of course, at first, I was not. I liked the way it set up the situation. Then I was confused. This happened a lot. In part because this is many more kinds of movie than I expected. It kept changing on me, even restructuring the world as I understood it, which is a dangerous thing to do. Few better ways to turn your audience against you, of course, unless you are earning an extraordinary amount of respect.

One trick, I realize, is that changing the rules should explain something that previously had not made sense. You give people one card, you can take away five. It's magic and misdirection.

One of the big surprises is that, for a movie about teenagers, this film has a much broader-than-usual sense of how long life really is. And it manages to nod to many tropes while becoming something truly new.

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My Neighbro Totoro (1988)

I don't think I can argue there is a movie made that is objectively "better" than Totoro. Of course, I also think that there as a certain category, GREAT, in which better/worse judgments hold no meaning, so all I'm really saying is that Totoro is a GREAT movie. But it's true: Totoro is a GREAT movie.

I wasn't watching very closely the first half, coming in permanently at the rain scene, but what other movie could make me cry is pain and sorrow and joy in such rapid succession?

It's such an honest movie, and it won't let us forget what it is to be children. Which I, for one, seem to have made a life goal.

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Son of Frankenstein (1939)

I had always assumed Young Frankenstein was based on the first two Universal films, but then I read a story that said the first three and especially #3. Having finally watched Son of Frankenstein, it is certainly true.

First, although this Igor looks nothing like that Igor, this is the first time that name makes a debut and this assistant (played by Bela Legosi) is the first to play a truly major role.

Second, the Inspector finally made a distinct appearance. And I was shocked how almost directly lifted he is. My kids laughed at some of the same moments that they've never seen in Young Frankenstein but which are funny here as well, in a less exaggerated appearance.

Third, the plot is pretty dang similar. And this is the first, best I know, to address the name confusion.

As a movie, it's not bad. The creature is less sympathetic, but he's not the antagonist either. He's almost an afterthought in his own movie. HIs death is the most gruesome and the most seeming-difficult to bounce back from, but hey! He's done it before! Now: on to Ghost of Frankenstein.

THEATER
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

The new print was beautiful.

Although I was too sick to be sitting for a three-hour movie, I think I can still say it improves with each viewing.

And now I'm back to seeing it more times in theaters than without. I'm not sure I'll be motivated to watch it without again.


HOME
9 to 5 (1980)

I finally felt the need to see this because a sequel's been announced. We're talking a forty-year gap, which is crazy, but I thought I might as well finally watch it.

Of course, I know plenty about it, but it didn't play out just as I expected. But with charming leads, that hardly matters. I was along for the ride.

The biggest surprise is now ... moderate the Dabney Coleman character is. I'm not making excuses for him, but I assumed that for a man to count as a notable cad in 1980 he would have to be much worse than the fellow here. Honestly, he's just a couple steps beyond what I would expect normal 1980 office boss to be. So good on those women for being fully aware of how lousy he is.

HOME
The Saratov Approach (2013)

It took me a while to finally see this, but now I have. And I liked it. It relied on a couple techniques I don't like, but used them well. I don't know how "accurate to the real events" it might be, but I don't care that much. I really liked the solution to the problem, which was aesthetic and apparently, the movie wants me to believe, what really happened. So that's great.

I'm still not sure, however, what the title means. I think it was just to make us imagine it was based on a Robert Ludlum novel....

HOME
Everybody Street (2013)

The Big O will be watching this film sometime this year as part of his photography class. The syllabus made it sound outre enough that we decided to prescreen it. Lady Steed found it beyond the pale. I thought it was fine. I think this largely comes of how much more time I spend at a high school than she does.

The film brought in quite a few photographers, but ultimately it was a little tired because of its New York fetishism. According to Everything Street, the only place in the world street photography can really be done is in New York City. I'm so over that attitude. Get over yourself, New York. Geez.


NOTE: I'm not sure why I included Finding Dory but not Son of Flubber (1963) or Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1992) when I probably watched/heard as much of them. Such are life's little mysteries.






Previous films watched


2018
jan feb mar apr may jun jul&aug sep oct nov dec

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013