The Movies of 2013*: One-paragraph reviews
*third third only
*feature-length only


Well, I thought we might get out one more time to see one of the great-looking artsy films in theaters this month or watch one of the movies we impulsively picked up at a Blockbuster fire sale but maybe year?

In theaters:

Gravity (2013): Tell you what: space has just lost a lot of its attraction. But my opinion? It's as good as everyone's said. Sandra Bullock will be getting an Oscar nomination. And sitting close to the screen with 3D glasses? Awesome. I jumped and gasped when pieces of the ISS flew past me. And it was not a cheap thrill. It was part of a real and dangerous world. But seriously: I don't really need to go into space anytime soon.

Ender's Game (2013): If you haven't read the book, I say watch the movie first. The novel is so rich and deep. The movie necessarily simplifies, but I think it does a good job. Hard to say though as I know the novel fairly well (not great---I'm not ready for a tv-based Ender's Game Trivia shootout---just fairly well). But I did enjoy the movie and was even moved a couple times and now I really really want someone to attempt to bring Shadow of the Hegemon to the screen (big or---maybe better---small). It'll never happen of course (Peter and Valentine, necessarily, were underdeveloped; no Achilles; your first-movie lead has no role), but it would be cool. The other effect the movie had on me was a deep desire to reread Speaker for the Dead. Of course, you can read any of these books yourself.

The Muppet Movie (1979): I'm not employing hyperbole when I say that this was one of the greatest movie-theater experiences of my life. I've watched this movie a handful of times in my life---most of them in adulthood, most like---but I've listened to the soundtrack HUNDREDS of times. After graduating from high school, for some reason I bought the tape and it was on regular rotation the year before and the year after my mission when I logged endless commute hours driving from Tehachapi to Bakersfield and back. I know these songs as well or better than all other songs in the world. I don't know if I go through a week without singing lines from "Rainbow Connection" or "Movin' Right Along" or "Can You Picture That?" or "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along or "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday" or "The Magic Store." The DNA of this movie has merged with my own DNA and I'm some sort of Muppet hybrid. Anyway, seeing it with an audience of adults who laughed at the Hari Krishna jokes and kids who laughed at Miss Piggy beating up badguys was a joy. I nearly wept for some reason when Big Bird said he was heading to New York City to try to break into public television. Holy smokes, this was great. I need a theater to do a singalong next. I mostly kept myself from singing along today, but not entirely.

Frozen (2013): Given the hype around this movie, I expected more. My bad. Still. Pretty good. Both Lady Steed and I agreed that sometimes the voices didn't seem to be coming out of the mouths on the screen. The songs were more Broadway than Disney and I don't think they'll age well. The character design was off at times. And while I'll give props for playing against some Disney-fairy-tale tropes, they played into others twice as big. So overall a win, but nothing to start an Oscar campaign over.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013): We went 3D on this one in order to get the higher frame-rate projection. The first movie was a headache to watch---the camera moved to quickly to make out anything. Everything was blurred. The higher frame rate solved this problem, though it did introduce the too-real problem. I don't really care how closely the movie followed the book; I liked the movie. Not a great movie like the LotRs tended to be, but perfectly enjoyable. It is getting a bit ridiculous how no dwarf can die though. Just saying.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013): First, it must be said again and again, Jennifer Lawrence is the real thing. A star. And not for today, but I suspect she would prove to be one of the all-time greats. That final look at her face is what Hitchcock said[citation needed] is the greatest special effect: the human face undergoing emotional change. I liked this movie better than the first, which is remarkable when you consider the books started (in my minority opinion) merely okay and got worse. Good writing, pacing, casting. And Jennifer Lawrence.

At home:

His Girl Friday (1940): Although as rapid-fire and funny as I expected, I did not expect how dark it was. With constant undercurrents of crime and war and corruption, it's not a film that can be dismissed as pure fun. (Not that there's anything wrong with pure fun.) I have to admit I wasn't able to fully enjoy it as a movie because I was too busy studying how it---especially its dialogue---was crafted. It's not just speedily delivered---it's complicated and tightly rigged, that dialogue.

Waitress (2007): I didn't like what was done with music and I thought the medical details were a bit sketchy and that old Joe wasn't consistently imagined. Which might sound like a lot, but the film is pretty astonishing all the same. Keri Russell has true star charisma dialed into a small, small space now I really need to see Austenland). The writing was sharp in the way we associate with Diablo Cody or Quentin Tarantino, but it's a bit more honest and believable. I particularly was intrigued by the protagonist's imagining of pies. That's something I can learn from.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960): Sure it has some "flaws," but seriously: is there a more fun movie to watch with your family? I mean really? And frankly, some of those flaws could just as easily be taken as lessons in innovative storytelling. No need to connect the obvious dots, friend.

The Cheat (1915): After recognizing the pirate captain in Swiss Family Robinson, I went to IMBd to look him up. Of course: Bridge over the River Kwai (which I've never seen but have seen enough famous scenes from). But it ends up that Sessue Hayakawa was a major Hollywood star of the silent era. And this is the film that made him famous. Made him a major romantic lead. Before America got all racist against Asians and stuff. But if this is a preracist film, holy moly, I would hate to watch a racist one. (Note: I actually saw the 1918 rerelease version of the film.)

The Amazing Adventure (1936): Apparently the version I watched was the American cut, trimmed twenty minutes from the British original. Which is a shame, because I kept thinking that editing was absolutely amateurish and that a bit more room to develop would have served the characters well. Not that more minutes could fix the generally bad writing or flaky directing, but it wouldn't have hurt either. Anyway, that said, this movie is proof that Cary Grant can carry a film. Even with all its flaws, I rather enjoyed this mess. I would have loved to've seen him in vaudeville.

A Night at the Opera (1935): No chaos like Marx Bros. chaos. By the way, have you ever noticed that Chico in a gypsy costume looks a lot like Fred Armison? Fred Armison needs to do a Chico. Anyway, the crammed-cabin routine gets funnier every time I see it.

The Iron Giant (1999): Little Lord Steed's been bugging to watch this movie for a week. Large S started by saying it would be too scary and wanting none of it to wanting to watch it. Big O recalls liking it. All three spent much of the movie covering their faces or hiding under tables or leaving the room. Clearly, we're not ready for Jurassic Park yet. As for me? Well. No movie makes me sob like The Iron Giant makes me sob.

Elf (2003): A true holiday classic notwithstanding its third-act collapse (and absurd view of picture-book publishing), Elf may be the most important movie I've seen in the last ten years by virtue of introducing me to Zooey Deschanel's voice.

When Harry Met Sally... (1989): I see why everyone loves this movie so much. And like Casablanca that it references, it's so loaded with lines I just know, even though I've never seen this movie before. The interstitial interviews were more daring than they seem and worked quite well. Overall, so nice to see a good romcom. It's been a while.

The Indian in the Cupboard (1995): Wow. Intrusive score, poor acting, weak script. Not sad I missed this last time around. The kids really wanted to watch it though (don't ask me how they found out about it) so I complied. Alas, alas. Not Frank Oz's finest work. Some classid 90s hair on display though. So that's fun.

Sleepwalk with Me (2012): I've been wanting to see this movie since I heard some thing with Mike Brubiglia and Ira Glass on NPR when it came out. It was in a Berkeley theater at the time, but we weren't able to work it. How does it stand up to his radio work? Pretty well. It's a good movie, to be sure. When it ended, I blurted, "That's the end???" with three question marks and so I guess I'm left a tad unsatisfied, but now I want to see My Girlfriend's Boyfriend. So no too unsatisfied.


Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) 2x: Such a well crafted movie from the words to the blocking. The closest thing I can think of to a complaint is the sometimes flexible sizes of things. A chicken, for instance, shrinks when a fox holds it.

A Bucket of Blood (1959): I'm happy to report if you can get 14yrolds past the opening few minutes, they totally dig this movie.

Monsters, Inc. (2001): Interesting this time to see how the storytellers dealt with Boo's scaring. It's not entirely consistent, but I've seen this movie so many times and never noticed before.

Now You See Me (2013): It's a hyper-hyphy heist! It's a crazy-cool caper! It's a lot of fun to watch! It also strains credulity. It features a cheap twist, logical holes, some really absurdly bad moments of screenwriting (I'm looking at you, romance, but not only you). Ultimately, it just kind of pissed me off. I can see why teenagers like it, but I'll not be watching it again.

Romeo and Juliet (1968) x2: I'm getting a bit tired of this. Haven't seen the new one (haven't heard much good), but I'm hoping for the best.

Corianton (1931): Is this a bad movie? Oh, yes. As bad as everyone says? Certainly. Was it worth watching? Oh, yes. Will I watch is again? Quite possibly. Were the costumes as sexy as Orson Scott Card suggested? Much more so.

Gentlemen Broncos (2009) x2: I love this movie more than I did at first. And it's terrific when discussing metafiction. But man is it weird.

The Princess Bride (1987) x2: I am enjoying teaching this book so much. And the movie never gets old.

Black Orpheus (1959): I can't say I really watched this. So much dancing I can't stay focused. Especially when showing it to a class that can't go five minutes without a shoving match. . . . That said, the last half hour is pretty cool, watched without other people.

A Christmas Story (1983): I never saw this movie through as a child, but it's now a seasonal favorite. I'm glad.

Final finished books of 2013


Time to accept I'm not finishing any more books this year.

So, without any further ado, numbers 129 and 128! Dickens and Gaffigan!


129) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, finished December 30

Ah, point-of-view. While the final scene of this novel is satisfying novelistically, it is a bizarre point to believe that it is where Pip himself would choose to end his story. (Though I'm sure there is plenty of fanfic leading on from that moment.)

As a kid, Great Expectations was one of the least frequently read of my Moby Books, but all the same I read it more than once. So I know much of the story, even if in highly abridged form.

But the highly abridged was the most important part as I read the full novel. So many things I never saw coming.

I think, though, I would have enjoyed the book more if I hadn't simultaneously assigned it to my freshmen. The bulk of them were unprepared for a reading like this and I had to keep telling them it would get better (and it did!) with a desperate hope that it would (it did!).

As for me? I liked it much more than Oliver Twist, the only other non-Christmas Dickens novel I've read as an adult.


128) Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, finished December 23

Lady Steed didn't make it through a page of this book without laughing incontrollably. Me, I didn't literally lol so often, but I was intrigued, professionally, by the way he structures a joke. You can tell he's in standup because plenty of the jokes would work better delivered orally than on paper. But if you can read them in Gaffigan's voice, all the better.

A pretty great book for beleaguered parents who need a laugh though, I dare say.
over a month


127) Carol of the Tales and Other Nightly Noels edited by Michael Young, finished December 24

The quality varied from the surprisingly good to the invoking of Thumper's dad, but I'm still glad the book existed and that I wrote for it.
twenty-four days

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


Kupla Killrz Kummin Krismaseve


126) Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case, finished December 22

Hey! Another terrific true-story serial-killer comic book written by an ancillary participant! In this case, the writer is the son of a lead detective. The story skips around from the post-arrest interviews with the killer, the events of the time (both killer and police), contemporaneous events, etc. It's one of the least glamorized looks at police work I've ever read and thus feels particularly honest and true.

A fine procedural, and a good read.

two days


125) My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, finished December 20

One half nostalgic look at teenagedom, one half chilling recounting of the tragic decent of a weird kid into monsterdom.

The book was a good read while being terribly thoughtprovoking. When Dahmer's crimes were discovered I was at the front end of a deep fascination with serial killers, but Dahmer? Never. Perhaps because he was NOW and therefore hard to view dispassionately. Perhaps his particular set of macabre traits were too much even for an Albert Fish fan. Who knows. I don't know.

Anyway, this book got my mind rolling in many directions.

For instance, Backderf places a lot of blame on inattentive adults. For sure, his parents should have seen the drinking problems, etc, and probably school officials should have done more than they did---today they would---but as a high-school teacher I can tell you: being a teacher is not like being a student. Most of what I thought was happening when I was a student is completely outside my sphere of knowledge as an adult on campus. So much I do not know. How can I? I'm locked in a room. And even when I'm outside my room, "what's happening" does not happen as I walk by. I can sometimes see hints of what's happening, but I don't have enough information to build a case or to even know what case there is to be built. When something does boil to the surface, I'm constantly surprised.

I'm also now wondering how certain misfits from my childhood turned out.


It's a dark and crazy world. And for the first time, I see Dahmer as a tragic figure. Backderf quickly and frequently insists that sympathy for Dahmer ends as soon as he kills for the first time, but I'm not sure I can go quite that far. Sure, he became a monster. Yes, it would have been better for him to kill himself than continue down that road. But what an awful deck of cards to be built. I can't image being a teenager whose burgeoning sexuality turns him toward corpses. It's not fair. And leaves no good solution.

Unsettling, thoughtful, honest, true. Read the notes, read the postscript. Good book.
a few days

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


Have a Very Theric New Year
(or, you know,
last minute christmas
shopping or whatever


2013 is drawing to a close, but 2014 is about to emerge from it's papery ashes. And what better way to celebrate the new year than with the old year's thericky goodness? Some of which, I might add, is still quite fresh?

The first thing to mention is the two Christmas anthologies I was included in this year, one heart-warming, one heart-charring (click any picture in this post to get to Amazon):

I also have a hymn and a personal remembrance of how I came to write it in a collection of goddess literature. I don't have my copy yet (it's in the mail), so I can only guess whether or not I'm the only one holding down the Mormon fort in this volume, but I'm quite curious to see how well my work fits in amongst its pagan peers.

Of course, the other thing I was promoting recently is "The Great Mormon Novel of the 21st Century" which has been doing okay business on the Amazon. So far, no reviews online so you still can take my word for it that it's the finest piece of literature so far this century. I mean---no one's said otherwise---how can you doubt it?

Humility constrains me to mention that when you buy an anthology with my work in it, I can't guarantee the quality of the work generally. Just consider that a general disclaimer. I do, however, guarantee satisfaction for my own work

And, of course, the granddaddy of Thericonia released in 2013, the paperback version of Byuck. Excerpts of reviews quoted on or submitted to the Amazon page:

"I guess part of me also wants to throw in the towel, forget all of the analytic crap that goes with being a critic, and write what I want to say: THIS BOOK IS HILARIOUS! READ IT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!" - Scott Hales, Association for Mormon Letters

A lot of people have compared Byuck to Napoleon Dynamite and . . . The Death of a Disco Dancer. . . . I kept thinking of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. The plot's not similar but it has some of that creative chaos that makes Confederacy so memorable. --- Doug Gibson, the Standard-Examiner

"If you ever wanted to know what would have happened if Godot had shown up, read Byuck, wherein coffee tables are transgressive and Billy Joel claims to be innocent. I LOL'd. For real. Not like you do online where you just kind of huff with a mouth twitch. No, I totally LOL'd. Woke up the cat." -- Moriah Jovan, author of The Proviso and Magdalene

"With humor and affection, Theric Jepson creates a story that gleans the best from both the romantic comedy tradition and the literary LDS tradition. Snappy dialogue and quirky characters make Byuck an enjoyable read for book clubs and Mormon literature enthusiasts." -- Laura Craner, A Motley Vision

If Dave Eggers had gone to BYU, this is what he would have written. A pitch perfect voice and a lot of very funny lines. -- Daftwooly

You know the first five minutes of Moulin Rouge, where the main character starts singing "The hills are alive....with the sound of music.." And you think "...huh...okay, that's kinda random, but sure..." And then once you've embraced the quirkiness, a sweet, unexpected, delicious love story falls into your hands, all the more tasty because of the what-the-heck, random quirks. You know? Well, that's the first few chapters of Byuck. It's like the first 10 seconds of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog after he breaks into song in the introductory scene. Or the first fight scene in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Stick with it, because like all those stories I mentioned, this is totally worth it. -- Satsuki


Christmas Tales


For those of you who found the last Christmas collection I was in to be a bit saccharine, how about this collection?

I haven't started reading it yet, so I can't comment on the relative quality of the anthologies, but I'm sure they will not have the same flavors.

Anyway, I'm glad to have finally found a home for my story "Out for Santa" which I've had kicking around for a while.

But now, if you only have time for one Christmas collection and need a thmazing holiday fix, would you rather read about the kindly Southern couple who plays Santa, or the cocky young kid who wants to kill Santa?

Tough choice.


Four fine folios


124) Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert, finished December 17

Although I find Helen Keller as remarkable as anyone else, I'm always leery of anyone wanting me to read anything about here. I'm inspired plenty already, thank you very much, said the intolerable ironist. And I would never have considered picking this one up had I not been blown away by the excerpt in BAC (see #122, below). I was moved by those pages and I was moved by the book. The moment where Helen discovers language is so thrilling I nearly wept.

An excellent choice made by Lambert is to let us get to know Annie better---her backstory is arguably more tragic than Helen's---and to understand her spunk and drive and determination and fortitude. She is a true hero.

Besides the characters and the story, one of the great successes of this volume is its means of representing Helen's aloneness in a blank world.

The way the world intrudes into her space---how it threatens---builds empathy for Helen as much as any art could. Which is remarkable, given that comics would not have been an easy medium for Helen Keller to enjoy.

Not that that would have stopped her.


123) The Forage House by Tess Taylor, finished December 14

Short---just the right length, in fact---this is the finest recent single-author poetry collection I've read in a few years. Although I will admit that some of the final section of poems come off a bit whiney after the powerful historical digging of the earlier portions. The problem is that the final section is quite personal while the upper portions generally focus on the sins of her forebears and those of the nation and---specifically---of the horrors of slavery. Dealing with Jefferson's failings (he was a slaveowner, lest we forget) and those of the Taylor's is moving and provocative and complicated. And it seems like much of the About My Own Life poems of the last section might have been better served by being placed first in the collection. In other words, by having them be a launching point rather than a concluding destination.

Though everything I've just said should be modified by the final two lines of the collection:
...And, No, my mother says, you haven't listened.
No, it wasn't like that really---
Which manages to succinctly take her personal hardships and place them back into the historical context established up front. Growing up in "working-class bungalows" does not compare to growing up enslaved.

Which is exactly the point.

A good book. Accessible to anyone, but will reward additional time spent digging into its lines. Check it out.

I should mention that the author is a near neighbor of mine and that we have had some interactions, though I first heard about her on NPR. If the book were a little cheaper I would order a class set. I would love to take a stab at teaching this book. Knowing I can get her to come in is just gravy.
perhaps as much as a month though not likely


122) "When Did You See Her Last?" by Lemony Snicket, finished December 14

The genius of Snicket's books is how he gets emotion out of what he does not say. What he doesn't say about Ellington Feint. What he doesn't say about his sister.

I also would like to know if someone's made a list of the books and music and stuff referenced in this series and never by name...?

first wrong question
couple weeks at most


121) The Best American Comics 2013 edited by Jeff Smith, finished December 11

Jeff Smith and I must have similar tastes because although I doubted that some of these were the "best" of the reading period, there was nothing here I actively disliked. In fact I currently have three books on request at the library (1, 2, 3)that were excerpted herein. (It would be four, but they don't have Rachel Rising.) And although I certainly approve of Kate Beaton, the selection seems odd to me. Anyway, you certainly don't pick up a volume like this expecting to be ecstatic about every selection. But srsly: Jeff Smith done good.
two or so weeks

Previously in 2013 . . . . :


"The Great Mormon Novel of the 21st Century"


"The Great Mormon Novel of the 21st Century" is my first attempt at producing a book only for the Kindle marketplace. Which may be a tad ironical since I don't own a Kindle, but hey! It's Amazon's world. I just live in it.

This story's appearance in the Irreantum contest led a writer I greatly respect to say that Theric's a terrific writer, but he's never going to make a living. Submitted to another of the Mormon rags, I heard from the editor who told me the story was brilliant and excellent and perfect and that she hated everything it stands for and so she feels obliged to publish it but she can't without it being rewritten, but her only rewrite advice is to throw the whole thing out and start all over. (Did you get all that?) I decided to just withdraw it from consideration.

Between those two experiences---and since them as well---I've tried my luck at some Gentile outlets to no avail. Perhaps it's a terrible story. Perhaps it's just what the world needs right now. Or was when it was written. I wrote it just before the great Great Mormon Novel Brouhaha of 2010 and it's been floating around ever since. So it's gone from being zeitgeist to johnny-come-lately. Which is kind of the story of my creative life.

Sigh. Poor, poor Theric.

Anyway, here it is! It finally exists! Make it thine!


From Steampunk to the Rez


121) The Art of Steampunk by Art Donovan, finished December 7

The publisher contacted me and offered this book for my review.

Although part of the selling point of this book is writing from experts described with words like "Dr" and "Oxford University," in fact this book contains no real criticism of the field. Just boosterism. Which I suppose is fine for someone bumping into Steampunk for the first time, but if you're familiar with the field, it seems like a real lost opportunity. Some real analysis would have been terrific and made me much more enthused over this slim, glossy, photo-filled volume.

It seems pretty clear that many if not all of the artists wrote their own bios and captions, giving the impression that the curator's curating was minimal. Another lost opportunity. But I suppose the artform is young and it's practitioners are few and you take what you can get. Anyway, it sometimes feels that way.

But. That said, there is still some crazy awesome stuff in this book. Here are some artists to explore further: Jessica Joslin, Tom Banwell, Mikhail Smolyanov, Richard Nagy. I picked these because their stuff is cool and they're wildly different from each other. This steampunk is a broader field than your punk kid thinks.
four or so months


120) The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman, finished December 7

This has been the car book since The Little Friend. Sadly, unlike that novel, it's not a masterpiece of prose that rewards the reader who's dropping by for a paragraph or two while waiting with the hazards going. No, Hillerman pops corn. So eat it fast, before it gets stale and the fake butter congeals.

That said, I did enjoy the look into Navajo culture which, given Hillerman's awards from Navajo groups, I assume is fair and reasonably accurate. Frankly, although on one level, this is just another popcorn thriller, its milieu makes it absolutely worth reading and I'm very happy the series has been so popular. Reading something so . . . forgive me, alien, increased my sense of humanity and my empathy for a people this country has not always been terribly kind to (cf litotes). And that, methinks, is extremely worthy.
six months


118) The New Yorker Album 1925-1950, finished DATE

This was a glorious library-sale find, and the most surprising thing is that even though the book's sixty-two years old, it's pretty much impossible to distinguish, design-wise, from any other New Yorker book ever. I love how they got it right the first time and then never had to fix it. Tiny tweaks only.

Anyway, this collection has a lot of cartoons I've never seen before, and I've been devouring New Yorker cartoon collections over twenty years. Many of them are very much of their time---some to a level to which I can barely guess. Some artists who seem pivotal now---James Thurber, Charles Addams---are surprisingly lightly represented.

It's like a time machine to Flapperville and World War II. And some tropes I thought were fairly recent---old ladies' dogs being their children---surprised me with their age.

All in all, a delightful read. Even with some shades of old-timey racism and sexism, this is a pretty swell book to have on the shelf for my kids to find someday and to introduce them to the great heritage of New Yorker cartoons.
about a month


117) Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, finished December 1

Like I said about the second book in the series, this was an utterly delightful listen and although it has more damns than Encyclopedia Brown, I'm glad my kids are into it.

Sadly, we've had no long road trips lately so getting through a 12-cd book in only a single renewal was not easy. We had to take a long drive tonight in order to get it back to the library on time.

But Moist was his regular rascally self and the book pops like all of Pratchett's work should, and the third in the series is on cd is just a few months.

We're all very excited.
about a month


116) The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, finished November 26

The Big O recently read all of these books (a feat I never accomplished---the last two books were published while I was in high school or years graduated) and loved them. He pushed me to make this our next out-loud book. Large S enjoyed it quite a bit and even Little Lord Steed got into it by the end.

As for me?

It holds up. I don't suppose one would call it properly quote-unquote enlightened, but it's not ignorant of more modern racial thinking. And it's a good yarn. Reid does an impressive job balancing the inherent wonder and horror of the situation---even if she certainly errs on the side of fun and forgiveness. As she must, given her audience. A spoonful of sugar and so forth.
a few weeks

Previously in 2013 . . . . :