2014: Third-quarter movies


In theaters:

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, John C. Reilly---my goodness. Many of my favorite Hollywood men. (Clearly I have a type.) The movie did not disappoint, though I was never quite able to suspend my disbelief re the durability of that cassette tape. I passed up some other great options to be part of the zeitgeist. Yes, I let my expectations get a little too high, but I choose no regrets. Largely because I have faith in this incredible Marvel machine to keep paying dividends.

Ghostbusters (1984): Although the cartoon and the soundtrack are pivotal parts of my childhood, I'm not 100% sure I've seen the movie straight through before. It's not flawless, but I found it very satisfying. I laughed, I jumped, it was worth it.

At home:

Brick (2005): A great noir that manages to also be one of the better high-school movies I've seen---even though it goes in for the high school = drugs thing that I'm sick to death of. The details of set and character, and the clever moments of character work really make the film sing. I picked this up on reputation and the author's other work and the fact that he's tapped to take over Star Wars Episode VIII. Based on what I've seen, I'm intrigued at the choice.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971): One of the most rewatched movies of my childhood has just sent my children rolling on the floor in conniptions. And they even sat through "Portobello Road"---so I call this a great success. Personally, I'll always enjoy this more than Mary Poppins. (And, of course, waaaay more than Pete's Dragon.) So even if I would never watch this based on its concept were I hearing of it for the first time today, I recommend it to you all the same.

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010): This was pretty good. Another awesome female character from Miyazaki. Anyone who thinks it can't be done needs to sit down with his oeuvre. Not one of my favorites, but when I said that, Lady Steed was shocked. Of course, I liked The Wind Rises much more than her.

The Green Mile (1999): Loved the book and this is a terrific adaptation. Some of the layers are missing and you'll find some clever additions for make it more cinematic, but this really is one of the great adaptations. It captures the book and is a terrific movie at the same time. Also, it's not as gruesome as the novel which is good---otherwise it wouldn't be watchable. I've been wanting to see this movie since reading, before it came out, that it broke the studio's record for best responses from test audiences. It's taken me a long time to get around to it. Worth the wait.

In a World . . . (2013): The script's a bit choppy at places (especially with chronological clarity) but the important moments hit. The cast is strong and the acting is good. As is the dialogue they're acting. Good stuff.

Somebody Up There Likes Me (2012): A plethora of half-clever ideas do not a good movie make. But, you know, it was watchable.

Up in the Air (2009): This is a movie that threatened to resolve into typical cliche several times, but then veered away. I'm not sure quite where it did end, but it was a satisfying ambiguity. And what a cast, what a cast. The filming was such an important part of the storytelling, I often had times imagining the screenplay. (Imagining screenplays is a large part of my moviewatching experience these days.)

Napoleon Dynamite (2004): I've seen this movie more times than you have (guaranteed) and I've impressed with how this picaresque hodgepodge is ultimately so tightly constructed with such a large emotional payoff. Love it.

American Hustle (2013): It pulled a scene-from-the-middle-then-lengthy-flashback on me, but it was more forgivable than usual because the information revealed still made sequential sense without repeating things. Still my biggest complaint though. The acting was great and the twist both surprised me and would not poorly affect rewatching.

Little Secrets (2001): I first saw this when it was new and was surprised by the quality. I always wanted to someday show it to my kids. And now I have---to the oldest at least. Though not quite as good as my memory (no element of surprise this time), it does have a worthy payout and it makes surprisingly wise comments about secrets (then attempts to spell them out, which is what makes it kid-friendly, I suppose). Also funny to see Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor heralded as the great artists of their generation. Truly a made-in-Utah film.

Bottle Rocket (1996): This was Lady Steed's first time seeing this movie. And though I wouldn't place it at the top of Wes Anderson's oeuvre, it's funny and pleasing. Totally bombs the Bechdel Test though, if you're keeping track.

Ginger Snaps (2000): One of the great B-movies of the 21st century, they say. One of the great movies about teenage girls, they say. One of the better horror movies of recent history, they say. You know what? I think they were right. It's a not a bad example of body horror either. Color me impressed. Wish I'd watched it a long time ago.

Better Off Dead... (1985): My first time seeing this movie. I'm so sad of this. It's a movie I could have enjoyed over and over. I still can enjoy it more than once, certainly, but I don't rewatch films so much anymore. And I would love for the chaos of this film to infect me. I mean---even more than it probably has. Children, live your lives such that you do not have regrets such as mine!

American Grindhouse (2010) Not much I didn't know, but interesting and free on Crackle and a good movie to put on in moments since, you know, it's just history---not plot.


Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): A lot about this movie seemed impossible to pull off. The trailer was great, but I didn't see how to make is succeed as a film. A comedy about the end of humanity? How can a comedy end in a marriage AND a funeral? It didn't seem likely. And perhaps it wasn't perfect. But the humanity of the characters and the pleasure of the details made this movie work. The end shares DNA with many bad romcoms, but it comes from a more honest place and it works.


Rape, murder, theft, and murder


0##) Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov's Novel in Art and Design edited by John Bertram and Yuri Leving, finished September 20

I forget what I was doing. Perhaps it was when I had bumped into the Chip Kidd book for kids. Anyway, I was linkfollowing on Amazon and saw this book. I have a general interest in cover design, but this caught my eye in particular. Perhaps it was a student presentation in June on Lolita. Perhaps it was my own reading of the novel (stopped cold about fourteen months ago when Humbert first laid eyes upon "his" "nymphet". Perhaps it was my own cover struggling with a short novel called Perky Erect Nipples. I don't know. Anyway, I had it sent to my library from another system.

I had expected just a book filled with other designers attempts to design a good Lolita cover (the bulk of which range from hmm to egad). And that does make up about eighty pages in the middle. And most of them are hmm at best. The real value of this book is the essays. Granted, I ended up skimming two of them, but even though I don't have a large and abiding interest in Nabokov, scholarly looks at paratext (new word for me) were delightful as it's a topic I've been thinking about my entire reading life and have rarely had anyone to talk to about. (It's a shame I don't get on better with Dave Eggers.) So that was great. And stories about the times and how people read and misread controversial texts (or manipulate the public re said texts) and the thinking of designers---etc etc etc---ranged from the mostly interesting to the pretty great.

If any of those things interest you, might as well give this a heft.
a couple weeks


079) Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, finished September 18

My experience with The Shining was that the alcoholism was more terrifying than the ghosts. With its sequel, much of the same. Alcoholism is still terrifying. But the True Knot is scarier than the ghosties of the Overlook Hotel. And yet---the book overall packs less of a punch. I think because King pulled some of his. The good guys stop dying about halfway through the book. I kept guessing who would die and how and no one ever did.

Even worse, he kept pulling the camera away to keep me the reader in ignorance, hiding bits of the plan and so forth for suspenseful effect (and affect), which is a bit dishonest if not done right. Frankly, he seemed a bit lazy about hiding the strings in the last quarter of the novel.

All that said, I greatly enjoyed it and hope King lives long enough to write a second sequel starring Abra in her middle age.
a couple weeks


078) "B" Is for Burglar by Sue Grafton, finished September 11

Wowee. The first one was good. This one was better. I need to keep my eyes open for a free copy of C.

This one, a couple chapters from the end, built me up to that compelling point of can't-stop-reading that my jaded self hardly ever manages to reach these days. Loved the mix of truth and lies and identities. Granted, hard to accept this sociopath sudden change, but hey---when you're a PI, you only are part of these lives for a brief time. You see what you see.
about nine days


077) "A" Is for Alibi by Sue Grafton, finished September 2

I've been watching these books come out my whole life. I've had them recommended to me in essays by authors I admire (Stepehn King and Orson Scott Card). I picked this one up free, and you know what? I really liked it. Slow burn---seemed to be going nowhere, but the meantime the clarity of description and the cleanness of character kept the story moving forward. Then it all blew up at the end. Very satisfying.

I think I may keep reading these things. What better way to relive the '80s?
two weeksish

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


On the nudity of Jennifer Lawrence


Nudity is so prevalent on the Internet, I hardly even register when I happen upon some in my, of course, purely innocent travels. Most of that nudity---whether it started out as porn or Game of Thrones or some idiot's selfie---was intended for public consumption. And okay, whatever, roll your eyes and move on.

When Jennifer Lawrence's name was trending Twitter yesterday, I clicked because I think she's one of the most compelling actors working in film and I'm interested in anything she's attached to. Maybe some new flick'd been announced. Instead, it immediately became quite clear that private, nude photos had been leaked. Of course, my prurient interest was engaged, but I didn't do anything more than read the tweeted headlines and dumb comments. Then, all of a sudden, there were four photos embedded in the stream. I closed the window.

Unlike other accidental naked people, these photos have stuck with me. And not in the sense of "people cannot erase pornographic images from their brain" but in the sense of I feel equally awful today that I was part of this invasion of privacy as I did yesterday. Maybe worse.

A couple ancillary thoughts:
1. I suppose my feelings may be stronger because this is someone I like and whose work I admire. And who hasn't done nude work. I might have already forgotten had I bumped into leaked, personal nudes of Kristen Stewart.

2. Although the don't-take-photos-you-don't-want-leaked argument is not empty, I don't like it. And not just because it's victim-blaming. Although I don't own a phone myself, most of you reading this are, by any reasonable measure, human/phone cyborgs. Phone photos aren't much different anymore than looking in the mirror or being in the room with someone. I'm too old for this to be internalized, but I'm bright enough to know it's true.

3. Something alchemic about the combination of details in this case has not only made me sick, but it's altered my behavior. I've been a lot more careful online these last two days. Even your ad with the sportsbra-clad model advertising vitamins is making me ill. I feel like everything is exploitative. Maybe it is.
Look: This is a new, photo-drenched world we live in. Photos of anything and everything have already been taken. Me, I'm too old to take photos of anything I don't want the world to see. But my film-born view of photography is not what a photograph is anymore. I lived before the word selfie---a time when a photo of yourself that was clearly taken by yourself was laughably gauche and fit for mocking.

But that's not the world of today nor the world of tomorrow. Seeing digitally is now as ubiquitous as seeing someone through the air. And so photos need to be as private as our bedroom, if that's what we're taking them for.

Yes, old boyfriends can make a memory stored on a phone public easier than a memory only in the hippocampus, but that's not the point. The point is, seeing and being seen are not what they were.

But peeking in on someone when they're alone with a lover is just what it's always been.

I'm glad I feel awful. It means I'm still a decent human being.

I hope you feel awful too, no matter how not surprised you may be.