2022-01-12

Let's start the year off with some old friends

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001) U Is for Undertow by Sue Grafton, finished January 4

First, I've been complaining, the last couple of volumes, that Grafton dropped the estranged-family plotline. It came back in U and, although it didn't take up that many pages, they were effective pages, effectively changing all the rules and making the last paragraph something of a tearjerker.

I've also "complained" a bit about the change in use of p-o-v—in the early novels, Kinsey is the author of the text. The novel is her first person narration. Lately, she's adopted the thriller convention of alternating p-o-vs with the villain. These parts tend to be in third person. With this book, she's expanded to additional p-o-vs as well. It's a fine form, but honestly, I miss all-Kinsey-all-the-time. I had been looking forward to reading X, a serial killer novel in which we can't be sure who the killer is or what they're up to throughout because we know only what Kinsey knows, but it looks like I won't get that wish.

Anyway, although I miss the old form, this is another solid entry in the series. It reminds me of Q in that it's based on a (not real this time) cold case. The reliability of her sources waxes and wanes but, because of the alternating chapters, we always know when she's on the right track. Dramatic irony's great, but I miss being on the journey with Kinsey, rather than just watching her journey. (Have I said this already?)

She does make one of the alternating-pov thriller writers a villain this time, so project that as you will.

This is the most metaphorical of the titles thus far, which is also an interesting touch. I like that she's still playing. Even when I miss the casualties of her play.

On to V!

A B C D E F G H I J
K L M N O P Q R S T U
over a week


002) Far Sector by N.K. Jemisin et al, finished January 7

This has been showing up on best-of-2021 lists and its the first such comic to end up in my local library system. So I threw it on hold and now I have read it.

Far Sector also carried the added appear of being by N.K. Jemisin whose recent reign of sf awards has been much remarked upon and I've felt find of bad, not sampling. But this is perfect for sampling! For instance, it has pictures and isn't five hundred pages! Very attractive.

Plus, who doesn't get excited about a new Lantern?

 

The world Jo Mullein has been sent to is far, far away—much further than Lanterns are usually assigned. And she is alone on a strange world.

The world is strange, but it takes time to fully grasp the implications of that strangeness. Every alien world should be strange, but alien worlds also have to be close enough to our experience so we can find out way inside. Different writers find different balances. At first, I thought this one leaned much further to the latter, but as the story continued, I liked the balance better.

It doesn't seem likely to stick with me at all, but what I did like was the impression it left of a great mind at work. It does feel like the mind of a novelist though, trapped in the strange world of comics.

about a week
 

003) Joseph Smith and the Mormons by Noah Van Sciver, finished January 7

I have a great deal to say about this excellent historical novel-in-comics but I don't want to say too much here because I want to consider other venues where I might sing a bit more loudly. We'll see.

In short, it's excellent and I'm not cancelling my preorder to get the hardback.

five days
 

004) The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, finished January 11

I was reading an interview with an editor I'd had a pleasant exchange with (I would link to it, but they actually mention it several places and I haven't found the one I'd seen before. Just look for nff noir sanxay and all the top hits will be relevant) and decided to see if the library had it. They did! And it deserves praise like "Goes up there on the list of classics alongside The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Maltese Falcon, The Long Goodbye, and A Hell Of A Woman." I absolutely loved how much danger and menace and chaos came to this woman, and how her mind failed her (realistically), and all the heroic things she was trying to do for her family, and the development of those relationships, and how they pushed her further into, what in lesser hands would be termed, madness.

Anyway! A neglected American classic!

maybe two weeks
 

005) The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani, finished January 11

I don't know how I ended up on Bookshop's page featuring these books (they're a bit behind in their cataloguing–there are more), but I decided I had to read one. So I picked the one I thought looked most interesting / most connected to my current aesthetic concerns and went to see if my library had it. They did! Then I just searched for "art of"—which brought up a lot of noise but several other volumes from the series, all of which I put on hold (as well as a few other Art of _____ books that were too tempting to ignore). All of them are so intriguing that when I decided I had better start with the one that first attracted me and not look at the others until afterwards, I picked this one up, certain it was the one. That it wasn't the one hardly mattered. I enjoyed reading this very much.

It was much less prescriptive than I'd feared. Much more descriptive in fact, which is great. Books for writers don't all need to be textbooks. I like it when I get to explore a writer's mind through their own explorations—what they have read and what they have discovered. Castellani is a fine host. I didn't love every chapter equally, but he did give me new tools, new ways to think about narration and narrators and why I like the stories I do.

When I've been saying that what I like in a novel is its language and its characters, Castellani argues this is perspective. And I realize he is right.

Speaking of which . . .

under a week


006) Bad Kitty Goes on Vacation by Nick Bruel, finished January 12

I read me a Bad Kitty book every now and then (everyone should) and part of their delight is the way different forms of storytelling interact with each other. In addition to two simultaneous narrators, the books feature a mash of prose and comics and other things, like lists. They are witty and delightful.

I'm not sure when the books moved into color, but I personally don't prefer it. There's nothing wrong with it and I'm sure it'll be commercially great, but I like the black and white.

Also, and it seemed to be connected to the change of setting, my favorite narrator was missing from much of this story (which is about a plan hatched by chickens to create a Hello Kitty / Disneyland thing to turn people against cats and toward chickens; most books in this serious are not quite so . . . high concept). So not a tippetytop Bad Kitty but still fun to read.

I mean—it's not like I'm reading them to someone, I just like reading them!

one day



final posts in this series from

2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013
2014
 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020 = 2021

___related___
UNFINISHED BOOKS
REJECTED BOOKS


the most recent post in the books-read series *

2022-01-01

A Dubious 2022 Plan

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Last year, in frustration, I declared I would only read books I already own. I don't think I did well, but let's check the math, shall we?

Of the 131 books I read last year (this includes books read more than once):

42 were books I owned prior to January 1, 2020

60 were library books

6 were books I picked up for free
     including 3 from an author or publisher
     and 1 as a gift

3 were borrowed from my mom

4 were read online

and 12 I purchased in 2021

Which seems to add up to 127, so I screwed up somewhere. But these numbers are good enough to prove I failed at my goal.

Perhaps even more telling is this information accessible from the library's website right now, the books I have checked out:


I'm not equally serious about reading all of these (not to mention the three books I have out on interlibrary loan or the fifteen books currently on hold). For instance, I really want to read Ishmael Reed—but none of the books at my local library were top of my list. And I'm about a third through the religious book (heard about here); if I owned it, I would eventually finish it, but I don't and I got the gist so it'll probably go back before I'm done.

The thing is, I just really want to read the books we own. So I'm going to try and at least read MORE of my own books than I do library books  in 2022. Should be manageable, right? I mean, I just used giftcards to get these three on Barnes & Noble's 50%-off-hardbacks sale and I'm excited to get past the second page:

Wish my self-control luck!

Derned temptatious libraries.....


2021-12-31

And twenty-twenty-one comes crashing to a close

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Before we get to the final films I watched this year, how about a recap on the year's new films? For a year chock-full of movies I was excited to see (The Green Knight, The French Dispatch, Dune, Licorice Pizza, The Matrix Resurrections, Godzilla Vs. Kong, The Lamb, Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar, A Quiet Place 2), I saw almost none of them—and the ones I did see disappointed. Here's the complete list of 2021 films I saw, from best to worst:

Flora & Ulysses (that's right: the superhero squirrel was the best 2021 movie I saw; what the crap)

Luca (one of the more forgettable Pixar entries)

The Marvel movies (all four were pretty mediocre)

Muppets Haunted Mansion (which was pretty bad)

Raya and the Last Dragon (which was very bad)

Ron's Gone Wrong (which wasn't as bad as Raya but which held a lower opinion of its audience and thus pissed me off)

And then Betty White died today. So there you go.

Anyway, December:

= = = = = = =


ELSEWHERE
library dvd
The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

I didn't know it when I started, but let's start December off with a Christmas movie!

(I mean, barely, but it is. Barely.)

The Jim Cummings name had been popping up here and there and this movie was on some list and it was the only movie of his I could find at the library (none were streaming for free) so I grabbed it. (Plus, it looked like a werewolf-themed sequel to Brigham City, which didn't hurt.)

After that, I heard Cummings on a podcast where I learned fascinating things about his filmmaking process (for instance, instead of storyboarding, he makes a one-man podcast version of the film for the cast—I suspect this might be part of the reason a few of his line readings were . . . really off).

Then I finally saw the movie. And it's pretty good. I wouldn't say I'm amazed or blown away or anything, but overall it was a fun ride with some nodes to more serious fare. So . . . like a Christmas movie.

The photography of the opening credits was cool. Amazing what turning something upsidedown will do!


HOME
library dvd
Speed (1994)

Never seen it. But it keeps coming up, including this best-action-movies list, which I did...alright on (now 24/50).

Anyway, after watching Shang-Chi's bus sequence, I figured it was time.

And it was pretty great! And nobody ever told me how awesomely Nineties the opening credits were!

On the downside, this was the first time I heard Keanu deliver a couple lines that made me get why people say he's a bad actor. He's not, but he did flub a couple here.

But speaking of Keanu, when the closing credits rolled and we saw Keanu played Jack, the 14yrold watching with me said, startled, "Jack was Keanu???" He'd been waiting for Keanu to show up and eventually decided it must be him, but he never did recognize him. Which is wild. I mean—how many times have our kids seen Bill & Ted?

So while sure, a couple moments were simply absurd, it was an excellent piece of escapism. And, bonus points for such a diverse cast on the bus. That's was L.A. looks like! And they managed it in 1994.


HOME
Dailymotion
Bedazzled (1967)

Mostly I know Dudley Moore from 80s comedies that didn't really appeal to me and mostly I know Peter Cook as someone beloved of comics his age and a couple decades younger (and for saying mawwiage in Princess Bride). But I've never really seen any of their work. As contemporaries of Monty Python I thought they might be rather alike, but otherwise I hadn't spent much time guessing.

Bedazzled (as I largely know from hearing about the 2000 remake) is about a down-and-out fellow who sells his soul to the devil for wishes.

The manner in which the wishes are fulfilled it a bit bewildering the first few times. Just cutting to them expects a lot of the viewer We did figure it out eventually, but I'm sure it'll work better on a second viewing.

The jokes are dry, dry, dry. People say British humor is dry; this movie is what they mean. I don't see it getting dryer than this.

Even so, it's not heartless. It has a very hopeful ending, after all. Though the words say humanity sucks, what we see actually suggests maybe we're not so bad after all.


ELSEWHERE
our dvd
It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

Only an hour and two minutes long. Made of three short films become one. Utterly beautiful. Neverendingly bizarre.

I will say, it does get teenagers outside their expectations.

I bet it'll get you outside yours as well.

Let's hope our lives are happy ones. I hope you have a beautiful day.


HOME
YouTube
The History of the Seattle Mariners (2020)

If you are wondering how I was talked into watching an almost four-hour movie about the Seattle Mariners, that is a very good question. And the answer is BW/DR. The Big O and I have been watching it in installments since shortly after I read this review and it's taken that long for us to put the pieces together. It's a long movie!

And it was wildly entertaining. We laughed and laughed, he expressed shock, amazement, delight, and despair.

After finishing it tonight, O said, if the A's move to Vegas, maybe he will adopt the Seattle Mariners as his team.

It's a pretty good choice.

Anyway, it's a movie that is largely about the building of a decades-long graph. It's splattered with images of heroes and goats, snippets of news articles, and other ephemera. It cuts away at times for short clips of actual baseball or Seattle from space. It's plain but active, always moving, and our hosts are as bewildered by the whole thing as we are.

I would watch one of these for any MLB team. But I'm not sure many MLB teams offer quite this useful of a lesson.

I could talk more about why, but someone's already written that review.

Someone's already made that movie.


ELSEWHERE
our dvd
The Matrix (1999)

There was a time where I would never imagine showing this movie to students, no matter how relevant, because they had all seen it.

That time has passed. Practically none of them have seen it now.

Time, you see, has passed.

It was 80% applicable and the break's tomorrow and they voted and The Matrix was an easy first place. And they loved it. Not blown away in the same way since the last twenty years—their entire life of pop culture—is built on a foundation laid by The Matix, but, you know? Kind of blown away all the same.

It was kind of cool to see.


HOME
Disney+
Ron's Gone Wrong (2021)

So this is a delightful, charming, and basically evil movie.

Capitalists are evil, kids. But don't worry: the capitalists will save you.

Technology is isolating kids. But don't worry: technology will bring us together.

This film uses all the tools of film to think we are righting against the man in order to make sure we embrace the man and hail him as our savior. Neat! It tastes like real satire!

So yeah. You and your kids will have a fun time with some great set pieces and a terrific cast. But the movie might linger. And I'm not sure that's worth it.

Would I watch it with my kids again? No. If the love it and want to watch it on their own, will I stop them.

Sigh.

Probably not. (Isn't it time for us to all sit down and watch another Spider-Man movie?)


HOME
library dvd
Die Hard (1988)

A Christmas movie generally takes place at Christmas, more or less. This movie takes place entirely on Christmas Eve (though it probably doesn't end until early Christmas morning). So it wallops, say, It's a Wonderful Life.

But it can't just be about the trappings. Even if it's loaded with violence, you need stories about, I don't know, coming home for the holidays, families reuniting—that sort of thing. Think Home Alone.

And the best Christmas stories have at least hints of Christian allegory. My kids made a deal with me. They could watch Die Hard if they read Luisa's essay thereon. Of course, Luisa only strikes the surface. As Stephen King said, you want to mark someone as a Christ character, give them the initials J.C. So: John Clane. (I know, I know. It's actualy John McClane. But Mc means Son and if you think giving a J.C. the middle name of Son makes him less Jesusy, what bible are you reading?) But hey—make is a family game. Luisa filled in the free squares. Now take it apart looking for bingo.

In short, yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. And it's basically the Silence of the Lambs of action movies. So why are you holding out?

Two last notes:

1) Since last watching Die Hard, I've seen several episodes of Moonlighting. I both get and am mystified the controversy in casting Bruce Willis as an action lead.

2) A lot of the score is Christmas-adjacent. Songs like Pachelbel's Canon are quoted in the score and then you also hear chunks of something like Beethoven. Not actual Christmas songs, but songs that we associate with Christmas because certain beloved classics have been adopted into the holiday.


THEATER
Hitching Post Theaters
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Two and a half hours of fan service.










ELSEWHERE
parents' dvd
Elf (2003)

My parents' tv is not that great by what's-now-on-display-at-Costco standards, but since we watch everything on a ten-year-old projector, it still has a sharpness and clarity we're not used to. We were seeing book titles, and pink trees in the background, and candy types in jars we'd never noticed before. And while watching something like that is always a tad disorienting, it does make me wonder if we should rearrange our home to hold a fancy new television.

(Incidentally—was watching a Price is Right from 1961 yesterday and a fancy new television cost then more than a new car.)


HOME
Disney+
Home Alone (1990)

So, while I'm no expert, I think this might be Chris Columbus's best movie. The only other one I like I haven't seen in aaaaaages:
Anyway. This one is pretty good. No masterpiece. I don't need it part of my yearly tradition. But I can watch it. Even if I miss the middle (as this time), I'll come back for the ending.

For my money, Catherine O'Hara is the heart of the film. But, that said:

It occurred to me, this time, that this is a basic hero's journey with a fascinating twist: Kevin goes on the journey WITHOUT leaving home. Home leaves him, instead. Otherwise, it all checks out. Watch it with that in mind. It works. Kinda neat.

HOME
Disney+
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

So, after my first post-repentence viewing last year, I was ready to watch this movie with fully fair eyes. And here are some takeaways:

1. Rizzo is sometimes annoying rather than funny.

2. The ghosts are appropriately eerie.

3. Michael Caine's performance is amazing. That moment when he realized he is the butt of Fred's joke? Destructive.

Anyway, I liked it. I hope it becomes a tradition.


HOME
library dvd
¡Three Amigos! (1986)

This movie is written by Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, and Randy Newman. This is quite the collection of names!

I never saw this movie. Everyone my age loved it and it was weird to discover how many lines I knew, but this is a first viewing for me. It was strange how it wandered from realism to not-real-at-all. Honestly, although I liked it fine, it does seem like a movie best seen the first time as a child. Although as a child the little-balls and dick jokes would have left me deeply uncomfortable and unable to enjoy the movie.

I finally picked it up after enjoying Only Murders in the Building and wanting to see some classic Martin-on-Martin action. And enjoy it I did.

Does anyone know if this movie's become a classic?


HOME
library dvd
Seven Up! (1964)

I'm not sure when I first heard about this series of films, but, in case, this is your first time, let me give you the skinny.

Twenty English kids from different regions and classes are selected for a documentary when they are seven years old. Inspired by the Jesuit maxim, show me the child at seven and I'll show you the man, the documentarians purport to show what England will be like in the year 2000. It's a fun enough concept, originally just an episode on British tv.

Anyway, seven years later, someone comes up with the idea of revisiting them. And, having done that, they've kept it up every seven years since.

I've been wanting to watch them since I heard about the series, which I'm guessing was either 42 or 49 Up. I've figured, once day, when life is slower, I can take a week or two and watch them all at once. You know. Post-kid, maybe. But the ward's unofficial film group chose 56 Up as one of our movies this year and I really do not want to watch them out of order. So here we go!

The first episode is a fascinating time capsule. And it would have merit even today as a stand alone work. BUT WE KNOW UPDATES ARE COMING. And that makes it so much more fascinating. As these kids navigate the end of the twentieth century and the birth of the twenty-first, how will they navigate changing realities around class and politics? Where are they today? Can we, as the Jesuits suggest, pick out the Boris Johnsons supporters clear back in 1964? Frankly, those are darned exciting questions.


HOME
library dvd
7 Plus Seven (1970)

The most striking change between seven and fourteen, to me, was who wouldn't look at the interviewers anymore. At first, I thought it was the most disadvantaged kids. The most rural of them always looks down. The lower-middle class girl who went to the lower-level school (compared to her friends) rarely looked up and couldn't speak up over her friends. The only kid who reads as not 100% white always seems to be looking over the interviewers' heads. But this theory is thrown off by the girl, who I believe comes from the greatest wealth, being as nose-in-her-lap as the farmer kid. Perhaps it's because her upbringing is also rural? Perhaps its because she thinks it might be shameful to be on the same screen as these lower-class kids? Perhaps because she genuinely is skeptical that anyone cares about this sort of thing? Perhaps her breasts just arrived last week? I have no idea. But she won't look at them either.

It's also curious to me how they speak a more enlightened talk but their walks are no more enlightened. I'm partucularly troubled by the richest three boys—not all of them equally. Well. We'll see where they go next, won't we?


HOME
library dvd
The Holiday (2006)

When this came out, I dismissed it as a Love, Actually knockoff (which wasn't fair as I'm fairly certain I had not yet seen Love, Actually in 2006 and thus could not have known how terrible it is) with stunt casting and ignored it. And largely forgot about it. But then, this year, I discovered it is beloved of many. And that the Kate Winslet / Jack Black relationship in particular is heralded in some corners as particularly real and true and lovely. Sounds like I movie I could get into.

The set-up is pretty simple (two heartbroken women houseswap across the world) but the film doesn't just mirror their experiences. Kate's first relationship, for instance, is with the elderly writer next door. And that relationship is developed better than her relationship with Jack Black.

That relationship, I expect, gets better each viewing, but we're convinced that a number of scenes from the script were cut (the movie's still over two hours long), most of which would make that relationship stronger. (We made a list, as the movie went along, of what seemed to be missing.)

But that said, it's still a decent relationship. And the movie is full of other great details. The two little girls are amazing (so, so good); when Cameron Diaz cries (this is a major spoiler but one you're set up to expect from go) it is fully affecting; and dang if it Eli Wallach isn't absolutely wonderful in a role I did not anticipate from the dvd box.

The movie is reaching for classic screwball and wears its influences proudly but it doesn't quite pull it off. Nice try, crossing wit and sincerity, but nah. (Also, it gets film history wrong on several points. The number of movies in release back when, for instance.)

All those complaints regardless, I can definitely imagine watching this movie again some other week between Christmas and New Year's. Maybe I'll like it more then.

Oh! And this had some of the best Hollywood cameos I've seen since The Player. I wish they'd fit in a few more. There were obvious spots for more!

Oh! One more thing. Crazy to see Kathryn Hahn and John Krasinksi get maybe five minutes of airtime between them in bit roles as Cameron's employees never to return again. 2006, baby!


HOME
our dvd
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

It's New Year's Eeeeeeeeeve!

And time for the Hud.

I love this movie. In my personal movie history, Hudsucker is to comedy what Psycho was to film more generally.

Earlier this hear, I found a limited-run Substack on Hudsucker, which I highly recommend. The one I've thought about the most is the one proposing George Clooney would have made a better Norville. I thought about that a lot this watch. And Clooney would have done a great job, but it would have been a much different—but, I don't think, better—film. Debate as you like.

I'm also grateful that he went frame by frame and wrote down all the potential careers off the career board (the film is so needlessly generous—so many additional frames in this film really ought to be paused and copied down). And I'm grateful for the argument (which I reject) that the pants scene was needless, though it did make me notice a few other arguable flaws in the script.

In the end, it is simply a movie that I love. And that is enough.


HOME
our dvd
Toys (1992)

Great cast. Great music. Master director working from a great script. Incredible sets and stuff. And yet, I cannot imagine a world where this is a huge hit.

Kind of a bummer, no?

Anyway, I know the 90s are famous for great soundtracks, but this may be my favorite. I know it intimately. Such that when a song in the movie is only a few bars, I know where it's headed. Bit distracting, really. And why isn't that spot of opera on the cd?

Anyway, it should probably be a hair shorter, but if anything its questions are even more relevant today. My high-school senior's been getting ads from the military asking him to come play videogames. So, speaking of the future, hello 2022.

(Final aside: seeing this trailer c. 1992 was one of the moments the possibility movies possessed changed for me. It ranks up there with the trailer for Rushmore, I kid you not.)




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