I read some comics




036) The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis, finished April 27

Hands down the best comic I've read in this burst of comics reading. (Harder to say how it compares to, say, the other books nominated for the Best Graphic Album---New Eisner, two of which I have read [The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil and Seconds] and both of which were good. Maybe tied for first with Seconds?)

Anyway. This is a black-and-white and, like some of the books below, starts in the sort of schools where everyone wears a tie. But it's nothing like anything at all. I picked it off the new-shelf in the library. The back led with the line THE WEATHER CLOCK SAID KNIFE O'CLOCK. / SO I CHAINED DAD UP IN THE SHED. I assumed it was about some psychotic kid and thought why not, I've done well with such in the past.

But I misjudged the book. I should have taken it a bit more literally:

This is not the world as we know it, even if the kids wear ties and speak with British accents. This is a world where kids make their nonhuman parents, where household gods never shut up, where your death is scheduled from the very beginning, where seasons can be turned with a switch, and where lions may eat you if you try to skip school.

I admire how Davis presents us with a fully formed world, but doesn't force his characters to explain every detail. The book ends with only slightly fewer mysteries than it began. In fact, you might argue that the mysteries deepen. And I think that's why the end is so emotionally moving. We had a chance to arrive somewhere and instead we're left trapped in the mysteries. As confused as we started. And heartbroken.

about five days


035) Zero Volume 1: An Emergency by Ales Kot et al, finished April 22

If you scan down to #34 you'll note my somewhat disappointed look at a school for assassins. Only one chapter (formerly: issue) of this volume is about assassin school. And it packs more uncertainty and pain and disaster and humanity into those few pages than Deadly Class did in its entire collection.

The rest of the book is largely about this student's adult life as a superspy and skips about in time with chaotic elegance. I can't imagine picking up an issue once a month and being able to follow the story, but collected it works nicely. It does take occasional turns to the scifi that are hard to figure out and I'll probably never pick up further volumes to get it straight. Ah well. It was an ambitious book and fun to read, even if I never find out just what the heck was going on.
fourish days


034) Deadly Class Volume 1: Reagan Youth by Rick Remender, finished April 19

This dark look at high school takes an orphan off the streets and puts him in a high-school for assassins beneath the bedrock of San Francisco. Much of the comic is heightened, but this succeeds more in making the horror horrific than pulling off other intended effects, such as humor. While the satire, of which there is not much, generally hits the mark, the parody, or which there is much more, generally falls flat. As if the text is purposefully not funny, then daring you not to laugh. Lest the text then slips a blade between your ribs.

The book also has some problems with clarity of chronology. It's strengths are developing secondary characters and using words and art to specific effects such as the protag's bad acid trip.

The book's postword by writer Rick Remender tells stories showing that this is a very autobiographical tale of his own violent youth.

Anyway. The book is flawed nonetheless. For instance, it spends time setting up the various divided-by-race cliques at the school, then sets off on a road trip with a black kid, an asian kid, a couple hispanic kids, and a white kid. Because diversity! Even though that would seem to contradict the original . . . . I dunno. Props for intent, I suppose. Execution though. *rimshot*
one evening and past midnight


033) Animal Man Vol. 4: Splinter Species by Jeff Lemire et al, finished April 17

Animal Man, like Swamp Thing (see below), is engaged in one of those nuevo mythologies DC delights in creating. In this case of these two titles, we have the Red (animal life), the Green (plant life), and the Rot (aka the Black---I'm not sure if it represents fungal life and bacterial whatsit or just entropy). Each force chooses a human avatar to represent it on earth and is ultimately unassailable (or was until they started writing stories about 'em all, natch).

Animal Man has an interestingish sideplot where the hero moonlights (and is better known) as a movie star. And I liked the way it managed social media. Probably the best use of social media I've seen in a comic.

But ultimately, I feel like Jeff Lemire's talents are being wasted here. I like that he's making a living, but man, I liked Essex County so much more.
one evening and past midnight


032) Swamp Thing Vol. 4: Seeder by Charles Soule et al, finished April 15

This was sitting in the library's NEW FICTION section. I wasn't that enthralled by earlier collections, but hey! Why not?Anyway, it skipped the previous Big Villain and is on to a new one who I think I like better but whom we don't really meet here. Till the next one appears on the NEW FICTION shelf!
two days

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Changing weights of words


In 1955, it seems in this excerpt from Auntie Mame, black was a less acceptable term than colored.


Just some books I read


031) Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, finished April 6

This was my in-the-car book when Terry Pratchett died. I don't know if it was any more or less appropriate than any other Pratchett book to be reading at the time, but it certainly colored my reading. Not in an effable way, but I thought about the author more than I usually would.

Small Gods, I believe, takes place long, long, long before most of the Discworld books. The primary characters are Brutha, a young fellow none so smart, and the great god Om---whose religion we know from other books---reduced to one believer and life as a tortoise.

Although all the usual Pratchett gifts for satire and close observation are on display, in some respects, this novel feels more straightforward. Even when, at the end, unexpected, impossible things keep happening keep happening keep happening. I don't know how many times poeple turned to me as I was reading this book and said, "What?"

Anyway, it builds on the idea I think Pratchett popularized, but that we see often now in books starring gods as characters (one example from a Pratchett acolyte) that the strength of a god is commensurate to the amount of belief in that god.

The novel has much to say about faith and superstition and manipulation and government and philosophy and goodness and evil and a million other things (it is, after all, a Pratchett novel), but it is also immense fun and pure pleasure. It is, after all, a Pratchett novel.
i dunno maybe a month


030) The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith, finished April 2

First: Violet Kupersmith is a fabulous new talent and let's all of us be excited she's on the scene.

Second, this lovely cover is perfectly appropriate for the stories therein.

Third, this is a stupid cover for this book. Just stupid. This book has major crossover potential with genre readers and this cover will never draw them in. Plus, sadly, "literary" fiction is never released mass-market anymore and so this book will fade away instead of finding new life with another audience. Meanwhile the hibrows can enjoy reading something that tickles their fun organ while gloating that it's better than popular stuff.

What sort of stupid world is this?

And I have to say: the choice of story title to make the collection title is part of the conspiracy to keep this out of the hands of reg'lar folk. What a shame.

What we have here are stories set in Vietnam or among the Vietnamese community in Houston. We have stories with ghosts and monsters and memories and maybes, the supernatural collapsing casually upon the everyday world. And wow are they great. Surprising, unsettling, beautiful. So glad my wife randomly picked this up in the library. Because I doubt I would have.
about a month


029) The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West by Steve Sheinkin, finished March 29

At the boy's elementary-school's book fair, I was intrigued by a pair of books by one Steve Sheinkin (Bomb and Lincoln's Grave Robbers). I looked him up on the library website when I came home and besides putting those on hold, I also found this comic book about an Old West rabbi. So of course I had to have that as well.

The Rabbi is wise and simple and funny and I had no idea the West had so many Jews. Remarkable! Now I need to look up the good rebbe's continuing adventures.

In short, I found everything I love about old Jewish wisdom tales and Isaac Bashevis Singer and Asimov's Jewish jokes, all done in sepia with some cards on the side. What's not to like?

three days


028) Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits edited by John Maloof, finished March 23

When I watched the film (link to review), I was struck by Maier's peculiar life history (what had brought me to the film) but even more I was struck by her photography. And so I got this book.

I'm so glad I did. Some of the shots she got are nearly impossible to explain (at least with my knowledge)---layers of images upon images. This is startling and moving work. And to think this most anonymous of women will someday likely be one of the most recognized faces of the last century. . . . And one of the most recognizable shadows, sinister in other circumstances, her arms akimbo, gazing upon her own absence.

The introduction by Elizabeth Avedon gets to this problem for scholars. Here we have an artist who is clearly significant and of lasting importance, but her era has already been explained away---without her---and so we don't know what the right, accepted things to say about her are. Avedon knows the right vocabulary but not what she's supposed to say about a recently unearthed enigma. It's a curious thing to observe.

I only wish it had been three times as many pages.
two or three days

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


First batch of 2015 feature films seen


In theaters:

Annie (2014): Although the 1982 film is a big part of my childhood, I haven't seen it in over twenty years. The only moment of oh-yeah recognition I felt here was at the name "Pepper." Everything else was either remembered or changed beyond recognition. Bits of the movie work well (and I'll admit the emotional climax got me), but overall it's too flawed to recommend. The biggest issue is character development which the writers and director seems to think means characters doing things out of their established character. Which I suppose on some simplistic level is sort of true, but no. Jamie Foxx played two or three characters well. The only major character who survived the whiplash was Annie---they still happened, but Ms Wallis is so grounded you might miss it. The humor usually falling flat's another major issue. And the movie's confusion over whether it's a straight-up musical or an ironic musical's a third. Anyway. Guess I need to go back in time thirty years and see how Carol Burnett holds up.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014): What a glorious mess this movie is. Crammed so full of stuff that the story is nearly strangled. In their desperation to connect the Hobbit movies to the Lord of the Rings movies, Wingnut sacrificed making the best possible Hobbit movie. I hope someone with sense convinces them to release a Special Edition Hobbit that's a single movie under four hours in length. Wouldn't that be nice? Anyway, we caught it on its last Bay Area screen and now we are done with them. I didn't even find this one as interesting to look at as the last two, which is all I was expecting. So while I was entertained, I mostly learned that the more armor you have, the more likely you are to die. (Incidentally, Lady Steed has the compelling theory that the manner in which orcs are grown is why they break down and die more easily. That does solve a number of problems.)

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015): It was funny. And filled with surreal ridiculousness. Didn't really congeal as a movie, but I laughed.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014): First, if you haven't seen the trailer already, DON'T. It doesn't give away some of everything, but it gives away too much of a little. Not cool, trailer-makers. Second, although not as HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS HILARIOUS as the marketing claims, it was very funny; I laughed more at this than any in-theater film in a while. Note to the squeamish: Lady Steed thought it contained a bit too much squirting blood. Which is to say it contained any squirting blood.

At home:

Her (2013): Nostalgic cinematography and an utterly believable near future and a plot unlike any other I've seen. I never knew what was coming, but not because of any gotcha gimmicks. And the acting! Phoenix is amazing. Adams is amazing. And . . . I just can't get over how believable the bulk of it all was. What a great movie. Mundane science fiction at its best.

Moneyball (2011): Such a good movie. And, working as I currently am on a screenplay, so exquisitely constructed. And the acting. And the direction. What a great movie. And it captures so much so true about baseball. Gah.

The Gold Rush (1925): I'm not sure about that "1925." We watched the Criterion version, first their 2007ish recreation of the lost 1925 version, then Chaplin's own reworked 1941 version---what, I suppose, should be called the authoritative version. (Because of introductions, I say the beginnings of both, the ending of one, the middle of neither. I'm counting it anyway.) But "1925" is as a good a year as any. The real point is that the movie is great. The kids? Rolling. I do think 1941's narration changes the purity of the slapstick on some way. As Lady Steed put it, the fight over the gun seems more serious when narrated, more cartoony when silent. Regardless! Classic stuff.

Jaws (1975): The beach parts were scary, but once they're on the boat, it's an action movie---not a horror movie. I didn't know! My memory of Jaws is of 2 or 3 (the one at an aquarium) and it being scary. I'm totally okay with my kids watching this film. Exciting stuff. I get why it's beloved. [UPDATE: The 5yrold was very sad I returned this to the library without his seeing it and asked and asked and asked and finally I got it again so he could watch it. We skipped the first scene (and I was in and out) but he was glued and loved it. His older brothers kept getting hooked as well---then running away.]

The One I Love (2014): Wow. I was expecting a romcom structured like a horror movie and instead I got one of the finest bits of Twilight-Zoney science fiction I can remember seeing it. I loved this movie. I want to watch it again. Then maybe again. Then maybe again.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014): Before I get into what I thought of the film, let me say what I thought of renting from Amazon Instant: I HATED IT. It hiccupped constantly which would be upsetting in the shakycammest of speedcutty films, but this was mostly one fluid long shot, so it was pretty much the worst thing ever. I want my five dollars back. As for the film, I think I liked it, but the experience of watching it on Amazon Instant got in the way. The acting is incredible. The story is fascinating. The look backstage was enjoyable. The characters are clearly drawn without thick crayon lines. The writing seemed pretty great. The editing was amazing. I'm not sure how they did it---the intricacy of planning goes way beyond the cameras-into-the-back Hitchcock used in Rope, and I would love to know more about it. In short, I think I really liked this movie, but it's hard to be sure. Thanks a lot, Amazon. Who I'm freaking advertizing all over this post..... [:::::UPDATE::::: SIX DAYS LATER WITHOUT ANY REQUEST OR INPUT FROM ME, AMAZON REFUNDED MY MONEY. Thanks a lot, Amazon!]

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967): This time, the California gold rush. This movie is one of the silly Disney liveactioners of the '60s, and every bit as much fun as that implies. I think my kids found it slowgoing at times, but at other times they were pounding walls with laughter. Me, I find the whole thing charming and clever. And I miss the bits of absurdity that films of that time felt free to incorporate. Realism has taken too strong a hold on comedy.

21 Jump Street (2012): So . . . that wasn't worth watching. I mean---it was what I expected, but it wasn't what many many many people with taste promised me. I laughed but I could've spent those 110 minutes better engaged. Ah well.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): It's been a looooong time since I've seen this movie---probably over twenty years---but it's still familiar and, to my surprise, I really liked it. I can appreciate the tunnel scene better now (and the skills of the chicken lopper). And Gene Wilder's performance---add it to the short list of roles I admire in such a way that I'm jealous I didn't get to do it myself. So satisfying! So glad we made our kids watch this one first.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005): So this film has a handful of moments, but overall it's just . . . artificial. Starting with the plastic animation and routing over and over again through the bizarre mistake that is Willy Wonka, it just rings false. Sure, it's wonderfully manufactured nonsense, but sometimes a sequence of careful perfection ends in a pile of suck. Even the kids could tell that was the case. They preferred the handmade honesty of the 1971 version, even though this one had a pink boat rowed by Oompa-Loompas and the original song lyrics and squirrels shelling the nuts---even though this one, on the surface, was closer to the book in other words. Of course, it's still not as awful or unwatchable as Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. So it has that going for it.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013): I need to see this again so I can watch it without thinking about how it compares to the story (with which I am intimately familiar), but I think it was a very good movie. Certainly it had looked good and was well acted. Lady Steed really liked it and she's not familiar with the Thurber (and yet I married her). Ben Stiller's work is best when it has a serious undertone and is not just overthetop grossout silly. I need to watch it again, but I think it was good. Quite likely very good. And full of visual beauties. It was worth whatever they spent.

Finding Vivian Maier (2013): Fascinating movie. At times, I was too aware that the filmmaker's a bit of a hustler with a lot of money to make off this lost artist, but he addresses that and ultimately I forgive him because revealing Vivian Maier to the world is important and her work is beautiful and he's the one who revealed it. The film is structured such that it moves from mystery to her art to her story to her inner darkness to the redemption of art. This was a terrific movie and now I want to sit in a comfortable chair and move slowly through a 500-page volume of her self-portraits.***

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): Watching this movie makes my screenwriting efforts feel so amature. What a great, great movie. I know Kohl disowns me when I say it, but it's my favorite Wes Anderson.


Duck Soup (1933): Always one more joke to pick out of the mess. And boy oh boy but is it a glorious mess!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007): I don't know if it's precisely fair to say I "watched" this movie. It was on and I was in the room most of the time, but I was talking to another adult and wrestling with three crazy kids at the time. So I "saw" a goodly amount of it and "heard" a similar amount (though not always the same parts). Based on that, I think it's true that Imelda Staunton's Umbridge was quite good and that it's the best Harry Potter movie I've ever seen. (For those keeping track, in Theric's opinion, 1 is a travesty against humanity; 3 and 4 are dull and not very good but watchable.)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): I really really really really really really really wish this movie had done beaucoup box office and changed the boldness of studio executives forever. #ha #haha #hahaha

Frank (2014): Not sold by the ending, but the film still had a certain something that compels a day later. Maybe it's the music (a cross between the Magnetic Fields and King Missile). Maybe it's Michael Fassbender's compelling voice. Maybe it's that head. I don't know. I wouldn't recommend going out of your way, but I wouldn't attempt to dissuade you either. I'm not sure where I stand on this one.

Romeo and Juliet (1968): Brightest moment was my TA nearly crying. Warms my heart to know that souls still live.

The Princess Bride (1987): Even the parts that don't seem to work are perfect. Such a well constructed comedy.

Previous films watched