Comics comics and more comics


062) Giraffes on Horseback Salad by Josh Frank, Manuela Pertega, Tim Heidecker; finished August 10

Ah, the lost Salvador Dalí / Marx Bros. movie. The great what-if. And someone took what pieces could be found and turned them into a graphic novel.

I am glad this exists.

But I don't understand many of the choices made, starting with the biggest.

In the back of this volume are a few pages of the source material and they make clear that the biggest conceit of the book---the protagonist has Harpo locked inside him---is wrong. Harpo and the protag are pretty clearly separate characters from those shared bits. And I do not understand this choice. Even if you see it as subtext, why make it text? Surrealism is more than just weird images.

The art is pretty good and the jokes range in quality. The film could be done now (I would use the method from the new Lion King) but ultimately the lesson of this books seems to be let what-ifs remain what-ifs.

(See also Tale of Sand.)

I don't mean that.

I'm glad I read it, but honestly I could have been just as happy reading the entire treatment and letting it play out in my mind. It's good this exists, but let's not confuse it as the original.

The only kind of film I've ever worked on are grotesquely unfinished movies, and that's what Horseback Salad was: grotesquely unfinished. This isn't the Dalí/Marx movie, this is something Josh Frank put together. As long as you remember that, it's a fascinating exercise, absolutely worth the hours put in; it is not canon.

But yay, fandom! I would have absolutely said yes if asked to help. And the end result would still have left me ambivalent. 'Tis the nature of the work.
probably five days with two weeks between the intro and the book proper


063) Snow White by Matt Phelan, finished August 12

I guess this Great Depression-set fairy tale isn't any less developed than a traditional fairy tale, but its one element of magic/madness didn't make much sense (being the one element) and Snow seemed to become an adult rather abruptly.

But the word-light watercolor comics are nice to look at. It's not a weighty entertainment, but it does entertain and does not take long to consume. It's the meringue of comics.
one walk home


064) Billie the Bee by Mary Fleener, finished August 16

This is a great bit of comicry. Fleener's first full book is a departure for her (but her psychedelic skills do get moments to shine), the story of an overlarge honeybee who gets to be friends with a rattlesnake, a coyote, and a coupla crass turtles, but she said at Comic-Con that the book was fueled by her readings about honeybees, so I expect there's more truth in here than I would have guessed had I just picked the book up at random.

She also mentioned that her work here was inspired by Noah Van Sciver---especially his backgrounds---and with that in mind, its easy to see.
three days


065) Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major and Kelly Bastow, finished August 16

I would like to read the six-page gag that was the genesis (and feel like maybe I have...), but I came around to this book by the end. Both main characters (the cat and his man) had satisfying arcs that dovetailed just so, and even though the gagborn concept spent a lot of time in the mundane and the serious, it turned out fine.

The many-mans scenes---am I the only one who found them a tad ... uncomfortably pornographic---?
two days


066) A Fire Story by Brian Fies, finished August 20

I think I may have bumped into Brian Fies's original version of this, done with Santa Rosa ash still in the air, but I don't think I ever ran it down and gave it close study. It's remarkable now, to see how closely the book version follows the quick-and-dirty original done on crap paper with unfancy pens.

The full book version feels just as honest, but it's able to bring in other people's stories---in their own words---and bring us through the months of aftermath.

It's hard to fathom a disaster, even one so close by, one whose fumes we breathed, whose smoke closed our schools, whose ash coated our cars. This personal, visual account goes a long way towards bridging understanding.
a week or so




Unfinished Books: weird animals edition


End of the Megafauna:
The Fate of the World's Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals

written by Ross D E MacPhee and illustrated be Peter Schouten

I read a short blurb about this book in Smithsonian which suggested the writing was dull and sloggish which images were CANNOT MISS. I agree about the images. I disagree about the text.

I devoured every image and caption in the book, enjoying paragraphs here and there of the main text. I enjoyed those so much (and learned so much) that I then went to the beginning and started reading from page one. Then someone hid the book and then it was returned to the library. But I stand by my assertion that this is a fascinating read, wonderfully illustrated. There is more to the world, friend, than dinosaurs.

The Tough Coughs as He Ploughs the Dough:
Early Writings and Cartoons by Dr. Seuss

edited by Richard Marschall

After reading a Dr Seuss biography this summer, I wanted to supplement with some of the good doctor's ACTUAL work, rather than chatter about it. So I made my way through one and two and most of this volume as well.

It consists of his cartooning and humor writing during and after college (and even a bit of the advertising). I read most of the book and enjoyed it. The only reason I'm not finishing it is because it's a library book and I'm prioritizing other library books before school starts. If I owned it, it would get finished. (And maybe I should own it---it's pretty cheap.)

I don't know that his stuff is as great as the best of his contemporaries (I think first of James Thurber and Robert Benchley), but it's solid. If you like humor-writing and cartooning from the first half of the previous century, it's worth checking out.


Here's a fun book for you:


057) Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King, finished July 27

If this were my first Stephen King novel, it probably would have been the last. Although given props from critics (and an Edgar Award!), I thought it was poorly executed. I didn't care about any of the characters and so didn't much care abut their peril. The two characters I found instantly compelling both died in the first few pages. I did get to like the protagonist some and his love interest wasn't too bad---and so of course she was fridged.

The other characters were shadows of cliches. And, I hate to say it, but this was a bit of an old-man book. The young characters don't play like actual people of this century (eg, the way they talk about race or tech), the narrator takes a couple digs early on that reveal the author's political bias, King makes (at least) two references to his own work, and every reference to technology just feels fake--both vocabulary and facts. Our kid whiz runs the two best antivirus softwares money can buy. Someone can tell at a glimpse where someone downloaded a file from. It just...it makes me nervous to write about anyone twenty years younger than me---let alone double that.

Plus, King relies on some tricks that I thought he was too good for---hokey cliffhangers, characters explaining things to each other while the narrator hides that info from the audience to build suspense. Crap like that.

I want to mention that this is NOT by first Stephen King novel, however, and that I will undoubtedly read him again. Some of his books I have found excellent and some forgettable, but this is the first I would call bad.

FYI, here are the novels (novels only) that I have read (in order of original publication): Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, The Green Mile, Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher, From a Buick 8, The Colorado Kid, Cell, Lisey's Story, Doctor Sleep, Mr. Mercedes.
about a week


058) Your Duck Is My Duck by Deborah Eisenberg, finished July 29

This is the second short-story collection this summer I've picked up on a New Yorker recommendation, intending to read but part, but then devouring the entire thing quickly thanks to circumstances providing much time to read and not much time to do much else. And, like the first, this collection was provocative and excellent.

Provocative particularly in the quality and daringness of the writing itself. I didn't care for all the stories equally in either collection, but the writing never stopped impressing me with its variability and pushy brilliance.

I mean---I've already written a golden shovel based on a line from the title story in this collection.

The following is a list of things I learned from Your Duck Is My Duck as I read it.
1. Writing about other's art is an opportunity to inject a work of fiction with something completely different, even absurd.

2. A short story can be made of moments far, far apart. Childhood, early adulthood, middle adulthood. Connected any way you want.

3. Deliberate symbolic/metaphorical titles with no pat explanations.

4. Audiences can understand cause and effect even if they lie not in a straight line and the in-between points are left out.
Terrific use of language. And some of the stories are pretty terrific too.
three days


059) The Cat Behind the Hat: The Art of Dr. Seuss, finished August 4

My biggest complaint about the biography of Dr. Seuss I recently read was it's lack of included art. It talked about what he had done throughout his career but include almost no examples. A book like this helpfully fills that gap.

I had anticipated this being exclusively his fine art, but in fact it runs the gamut which is great---I was losing hope of seeing any Seuss Navy stuff.

The text is brief but helpful. The highlights are two essays by the artist himself (both about art for children).

First, I have no doubt that Dr. Seuss was a great artist. I'm not certain he's a great painter. A lot of it seems simply hobbyist. Other works seems to have more promise. I guess I need to see a bunch of it live to make a decision. No question, however, about his draftsmanship and his voice. He was individual and masterly.
threeish days


060) Please, Please Call Me to the Bishopric by Jett Atwood, finished August 6

Jett's been publishing her cartoons in Sunstone long enough now to be THE visual voice of the magazine. Which is essentially what Stephen Carter says in his intro (first appeared here).

I see Jett's work as kinder than Bagley's or Grondahl's, but she's certainly working the same vein of humor.

two days (possibly not sequential)


061) How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr, finished August 8

This is yet another book I put on hold because of something The New Yorker said about it. By the time it arrived, I had forgotten what that was and when I saw the book's heft (over 500 pages!) I chuckled and said, I'm not reading that.

But I did read the intro which intrigued mightily. I thought then I would skim the last half of the book for fun facts and that would be that. But somehow (I blame good writing) instead I turned to the next page and was instantly fascinated. And so on to the next page. And the next. For hundreds of pages.

This is a history of the Greater United States and you should definitely read it. It answered questions I had (just what, exactly, has the US's relationship been, historically, with the Philippines), provided information on stuff I never thought to wonder about (why Alaska and Hawai'i became states when they did), context I never speculated on (how those statehood's impacted the Civil Rights Movement), new context for historical bits I thought I new a lot about (such as guano islands and English as lingua franca), significant historical details I had never heard of (Puerto Rico's frequently violent battles against their half-baked status), and more more more. Mindexpanding information on every page. I'm so much smarter having read this book and you should come over to be regaled now while I still remember so much.

The book also helped me better understand our current history. Names like Obama and Trump and McCain and bin Laden make more sense (or even appear inevitable) once this Greater history is laid out. Many of today's political crises are better understood when places in this larger context.

I've never felt so provincial as having my ignorance of American history laid out like this.

But this fruit is delicious.

I hope it makes me wiser than I have been.

(One small complaint. The title, though an excellent and marketable title, isn't quite the right title. The one time I was angry at the book was when a chapter ended, "And that's how you hide an empire." when, in fact, a more makesensible sentence would have been "And that's what it looks like when you hide an empire." The last bit of the book matches better when the title, but that's my complaint. As I said, it's a small one.)
perhaps two weeks



Feature Films: July2019


Toy Story 3 (2010)

As you know, I just saw this, but I enjoyed it even more than when I watched it a couple days ago. The whole third act moved me even more, and so did the epilogue---which somehow still does not feel long even though it rather is.

It was also interesting this time to really note how much the film uses the language of horror and suspense. For small children, it doesn't seem to quite tie into that as their less familiar with the tropes, but it works for me, even as it's punctuated with humor.

The baby loves the movie. She's been talking about cowboy since our last viewing, and the worried about him losing his hat and about Big Baby getting his bottle. She is invested, just not quite in the same things I might be.

Also---was the movie my introduction to Kristen Schaal? Regardless, great voice casting all around.

Yesterday (2019)

The film gave me all the pleasures I had hoped for from it, but it ended up being about something quite different than I anticipated. Something much more.

And that's why John was the right choice. He, of all the Beatles, most represents art. And when your choice comes between art and fame versus love and home, well, what does it even mean to have it all? What does it even mean to succeed.

The movie offers a surprisingly nuanced exploration of these questions.

It's nice, not being told what to think.

(Although I would like to know whether or not Pet Sounds exists in this universe.)

The Tree of Life (2011)

If I'm ever featured in a Room 237-like movie, I hope it's this one I've given my life to. I'm not as stunned as on first viewing, but I'm at least as impressed. I want more.

Unfortunately, I have a rental-store copy and so it has no special features. Meanwhile, the Criterion Edition has not only that but a completely second movie made from the same footage! (Thus, if you have me for Secret Santa....)

The film can clearly be considered in many ways and I will push back against anyone who proposes a "correct" interpretation, but the film presents itself as biblical and that is a fruitful place to start.

For instance (but, again, not limited to), there are no grandparents*. So the parents are either God the Father and God the Mother or they are Adam and Eve. If they are Adam and Eve, you can read the three sons and Cain, Abel, and Seth. If they are God, then the sons could be Adam, Jesus, and us. And as the mother says she gives her son, only for us to see a field of sunflowers, we are all her son.

Knowing the Tree of Life is an ancient symbol of God the Mother and seeing how the film ends with a clear focus on the Mother, makes the film easy to read as a meditation on the divine feminine, even though the relationship of primary focus through the film is father/son.

The Mother offers us our choice: the way of nature or the way of grace. And Jesus has long been conflated with Mother.

The story is one of adolescence, but what is adolescence but our Fall from innocence?

And what it modern science but a chance for us to deepen our mythology?

I have so many questions. Some I don't think are important (eg, is Sean Penn dead). Some I've a great desire to know.

I can't wait to watch it again.

The Tree of Life (2011)

Sean Penn is a visionary man. Who knew?

I don't know what to do with the dogs.

I'm not sure about the translucent cloth---that seems to be doing more than one thing.

And all the water.

Lady Steed noticed that the film shows the preexistence as children prepare to be born.

The first time I watched this, I felt the only thing I could do right in life would be to dedicate myself entirely to parenting perfectly.

The more I watch it, the more I realize that is impossible. (Which does not mean we should not try.)

As I watch it, I realize that it's not just similar to 2001---it's directly responding to it. It's its spiritual counterpoint. I first made the connection with the quotation of the eclipse, but the references are more legion than that. We have the rings of Saturn. We have, in the creation of the Earth, newer versions of the techniques Kubrick used to make the final journey. (Incidentally, I saw some pre-2001 experimental films at Bampfa that helped me see where he was coming from with those hyperspace scenes.) But all together, it's a more wholesome, spiritual, beautiful, hopeful, forgiving vision.

And what's with the attic? That's straight-up Lynchian.

Let's do it again!

Toy Story 4 (2019)


It's didn't blow away the previous films which each blew away the previous (even though they started from excellent), but it was a daring move and a fitting end and full of laughs and tears of all sorts.

The most striking difference between 4 and the previous films however was aesthetic---the camera has been let loose!

When Pixar started, they had strong static-camera rules---the camera was not allowed to do anything a real camera in real space could not do. We live in a world now however where such a statement is meaningless. And so Pixar set their cameras free, and boy did they use it well. The camera was always moving and moving with style and sense. Unobtrusive yet always assisting the story. Great, great camera work.

And back to the ending, I'm startled by the boldness of the choice. I'm happy it went where it did but also saddened. But not ... that much. It is, in short, a variation on the theme already established.

Ultimately, it is an excellent sequel. Old friends are themselves but not overplayed as fanservice, and new characters are both fresh and vital. What more could you ask?

(That said, I'm pleased with Pete Docter's announcement: no more sequels.)

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

There are so many (so many) Marvel movies now that you shouldn't see it as an insult when I say this film doesn't crack the top tier. It's a good movie.

But what really makes it a cut-above is the first post-credits sequence. (Spoilers to follow.)

First, it's great to see J.K. Simmons back, but it's even greater to see him as an Alex Jones-type character. Marvel is taking on fake news, deep fakes, conspiracy theories, etc. It's a big bucket to open and I'm interested to see how they keep control of all these worms, but it's a bold move, a NOW! move, and a move that fees important---maybe even necessary---maybe even significant. We'll see.

Also, MJ's even greater than she was.

This is totally a movie for teenagers, but we've all been teenagers. It doesn't hurt to look backwards every now and then.

Even if this look backwards fails to obscure our terrifying present.

(Note: the final credits reveal a. explained some weird behaviors previously in the film and b. sure seemed like a reference to Valerian. But that would be crazy, right?)

My Neighbors The Yamadas (1999)

Picked this one up on a Twitter recommendation and I don't know what I expected, but a series of vignettes---some so short they were the animated equivalent of a gag cartoon---was not it.

I am not complaining.

Trivia: the film was the first Ghibli film to be done fully digital---I guess to get the watercolor effect just right the same director would later apply to Princess Kaguya fourteen years later.

A father and mother and two kids and a grandmother live together and experience life together in pieces.

At Comic-Con last week, Chris Ware said that the order one reads a story in isn't really the most important thing. What matters is how it is compiled into memory later, by the reader's brain. Like life.

I suspect that if I watched this movie several times, to move it into longterm memory, it would feel, in memory, entirely coherent and not at all pastichey. That's my suspician.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

I theorized the first time I wrote about this movie that the complaints I have might be first-watching complaints only. I was right.

The first film (which I have not rewatched) was good---intelligent, hilarious, bold, provocative, daring, successful. It was also a film filled with cliches. And I'm not anticliche---they exist because we love them---and that film used them well, but it also opened the film up to a lot of fair criticism.

One of the things that makes this sequel so excellent is that its true to the first film but also addresses those criticisms thoughtfully and uses them to expand the franchise's heart and soul and intellectual and moral heft.

Maybe the clearest piece of evidence is the rewriting of the first film's theme song:
Everything's not awesome
Things can't be awesome all of the time
It's an unrealistic expectation
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try
To make everything awesome
In a less idealistic kind of way
We should maybe aim for not bad
'Cause not bad right now would be real great
(It works better in the film.)

I hope the awards don't snub this #2 while they're throwing love at a #4.

I, Tonya (2017)

Around the time the movie came out a read a now interview with Tonya Harding (I think this one) and I was forced to confront the truth that I was one of the millions who never really thought to treat her fairly.

We'll never know with perfect accuracy what happened, but it's nice to get a story like this told. And this movie is told with style (similar to what Adam McKay's recent films have done). I think I would find it funnier on a second viewing but aspects of it are so hard to watch that I'm not sure I ever will.

Largely I think the film treats everyone fairly, but her father is used primarily used to a) laugh at nonelite culture then b) disappear so sad. It's the least fair part of the movie.

I think it will stick with me. If I do come back to it, that will be why.

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

The very last thing on the screen is the title. And I realized: that's appropriate: that's what the film was supposed to do: bother us: (sorry).

I agree with my first viewing in that the film is too long. I still think it might be the most painfully accurate look at race in America and I love how daring it is, though it didn't fit as well together for me time. But ultimately it doesn't matter. What matters will be how the pieces fit into the mind long after the viewing has ended.

I hope it rolls around a lot of heads going forward. We need a world where Sorry to Bother You has been influential.


Previous films watched

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








Adam and Even and Mark Twain and Dr. Seuss and people I know and people and don't and movies and music and drawings and more


052) The Diary of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, finished July 1

This is not a proper "novel." The proper description would be a collection of sketches which Twain never quite spent enough time with. Not because the sketches are bad but because it never became clear what the overarching goal would be. A shame, really.

The bits were first published in 1906 (3), 1923 (3), and, incredibly, 1962 (2). This collection bringing them all together dates to 2002. And it's a good collection. The bits have marvelous moments and the leads are likeable characters. Eve, in particular, is lovely. And the death of Abel is a rough read. So yes it's light and charming and a showcase for innocence, but the darker old Twain is lurking.




053) Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler, finished July 2

It's a novel by a friend and one highly acclaimed by other friends with good taste. Plus, said writer friend sent me a gratis copy before the book was released over two years ago so ... it was about time.

I'm glad to say it holds up to the praise. It's what the promotional copy calls "flintlock fantasy," set in a 19th-century America filled with magic and divided in ways that could have been historical---a French nation based in New Orleans, for instance. But also not, such as a nation of beastmen led by the Heron King. The world is rich and full and sometimes it can be hard to remember what is factual and what comes from old tradition and what is new. By the end of the book, you may have forgotten that Ben Franklin did not, in fact, invent the tarot.

Sarah is a smart Appalachee kid making her way in the world when that world explodes into pieces---nothing is quite as it was, including her own self. I don't like giving much away in these posts, but if you like richly imagined worlds and characters who develop as the pages past, Dave Butler's America is a good place to visit. Volume two is already at my bedside. (Volume 3 [and final] now available for preorder.)
a hair over three months


054) The Tree of Life by Terence Malick, finished July 9

I found and started reading this right after watching its film (which I've watched again midread) and it's a wonderfully strange read. Not a script you're selling for someone else to direct. A script you sell to producers who already believe in you.

It's quite different from the finished film and I'm hesitant to apply anything not in the finished artwork, but it was gratifying to see one of my primary theories explicitly stated on the antepenultimate page:
Now he sees that it was she [the main character's mother] -- his mysterious guide, the guardian of his heart, the source of his moral being. She is the mother of all creation. All flows out of her; she is the gateway, the door. She smiles through all things.

Through her the eternal sought him. From out of her mouth it spoke. Through her life and actions she brought them near it.
Two more quotations from that page:
This is God's world, and not an infinite plain of chaos and sorrow after all.
And in the Mother's own off-screen voice:
Know that I am.
I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader.
three days


055) Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones, finished July 10

I picked this up off the library's NEW shelf intending to read a few bits here and there and get a sense for the book. Then I accidentally read a couple hundred pages and assumed I would read a bit more then pen an Unfinished Books post about it. Then I just finished it.* Out of order, but the whole thing.

Which is not to say it was over licketysplit. It's over 400 pages (ignoring notes and the like) and thus it took hours and hours of reading. But it was time well spent and didn't feel like workish long hours at all.

I do have complaints. Jones occasionally reaches outside his sources to talk about feelings or gestures which do not appear to be supported by the (voluminous) footnotes. He feels a need to both justify and claim that justification is impossible when talking about things such as his subject's use of racist caricatures early in his career. (Which was in the news only recently, as you may recall.) (If you are of the Dr.-Seuss-is-racist camp, I encourage you do consider his growth as a person and if you are willing and eager to condemn everyone who grew beyond their milieu back to their milieu. Few writers opened more people to better thoughts during the 20th century. Obviously he had to start with himself. If you reject him, make sure you do it thoughtfully and not just because it's cool to cancel.) The book is clearly well researched but it's also clearly aimed at a popular audience. I suspect that other one-volume Seuss biographies might be more rigorous.

I also wish that some things were explained better. The last half of the book treats this stuffed dog as a long-established fact. But looking for it as I then read the first half, it's not. I still don't know if it's a toy dog or a taxidermied dog or what. The first it arrives, it's already beloved and already been around.

This sort of underexplaining-what-Theric-wants-answered thing is common of course in nonfiction, but some of the oversights seem serious. For instance, it talks about how sometimes Ted Geisel would get frustrated with one of the other authors working with Beginning Books and rewrite the book himself, them publishing it under the Theo. LeSieg pseudonym. WHAT??? How did THAT work?? Writers were okay with this? Was that how all Theo. LeSieg books came about? I have so many questions here, and they are lightly brushed over with grossly insufficient explanations.

My greatest complaint, however, is the lack of visual support for the text. Over four-hundred pages of biography and only eight glossy pages of images? And three of these limited images are of him sitting in his La Jolla studio. What a waste. Even if they didn't want the added expense of glossy pages, they could at least have included black-and-whites of his work directly in the text. It's an upsetting and egregious oversight.

(As an aside, I was struck by how parallel his life was with Charles Schulz's. Interesting how their paths never really seemed to cross. the most notable difference in 2019, however, is that the good Dr.'s second wife-cum-widow didn't use some of the their money to found a museum / research institute. I suspect he didn't leave anything close to Peanuts money, but that will have a long term effect on their respective legacies.)
four or five days


056) Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel edited by Richard H. Minear, finished July 26

This is not a full collection of his PM cartoons, but it seems like enough to give a full sense of Dr. Seuss's politics and attitudes.

The only disappointing one is how he fought with great clarity for social and economic equality for Americans of all races and nationalities ... except those with Japanese ancestry. It's clear from his later work that he worked hard to correct that blindspot, but without the aid of serious university research, that path is not completely clear, nor is his final position on the racism/antiracism scale. It seems likely to me that he left that bias entirely behind, but most of what's been published is just some of what exists and expects you to take their word for it. This seemed the fairest take (admission: I just skimmed the essays) but I would still like the full evidence to examine for myself. I'm especially curious if the LIFE photoessay still exists somewhere not in its published form (which he felt didn't give the Japanese people their full due) but as he originally composed it.

Anyway. He was a pretty good editorial cartoonist. And a few of them still seem fitting today. Gun legislation, anyone?

one day



Mexican food in San Diego


The only thing I really knew about "Mexican food in San Diego" is that they are the inventors of the California burrito which is a burrito with french fries on it. I had one of these at a burrito place in Millbrae and was not impressed. And so I was not that interested in San Diego's Mexican-food scene.

But then: it is close to Mexico. And we are in San Diego....

And so we have eaten and we have been impressed.

La Fachada
We got the carnitas burrito (we always get this at new places for purposes of comparison) and carnitas tacos. Which is to say we purchased a lot of carnitas with a bit of tortilla holding it all together.

I can't believe these things were so cheap, beacause they really were mostly meat. The five tacos were just a ton of carnitas with a bit of cilantro and onion. The burrito was just meat with a bit of pico de gallo and guacamole in place of beans.

We ordered and sat outside and it took us awhile to understand the place. There was an open barbequeish grill in the back. That had a pot of beans and foil with grilled (grilling) onions and peppers. All this was freely available to supplement one's purchased food. As much beans as you want. I thought they were a bit plain but Lady Steed liked them a lot.
We got a breakfast burrito (eggs and potatoes---which were french fries) and a super burrito.

To the breakfast burrito I added beans and "Mexican salsa" which is basically pico de gallo. It was a good burrito. Big. And, by Bay Area standards, tell me if you see a trend here, hella cheap.

Lynsey had them, instead of all the meats, just put carnitas on her super, but I guess in San Diego when they say super, they meeaan suuuper. This thing must've been two feet long. It was constructed of two enormous tortillas (props to the burrito maestro who pulled this off) and full of all the foods.

Incidentally, you can get half a pint of guac here for five dollars. That is not restaurant prices! Do all the world's avocados originate in San Diego and we only get what they decide not to pick up off the ground???
The most important detail here however is that both were excellent. La Fachada was superior but both were quality, quality institutions.

San Diego is about more than french fries in your burrito. But they do have those french fries ready for you any time you want. (Both places, incidentally, did have the California on their burrito menu: carne asada and french fries. And why not? This is San Diego.


Books forty-five to fifty-one
Nothing else is getting done


045) Eric by Terry Pratchett, finished May 31

Let's start by admitting that the Rincewind books are my least favorite Discworld books (though thanks to this one for clearing up the pronunciation of his name---it's like what blows from the west, not a toy duck, and the first vowel matches the second).

This one (which reads FAUST ERIC atop each page) is based on Faust (tada!) and it's primary satirical targets (outside whatever Rincewind is ever normally satirical of) are teenage hackers and corporate culture, each of which reeks of the 90s. In other words, I suspect most will agree: Eric has not aged as well as Discworld books as a whole are apt to do.

(I am interested that Eric was apparently as popular a name in Britain as it was in America for that generation of hackers, er, teens.)

A friend of mine who reads Terry Pratchett novels over and over again and thinks they are all pretty much excellent, even if he does have favorites, dismisses Eric as subpar. I tend to agree.

I wonder if this is because he has a cowriter (not listed on the cover or the title page, but on the page of other-books-by, Josh Kirby is mentioned---perhaps it is a reference to this version only).
at most twenty days


046) The Library Book by Susan Orlean, finished June 7

This is my first Susan Orlean book, although I'm pretty sure I've read her work in The New Yorker. I picked it up off the new shelf at my local library simply because the cover was eyecatching and tactilily inviting.

I opened it up and read a tad and, somehow, took it home. A few days later I read the first chapter and I was hooked.

The locus of the book is a fire at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Library in the mid80s. It explores that day, the leadup, the results, the favored culprit---but she also spins off in many other directions, back to the beginning of libraries and into the future. Along the way we meet many fascinating librarians, and one is left with utter confidence in the vital importance of libraries.

We Must Have Libraries.

It's the sort of book that made me want to start/improve endless Wikipedia articles but alas---someone else had placed it on hold and the book needed to return home.
perhaps two weeks


047) Sing to It by Amy Hempel, finished June 8

I'd never heard of Amy Hempel before which, I suppose, tells us something about what I pay attention to. But, having read this review, I wanted to learn more. So I went to the library and brought this book to high-school graduation. Between waiting to start, suffering through, and walking/training home (plus twenty minutes of Little League party-avoidance), I got this entire book read today. It's not that long.

Not only is the book not long, neither are the stories (you can read the entire first story in that review linked above). Most of them are no more than three pages. The final story is much, much longer (and the weakest of the bunch), but over all, this is the perfect book to carry about during a day of errands.

I don't know that I "love" this book, but I certainly admire it. She writes the perfect short of bizarre gems that I used to aspire too---and she makes me want to read them again.
one day


048) The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood, finished June 17

This slim volume is comparable to the Everyman Library's Pocket Classics, although the poem's are wholly contemporary---no Shakespeare or Plath will be found in these pages.

And, frankly, that's a loss. This exact collection with some ballast (or, if you prefer, leavening) from the past, would make it stronger and more engaging. The collection has some wonderful entries, but no collection wins on every point. Adding some works from those who have survived centuries, or even just decades, of consideration naturally increases the hit rate.

I'm not complaining. I'll probably pick up another sometime.
two days


049) Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy, finished June 28

This volume came out the same year as The LEGO Batman Movie---which means they were both being worked on simultaneously. And I doubt there was much sharing of info. And yet they both begin the same way. With Joker describing his relationship almost romantically and Batman denying it. Now, the stories go in very (very) different directions from that point, but the connection is striking.

Anyway, the story does interesting things. Joker gets on his meds and works to save Gotham from the chaos of both villains and Batman. It's pretty good. But what I like most is how loose it plays with the mythos. Jason Todd was the first Robin, Dick second; there are two Harleys, Thomas Wayne knew Mr Freeze---why not? I wish the DC movies trusted their audiences this much.
one day


050) The Great Pie Robbery and Other Mysteries by Richard Scarry, finished July 1

(Hey. It qualifies.)

I put most of the library's Richard Scarry Books on hold because I've developed an interest in the evolution of his illustrative style.

But one of the great delights is rediscovering how witty Richard Scarry became. This collection consists of three mysteries originally published separately: The Great Pie Robbery (1969), The Supermarket Mystery (1969), and The Great Steamboat Mystery (1975). Sam Cat and Dudley Pig are our intrepid gumshoes and they're serious and silly in equal measure. And perhaps my favorite aspect of these books is how Scarry gives each character a rich character, usually without drawing attention. Yes, he points out how badly Dudley drives, but not nearly as much as he could. And Sam's relationship with a broom in the first story goes utterly unremarked upon even though it is key to much of what happens in the story. They're like the great silent clowns, but the images, being sequential rather than continuous, leave much of the humor to careful readers only. Or rather, in the case of target audience, repeat readers.
one sitting


051) "O" Is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton, finished July 1

I think because of a line in Deathtrap, I thought a bit about the construction of this book as I was reading it, trying to see how it was pieced together. But I admit that even trying to start from the end I now know and work backwards, "O" is a complex maze.

I do like how we're working our way backward through Kinsey's past as the books continue and it makes me all the more sad, knowing we'll never get "Z" Is for Zero. I'm sure she had something in mind.

about two weeks



Feature Film: June2019


The Big Store (1942) & Room Service (1938)

I didn't fully consume either of these. Saturday morning at the Thteed household and the Marx Bros. are playing in two different rooms. I caught the first third of Big Store and the middle half of Room Service. Although both have solid moments, they are not good movies.

I suppose when your brother has gambling debts and that's the only reason you're making movies where you have very little creative control, what's the motivation to continue reinventing comedy? Imagine if someone had been willing to pay for their Dali collaboration! But instead, these. Their peak was Duck Soup. By Night at the Races the downhill is notable if not precipitous. We're now at full speed.

It's also easy to see how the studio uses the films to promote pretty voices and faces. In Big Store you see a marquee in the background promoting a movie starring J. Garland and M. Rooney. In Room Service you have Garland and Rooney lookalikes in the romantic leads.

The most impressive things about these movies is that that Marxian genius does yet find ways to shine through. And those moments make even those films worth an occasional revisit.

Besides. They cure cancer.

The Godfather: Part II (1974)

I really liked this movie. Maybe more than Part I. Although it's hard to tell. We split it over three sittings (maybe five days?) and I'm not sure it all stayed centered in my head. It's a lot to hold onto. I feel a great need to watch it again but, in all honesty, that second viewing is likely years off.

I don't think the orchestrated multiple deaths worked as well as in Part I, but that has to be one of the greatest scenes of all time.

It really is a wonderfully constructed film. Just, you know, freaking enormous.

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

The mid-WWII frisson of seriousness and comedy with Nazis is always curious from our standpoint now. Like The Great Dictator or Duck Soup, this film doesn't shy away from shades of horror, although it never loses sight of its identity as a comedy.

I didn't quite love it as much as I anticipated, but that could be a first-viewing thing. That's not unusual with movies that are older and don't quite match my expectations (I wonder if the Mel Brooks version would fare differently), but I did enjoy it more and more as it went along. It's nice to imagine normal screwball hijinks working against the crush of history, isn't it?

If only, if only.

Spirited Away (2001)

I wasn't enthused to watch this simply because I have seen it SO MANY TIMES.

But I can't regret watching it again.

The train scene alone is worth any length of movie.

Deathtrap (1982)

I'd seen that poster image a time or seven, but I never gave this film a penny's thought until the 80s All Over guys gave it a ringing endorsement. Even then, I didn't have immediate plans to see it until I bumped into the dvd for a dollar at Goodwill.

Well, well, well!

And now I've seen it! And wow but is it a great ride. I genuinely had NO IDEA what would happen next. I don't want to get into the surprises or why they work or how they connect to other films BECAUSE I DO NOT WANT TO RUIN IT FOR YOU, but, hoo, do I want to. (I also wonder how the meta elements worked in the original stageplay.)

It's such a new experience to be thrown off guard and then to never again know what will happen next.

The film's rated R, but I honestly think it could be given a PG today. Which is kind of the opposite of what I often say about older films and ratings.

The cast is great (Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, and, new to me and my favorite, Dyan Cannon). I'll even forgive using a psychic because, as Siskel pointed out, its old-fashioned theatricality.

Check it out!

Designing Woman (1957)

This romcom is So Great. It did some amazing stuff with the camera---I love seeing the camera being part of the joke---like in Arrested Development or Edgar Wright.

And it starts off like a protomockumentary and continues with some of the best use of voiceover I can think of. And the casting is great. The punchy former fighter is one of the finest dopes I've ever seen and Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck look like fortysomethings in love (and surprisingly sexy considering---or perhaps, in part, because of---their fullyclothedness). Refreshing today, don't know how people felt then.

Anyway. It holds up. That's all I'm saying.

Man meets woman in LA, they whirlwind, marry, go back to New York where they're both from, they begin to get to know each other. Wind up and let it roll. Includes cameos from actors I know from The Dick Van Dyke Show, Green Acres, and Get Smart. What's not to like?

Louise en hiver (2016)

Here's the gist:

Elderly French woman, vacationing at a beachtown in Normandy, misses the last train back to civilization and is forced to live alone through the next July.

It's a very adult movie. By which I mean it's sole character is an old woman, grappling with aging, exploring her memories. It's a quiet film. Until near the end, all the vocals are in her mind, nothing is aloud.

It's quiet and thoughtful. And the watercolor backgrounds are marvelous.

Men in Black (1997)

It holds up pretty well! I liked it, Lady Steed liked it, the kids liked it. Most interesting to me, though, at this point, was how much it predicts the future. It's based on a comic book, and it has the wit and genuineness that picks up with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films and then finds full measure in the Marvel movies. Plus it has style and strong effects (and even themes) that will get even more striking and serious two years later when The Matrix comes out.

I hear little good out of the new film, but this film breeds good will. (Which is why I watched the previous lackluster sequels.)

Toy Story (1995)

File under Hold up, Movies that.

I do think that millennials have the best luck here---they were old enough to still remember first viewing and young enough to not only be able to appreciate it as a good movie now, but to have the full brunt of childhood nostalgia attached. I imagine being the age of Andy would be ideal.

Me, I was spending my first weekend in the MTC when Toy Story came out and I was a bit, as the kids say today, salty about it. (And another movie, but I no longer remember what that other movie was....)

It's still funny and it's still moving---and they only get more moving from here. (Excepting, I have to believe, the new one. But I haven't seen it yet and I didn't think 3 could outemote 2, so I've been wrong before.)

Toy Story 2 (2009)

I'm not sure I've ever really noticed this before, but Toy Story 2 directly references the first movie a lot. A LOT. Like, the amount a no-creativity sequel that's just the same movie in different locations might. The reason I never noticed, of course, is because Toy Story 2 is NOT a no-creativity sequel; it's one of the great sequels that prove sequels are worth having around. And so sequences like Running Under Items or Chasing Trucks at the Climax stand as their own highlights and not just as borrowed light.

Sure is a good movie, isn't it?

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

I remember this film well enough I suspect I've seen it multiple times although I have no actual memory of watching it even once. Just having had watched it. I remember liking it. And I liked it tonight as well.

Somehow the movie has been popping into my head off and on for months now so when the library had the dvd out on display, I checked it out. Then, watching two Toy Story movies in a row, I just needed some Tom Hanks and what would be easy to grab but the library's Sleepless in Seattle dvd? What luck!

It's a pretty great cast---I didn't remember Bill Pullman and Rob Reiner and David Hyde Pierce were in it. I like all three of them. I'm glad that Bill Pullman's character wasn't turned into schmuck, cuckold, nor villain. I wish Rob Reiner was in more movies. I suppose being Nora Ephron helps....

I am embarrassed twenty-five years have passed and I still have not watched An Affair to Remember, The Dirty Dozen, or Fatal Attraction, though.

UPDATE: Thinking about Sleepless the next day I realized the characters never kiss and maybe never even share the screen until the final scene. That's remarkable. But the way they look at each other is so great it doesn't even matter. Bold move, Nora.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

I am so mad at this movie. I'm the kind of mad I only get at movies I expected to be really good and just aren't. And because of that I can't tell if the movie was just sort of mediocre or if it was genuinely bad. My tone may suggest the latter, but recognize that may be more anger than reality.

The things that upsets me most is how the female lead is written. She is supposed to be the empowered master of game theory, but after that detail is pointed out her first win is because of a lucky coincidence and then she's immediately crushed and the only time her game-theory chops might be coming into play, the movie wants it both ways because then she's utterly surprised by Proposal #2*. So which is it? Is she a genius at people? a manipulating bitch? or a lovely little do-gooder whose guileless self-sacrifice leads to her reward? She can't be all these things but the movie can't make up its mind.

Which is emblematic of pretty much all my issues with the movie. And it's upsetting because I love a good romcom and the world has been depressingly shy of them of late.

* I should mention that the second proposal scene did get me right in the weepies even though it was utterly undeserved. All that reliance on cliche and shortcut managed one payout. Lucky movie.

Awkwafina was put to better use here than in the also upsetting Ocean's 8, but I'm still waiting to discover just how funny she can be. I suspect a lot, but we don't know yet---not from these two data points, anyway.

Also in acting, the female lead couldn't deliver all her lines naturally (an illness she shared with some of the minor characters), Michelle Yeoh was her normal great self (lucky for the filmmakers since she's barely used at all), and the male lead was good. Some other minor characters were solid as well (for instance the groom, the gay cousin) and some were confusingly presented (one was introduced to us as The Character Who Wears Glasses, then she never wore glasses again).

It's good this movie made money and shows signs of being a cultural milestone. Let's just hope the next cultural milestone is good.

(One last note: it dealt with the issue of internet communication brilliantly.)

Room 237 (2012)

I probably would never have seen this move, though intriguing, had I not been pressured multiple times by a friend. Because I did not like The Shining. I still don't like it and a lot of the stuff in this film is nonsense, but it points out enough curiosities which must be intentional to make me at least consider rewatching The Shining (something I was unwilling to do as recently as last month).

In the end, I'm not sure any of it "means" anything in terms of authorial intentionality. But I am willing to accept that Kubrick intentionally created a space where others could create meaning. And that this space could be more Kafka than Joyce.

It was a fun watch, regardless. And I would like to run down some of the films quoted herein, like Murnau's Faust and whatever that film in the theater.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

It's still great. I'll never be able to see it again for the first time, but it had been long enough that it held a couple surprises.

Perhaps viewing conditions were not ideal (they were not) but this affected me less than I anticipated. I have a high-schooler now. But maybe I don't yet believe in college. Or maybe it's because he wasn't home watching it with it. Maybe it's because I spent the entire movie interacting with someone younger than Bonnie.

Regardless. I'm now prepped to hit theaters for 4.


Previous films watched

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