2014: Movies of the final quarter


In theaters:

The Invisible Man (1933): It's only the end of the story; it has almost too many laughs. But Claude Raines is awesome. One of the great masked roles in movie history. And to see it for the first time big was lots of fun. Only 71 minutes (too short for proper character development by modern standards) but an enjoyable 71 minutes.

Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) / The Pawnshop (1916) / The Rink (1916) / The Immigrant (1917) / The Adventurer (1917): Although technically these posts aren't supposed to include shorts, but I took the kids to this show in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Little Tramp character's debut and they loved it. How could they not? So dang it this was a movie. The first in the program was the first or second Little Tramp short ever and had no story. Just the Tramp trying to get on camera while the cameramen try to get him out of the way of the race. Went on a bit long. Then it was great short after great short after great short. His recurring cast was strong and I wish we had room in modern popular culture for such eyebrows and facial hair.

Big Hero 6 (2014): Character design and acting are great. The design of the city is awesome. The villain is one of the best I've seen. (So good the filmmakers had to cheat to give the heroes a chance.) But the movie left me utterly disappointed. Sure I had some laughs, sure they manipulated my emotions successfully a few times, but I rolled my eyes over and over. Every plot point was painfully predictable moments (or minutes) (or acts) before. Nothing in this movie, in terms of story, was at all interesting. Even the short was generic and derivative of recent premovie shorts. Disappointing. Why didn't we go see Boxtrolls?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014): Not as thrills-a-second as the first two movies, but that slowness was good, actually. Made for a much more grown-up movie. I'm not surprised this one isn't making as much money, but I thought it was fine. Also, it felt short, which was nice in this era of bloated epics. Not a lot happened, but I'm okay with that. Especially knowing how stupid the rest of the book was and that we may not have Philip Seymour Hoffman footage for the final film.

Interstellar (2014): Beautiful film, more moving than I expected, fantastic cast well used. Not perfect but very good and I want to see it again on IMAX.

At home:

Sullivan's Travels (1941): Hard to know what I think of this movie after only one watch. Especially when you consider that the only reason I haven't seen this movie already is because I've been afraid of loving it either too much or too little. As it is, I laughed a lot, was startled by its tonal shifts, am not sure what to make of it. In other words, a similar reaction to how I often feel when first watching Coen Brothers films---fitting as they've been rather publicly influenced by Sturges's work. As it is, the film feels important. Not so much as a treatise in favor of comedy, so much as a portrayal of what America might be, as it moves from the caricatured "Colored Chef" to its climax as the poor of America find a generous, almost postracial equality in their brief escape from misery. It's visionary.

The Fisher King (1991): Wow. I'd kind of decided Terry Gilliam is a gimmick-first-gimmick-last director, like Tim Burton, but this film---though certainly with gimmicks extant, is a great movie. Enough to make me willing to see any Gilliam films I've missed. Great script (Richard LaGravenese) and great acting, especially by the two leads, Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams. Thanks to those, particularly Luisa, who insisted this be the film I see to commemorate Robin Williams. The perfect choice. A beautiful, multilayered, mythic story of friendship, love, and redemption.

Unicorn City (2012): What a grave disappointment this was. After hearing so many good things, I expected more of them to pan out. Moments of good performance were generally overwhelmed by tired cliches and ancient solution. Just a few changes early on would have necessitated a new trajectory that would have prevented the larger errors. For instance, if the gamer utopia hadn't ben prerequisited by the lead needing a job, the writers would never have been tempted to have him turn down the job later to Make a Point which needed not be made. Sigh.

Step Brothers (2008): More than any other comedy of the last ten years, I think this one is cited most by the teenagers in my acquaintance as their favorite, as the funniest---it seems to be the most quoted and the most beloved. And is it worthy of that love? Well. Um. I guess so? It's about what I expected. Maybe a bit funnier than average, but not really astounding. Good casting is the secret to any successful comedy though, and that's the case here as well. So yeah: casting. Good casting can float a lot of dumb crap.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012): If you, like me, mostly know that this movie has some curves it's best not to know before seeing it, then see it and come back. I'll be vague, but not vague enough for you. So yeah: typical slasher-in-the-woods with some minds behind the horror. Some nice banality of evil combined with increasingly eldritch undertones, ending in a climax that is purely gruesome while horrifically humorous and undertoned with a more existentially weird terror than is normal in slasher flicks. In other words, this film manages to be a whole lotta things at once and does almost all of them very well. It plays weaknesses of one level against strengths of another. The only actual disappointment is probably the final shot. But hey---I'm not complaining.

ParaNorman (2012): Surprisingly scary. The final act's a bit bloated and wholesome, but ultimately just about everything in this movie works and works well. Laika continues to impress. x2 Still a bit bloated, the bit with the witch, but actually better the second time around.

Paprika (2006): I don't remember what attracted me to this film eight years ago, but it wasn't enough to get me to theaters. Then a former student sent me a look at Kon's editing which is wild and fascinating and led to this viewing. And I loved it. A bit of Bill Pympton madness in a better dreamworld that Inception and yes: fascinating and wild editing. Brilliant and beautiful. Some of the same cultural thinking in films like Spirited Away while having some very different things to say. I don't yet know, for instance, what to make of its take on gender. Lots of unpack here.

The Shining (1980): Jeez, what a disappointment. I've been too terrified to watch this movie, always bumping it to next October, and I watch it and it's just a bunch of Technique. Sigh. Well. So it goes. We'll see if it shows up in my dreams..... (So annoyed I wrote a post.)

The Night of the Hunter (1955): I was expecting an M-esque thriller. Instead, I got a much more balanced look at the good and evil promised by the reverend's knuckles, including a performance of honest goodness from Lilian Gish (I know! Lilian Gish!) that ultimately beat out Robert Mitchum's evil. At times, almost absurdly formalistic in composition (both visually and auditorily), each bit added to the whole. I'll have to watch it again sometime, knowing what I'm getting into. See how it plays then. (Also: I need to do some reading, see how people interpret the animals.)

Million Dollar Arm (2014): While, sure, a bit predictable, the Indian leads are compelling actors (it's the guys from Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire) and it's a thrill to watch them move up and down. Jon Hamm's fine; I didn't think to check if he was wearing underwear.

Mary Poppins (1964): A practically perfect bit of filmmaking. Every song is excellent. Bits of recurrent symbolism there for the picking or the ignoring as you please. Julie Andrews beautiful in face and voice and oh so poised. Dick Van Dyke the physical comedian I still aspire to be. Plus, having seen the machine Ub Iwerks invented that made this film possible before greenscreen at the Walt Disney Family Museum, thinking about the craftsmanship this time was all the more pleasurable. Truly timeless.

Dans la Maison (In the House) (2012): Swirling layers of storytelling and it's hard to tell when the Scheherazade, with his Joker-like smile, is honest and when he is not. When he is manipulating words and when he is manipulating people with words. Is he a young sociopath finding his way? Is he simply lonely and alone and desperate for human connection? As a whole, the movie worked well, though the ending stuttered. As one character says, the best ending is the one the audience did not see coming but feels to them inevitable. By giving us so many endings, the filmmakers hoped that would, of necessity, happen at least once. I'm not so sure it did. But I have a very strong suspicion that the French is much more beautiful than the English subtitles. Ah well. C'est la vie.

Safety Last! (1923): Considering how much I love Chaplin and Keaton, it's remarkable that I've never watched Harold Lloyd before. But what better way to start than him hanging from a clock? The physical comedy is, as expected, brilliant. The romantic plot is underpinned by lies and bad decisions in what will become classic sitcom fashion---and it painful to watch. In a good way, I suppose, but it's not my favorite basis for comedy. The building climb though is AMAZING. Tense and funny and frickin AMAZING. Totally lived up to expectations. Which was a lot of expectations, I assure you.

The Pride of the Yankees (1942): Gary Cooper isn't much good at playing twenty-plus years younger, nor is he a particularly good playful roughhouser---but when the film gets serious he excels. I didn't cry where I was supposed to, but the film is sticking with me in surprising ways. I doubt I'll ever watch it again, but I definitely enjoyed it this time around. Sure made me like those Gehrigs.

Why Worry? (1923): The kids loved this Harold Lloyd. Madcap all the way through. And the giant reminds me of Fezzik and Sweetums. What a great tradition film has! (We'll have to check out Volume 1 again to finish the features.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): Not as provocative as the trailer promised but a terrific action movie in all respects. Made me want to rewatch the first one. New characters to delight and more mythology to overwhelm. But a net win.

Ernest & Celestine (2012): As delightful as promised, with some interesting parallel structure and allusions to all sorts of film from dystopian prison films to interracial love stories. In fact, regarding that last one, I'm fascinated by how they crossed a child-friendly story of friendship with some serious sexual tension. ...Or was that just me?


William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996): Movies that are interesting to look at and technically adept---as well as well written and well acted---are easier to rewrite. Watched this time on the largest screen I've ever seen it on and noticed details I'd missed before---such as Mercutio's wig getting bigger in the dance scene.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (2000): The Reduced Shakespeare Company needs to record a new version. The topical humor ain't topical anymore. Also, I don't understand how Adam Long hasn't become one of the most sought-after voice actors in Hollywood. The way he passes from ridiculous to deeply emotional soliloquies is amazing. Although his performance is usually buffoony and absurd, elements of his performance are so pure and honest that I can't understand how he switches from one to the other in moments.

About a Boy (2002): This movie is still so great. If you look at the careers of the folks behind the camera, it seems a bit black swanny, but who cares. This movie is about perfect in every way. The acting the writing the direction the editing. The clever bits of parallelism and other terrific structural devices. One of the best uses of narration I've ever seen. How they painted a romcom over the top while not being a romcom at all. The planting of important details in a couple seconds in a way we always remember them. Just a great movie.

Previous films watched




Lost Songs: 김종서 edition


When I came home from Korea, I found it difficult to listen to much American music (Blondie and the Moonps being notable exceptions). And no although my favorite Korean bands were girl-fronted, no songs mattered more to me than this pair from Kim Jeongseo, the first of which I can still sing along with the whole way through. Which is remarkable figuring I can't do that to songs in English. Regardless: one of my all-time favorite melodies.

The second was made with former bandmate Seo Taiji (who had gone on to invent everything folks love/hate about modern K-Pop) and appeared on both of their solo albums.

Running down these songs tonight on YouTube felt so so good.


Nearing the end, destroyed by our friends


103) The Gigantic Beard that was Evil by Stephen Collins, finished December 26

Beautifully made book. Lovely to touch and to hold and to open and to read.

It's a morality tale warning us against the conformity and gets a bit heavy-handed in the middle, but as they take Dave and his beard and remove him from the once-safe Here and cast him to the unknown chaos of There, the novel redeems itself by sliding back towards ambiguity.

Of course, like so many comics today, this one is ultimately about story itself, but it's about story in a somewhat new way---which makes early moments like this stronger in retrospect:

Nice layering of details though makes this a terrific bit of literature, regardless of your or my personal opinion on its final level of success. Check it out!
two days


102) Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, finished December 16

How I love McEwan's writing. Even in a book with an overly projected and contrived "tragic" ending, just reading McEwan is a delight. His words and sentences and paragraphs are joys. His adeptness with metaphor and dialogue and the whole dang toolbox.

This story pits humans against their work and I find myself taking art's side even though the tale warns me again and again that's a mistake. It's a startling balance.

Plus, the novel is short, under two hundred pages. This is a more natural length for me as both writer and reader. It's nice to be reminded in this post-King era that short books are still allowed.
under a week


101) Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley, finished December 10

[reviews of Scott Pilgrim]

Bryan Lee O'Malley has done it again. He has managed to put utterly realistic characters into a contemporary world of metafantasy and made us care about them and understand their insane journeys. Seconds is about a late-twenties chef and her manic ability to screw up her life and the magical gift she's given to fix her mistakes.

Since O'Malley credits a drawing assistant and a colorist and a letterer, I'm not sure how single-artist this novel actually is, but regardless, it's freaking amazing. And not just the execution of the story. The execution of the detail. He's taken manga's genius and alternating between detail and no detail and put it to proper use. He does amazing things with panels that are pure black. His characters are truly cartoony but somehow are shaped and move like realistically drawn humans.

The story devolves into chaos but never loses its way---not an easy feat---and the ongoing tension between Katie and her narrator is delightful and instead of throwing the reader out, keeps us close.

If I were willing to make a scan and write all day, I could keep talking about this book for hours. But I got other stuff to do. Read it yourself.
a few days


100) Paradise Vue by Kathryn H. Kidd, finished December 10

I believe I first learned about Paradise Vue from Storyteller in Zion (but I can't check because I can't find my copy), and so for twenty years I've looked forward to reading what is, according to its back copy---presumably penned by Card---"the funniest Mormon novel ever published. . . . [and] also the best." I finally bought it last January and finally picked it up recently.

Only to be pretty much immediately and constantly disappointed. It doesn't help that Card's introduction talked about how much he loves the book, dropping comparisons to Austen and Twain and Dickens like anyone who reads the book will feel the same.

The novel has a hard time settling on anything akin to a plot. Which isn't unforgivable---I don't mind a bit of picaresque now and then---but all the nonce characters and situations are set up with some lazy tell-not-showing then disappear again. At the end, where the novel decides it needs to have a point, that moral/resolution is projected much too strongly. Somehow, the final chapter manages to work even though I still don't really care about the widow's widowness or the cuckquean's husband leaving her. Maybe I'm just a very generous reader....

I'm not being too harsh, but I should point out that the novel has moments where it almost works. But there are much more moments like this:

As she grew more familiar with the group, Doris developed a sense of camaraderie with them. She barked orders and encouragement to each woman individually. (61)

If ever there were a moment to expand with actual diologue and business, it's this, right?

Or maybe not. After all, Doris will never appear again.

Which is probably for the best. When first introduced, Doris seems like she will be an interesting character. But then she devolves into being characterized solely by saying funny Asian things like "Dericious" (66).

I think one thing that made this book impressive in 1989 is how Transgressive!™ it is. The characters drink Pepsi and Diet Coke like Nick and Nora drink cocktails, and every hell and damn is italicized to make it extra realistic.

I can't get over how disappointed I am. I'll admit I might have been expecting too much, but gee whiz. It should at least have been a good book, you know?

Card started Hatrack River to publish books more honest than the extremes on either end being published by Deseret and Signature. His writings on this topic inspired me to get involved with writing Mormon fiction. But reading this novel---? I suppose I'm just thirteen years old and learning my parents aren't perfect all over again.

I would like to know if anyone's read other Hatrack titles and could tell me of any of them are more successful?
a couple weeks maybe


099) Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995 by Bill Watterson, finished December 6

I'd seen this book around before but never picked it up. I had all the Sundays here or there, so why bother?

But when Little Lord Steed chose it from the library, we checked it out and brought it home. I'm so glad we did.

Just a few years after Calvin disappeared from newspapers, Ohio State did an exhibition of Watterson's originals alongside the colored printed versions. Sure, I've read all these strips before, but this book gets you one delicious step closer to the originals. Wonderful.

And even better are the notes from Watterson on his changing process. I could read something much much longer with these insights.

So great book. Just wish it was much much much much more.
two or three days or i don't even remember

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Dental Daniel


Sure, I collected Garbage Pail Kids when I was a wee thing. Of course I did. They were great. Haha and gross and so on. Everything cool. But of all of them, this fellow has stuck with me most. I have, in fact, lived in terror my whole life of accidentally thrusting my brush through my cheek. I think of it once a week, at least, this threat to cheek integrity.

On December 5 of this year, I was brushing my teeth and watching Gotham at the same time and at a jump scene I jumped and stabbed the roof of my mouth with the toothbrush. I ran back to the bathroom and stood over the sink bleeding, bleeding, bleeding, whimpering, unable to speak. The hole left in my palate was as grotesque (and is taking as long to heal) as the tonsillectomy holes made in the back of my throat two months ago, complete with constant need for drugs (without which I could not move my tongue or jaw to speak) and giant white scabs. I now carry around a bottle of KANK+A with me and may, at any moment, may paint the roof of my mouth with anesthetic.

So it's finally happened. I have become Dental Daniel. In terms of preventing permanent aesthetic alteration, my palate was probably a better thing to stab than my cheek. I hit that bone so hard.... I may well have torn through my cheek had I been brushing different teeth at the moment.

Lesson: stick with romcoms.