Final quarter of films


In theaters:

The Peanuts Movie (2015): I wrote a whole post on this movie. In short, despite its flaws, I had a wonderful time watching this movie. It made me happy and warmed my soul---in other words, not the bombastic monstrosity we feared. In fact, this film, arguably more than any other Peanuts animation, captured the idiosyncratic line quality of the strip. Not at all what I assumed would be the case when 3D renders first hit the scene all those months ago. So phew. And yay.

The Good Dinosaur (2015): I don't know what this film was like before it was completely rejiggered, but the current marketing utterly failed to sell it honestly. Here's what you need to know: it's a western. Classic western. Disaster strikes the old farm. A young man out on his own. Cowboys and bandits, good guys and bad guys, growing up. It even fits in a wild-animal story while finding a better solution to the inevitable separation than IDONTLOVEYOUANYMORE. Look: the film has flaws (key among them the ungood apatosaurus design), but most of its problems are, in my opinion, bad marketing.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): My favorite parts were when Han and Leia were on screen together. In part because they are Han and Leia but undoubtedly because, as they've aged, my father and Han Solo have gotten closer and closer in appearance. (The actors being about the same heights as my parents can't hurt either.) The rest of the film was good and I enjoyed it and look forward to watching it again to discover if I want to watch it again to discover if I want to watch it again to discover if I want to watch it again to discover if I want to watch it again. And if I do, then we'll declare it a worthy successor.

At home:

The Skeleton Twins (2014): Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader transition to drama much better than, say, Jim Carrey (and they certainly make believable siblings). This is a sad tale, but it's grounded in a solid, real relationship and even the most joked-at character finds pathos in the end. Tight script. A joyful drag.

Heavy Metal (1981): I saw snippets of this movie with some frequency during sleepless high school nights, up late, channel surfing, often landing on USA. One memorable time, I watched one of its naked women flying away at a hotel with my mother and she didn't even notice. It being a cartoon, it didn't register to her as threatening. It's been probably more than twenty years since I last saw it, so who knows how correct my memories are, but I'm quite certain a lot got cut from USA's broadcasts. For one thing, there are even more ridiculous breasts. More in the senses of both total number and anatomy. The anthology format is interesting, but---as in many anthology films---ultimately artificial. It's also weird how poorly rotoscoping has aged. And the actions scenes kind of suck, honestly. But there is a sort of adolescent purity to the thing. And now I can lay that piece of my past to rest. (Although I should add that this movie almost certainly inspired my childhood. It's hard to believe the hero of the final segment didn't provide some vital DNA to Masters of the Universe---she looks like the Sorceress and He-Man stole some of her gimmicks.)

UHF (1989): Since last quarter's viewing Son #1 has been quoting this movie relentlessly. And so now it's been seen by all three. Amazing how well this film predicted everything from Adult Swim to YouTube. (Not so good at predicting FCC regulations.)

Frankenweenie (2012): Not quite as good the second time (flaws do rise to the surface...), but it didn't have low expectations going for it anymore. The danger of success. Still: eminently enjoyable.

Bernie (2011): I enjoyed this movie so much, with its sorta-documentary style and really terrific performance from Jack Black. It is funny, but the sad parts are sadder than the funny parts are funny. Because the pathos Jack Black brings to the role makes you feel so much for Bernie that we too can't escape the shadow he's trapped under, even when everyone else is convinced nothing is wrong.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): First time I've seen this since the second film disappointed me and broke my heart and made me swear off pirates all together. Happily, tonight we broke this out to share with the kids and it's still wonderful. Structural elements and details that mirror Star Wars and Indiana Jones and thus show why these things are always awesome when done well. And Johnny Depp. And Geoffrey Rush. And the two pretty characters. And all the character actors along the edges. I will admit this time I noticed a couple flaws, but they aren't the sort of flaws that matter. Like, in Jurassic Park, the goat/cliff problem. These things are storytelling and if the storytelling is done well enough, slight flaws don't matter. Major flaws do, however, and bringing back Barbosa in the second movie is one of those. Yes, Black Pearl made me want to watch all the sequels but, alas, I know better. Shame.

School of Rock (2003): This remains such a pure expression of joy. Hard to imagine it ever getting old.

Enemy (2013): Came out the same year as the last doppelganger film we watched. This one takes itself a bit too seriously and ends up confused about what it's saying. The other film also asked more than it answered, but it didn't fetishize uncertainty. Great acting in this one too, but watch the other one.

Big Eyes (2014): Although, when you start looking, you can find Tim Burtony aspects to this movie, it's most remarkable, as a Tim Burton movie, for its restraint. The acting is good. Amy Adams has the smallest eyes of any actress in the film. It's a respectful biopic. It's a good movie. I'm not sure we'll remember it in ten years, however. I'm not sure that we will.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989): Kids of today produce a verdict of hilarious. I have to say: although it's by no means a "great" movie, I still had a great time watching it too. They're begging for Bogus Journey tomorrow.

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991): When I was a kid, I liked this movie more than the first in the series. Having just watched them on back-to-back nights, I have to disagree with myself. Although its higher points may be higher, it's crasser, less guileless, and the third act ddrraaggss. That said, party on dudes.

The Parent Trap (1961): This film runs long by contemporary standards, but I don't find any fat on its bones. It's funny and heartfelt and honest. And, watching it the first time as a parent, kind of great on more than one level.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Finally I have seen this movie. I am one step closer to being able to accept my eventual demise. This is a hard film to write about in just one paragraph. Let's start by saying I won't judge it by how well it responds to the book. Even including a prologue with the Shelleys and Byron, it's making no attempts to be THAT Frankenstein---and rightly so. It's a distinctly noncinematic book---a "true" adaptation is impossible. The makeup and performance of Karloff is terrific. The side characters are great. The religious imagery is moving. The Bride is on screen not nearly long enough. The ending is nonsense and sours the experience for me. Is it a masterpiece? I dunno. I love its use of techniques from both the melodrama and German Expressionism while remaining essentially naturalistic. Parts of the film are hard to enjoy as filmed when your mind's been polluted by Young Frankenstein. Another thing: the pacing and length of this film (quick but able to be slow / an hour fifteen) prove that it's possible to make a great movie using time much differently than modern film. I'm not sure a film shaped and stretched like this one could be accepted today, but I would love to see some attempts made. Anyway, I liked it well enough. And for a gay man, James Whale seems to understand the filming of breasts quite well. Can you say that on Thutopia?

Wild (2014): This is an amazing film. The way it's shot, the way it's edited, the way it plays with chronology and memory, the use of color, what Reese Witherspoon does with her face---both with the muscles under the skin and the abuse to the skin itself. The film does a terrific job of showing darkness and pain and distance. I feel I learned about not just hiking, but mourning and despair and depravity and loneliness being a lone woman in a world that threatens to take advantage of you in that state. It's beautifully shot and beautifully paced. I'm happy Witherspoon is still with us. I'm amazed Nick Hornby was capable of writing it. I see now why people speak highly of Jean-Marc Vallée. This movie will probably change a few lives. (The cgi fox, however, c'mon.)

The Mountain of the Lord (1993): Although no one's likely to confuse it with a purely-meant-for-entertainment version of the same story, this is pretty good stuff. Some of the performances are just terrific, especially the guy playing Wilford Woodruff. His performance really is both corner- and capstone of the film. One line ("He was right. He was . . . always right.") is just one of those lines I always have access to. Bit of an obscure reference for most audiences, I suppose. Anyway. The older two kids really liked it. So that's a win as well.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010): [Note: began this elsewhere, finished it at home.] I saw the first short film a few years ago and I may have shared it with you then. This was a successful transition to a full-length film with an actual narrative. In fact, were it not for the penises and the subtitles and the being a horror film, this would be a great film to share with my dad. It's the whole boy-becoming-a-man tale that he digs. And sure, a couple of the story beats are less well developed, but the film is so assured and smart about what it is and where it's going that we're completely willing to forgive it. In short: Santa is found buried under a mountain in Lapland by some nosy Americans and then, well, things get started. (Horror movie.) The film is much less gory and jumpy than I had expected. It's more a story of a family and friends and wilderness hardship---it's almost a western, in that way. Only instead of Injuns or oilmen or something, it's Santa. Some cable station should play THIS movie all day Christmas. That's what I say.

Elf (2003): Maybe it's regular exposure, but that third act gets less terrible with each viewing. Or maybe it's just that the joy of renewing my love for Zooey Deschanel gets me through. In other news, I've arrived at a theory as to why they get publishing so wrong: it's not publishing they're showing, it's an oversimplified version of blockbuster filmmaking. That makes more sense. Anyway, we'll let Will Ferrell's guileless performance cancel out that annoyance and Zooey's cancel out the third act and what's left? Just the funfunfunnest Christmas movie ever.

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977): I've been reading a lot of articles from 1977 and so watching it this time, I've tried to experience the film as if it were 1977 and instead of this defining film for me, it's breaking what I think about film. Which was a pretty great way to watch it. Although the 1997 additions really do feel out of place and a bit draggy. Still. IT'S STAR WARS.

Die Hard (1988): I've realized for a while now that I would have to watch Die Hard someday. It's reached classic status and even its role as a Christmas movie has moved past the joke stage. Even this year's Christmas episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is Die Hard-themed. The reason of course is that the first Die Hard movie is that rare action film where the hero could, in fact, die. The hero as played by then-comedian Bruce Willis is mortal, vulnerable, human. And that's the sort of hero that makes for the best action movie. Twenty-seven years in, Die Hard thrills.

Back to the Future (1985): With the younger two kids gone, we're finally getting to the must-see movies of 2015. First one was a hit. I gotta say it holds up. And that I get a lot more references I did when I saw it the first time, at a friend's slumber party. Long, long ago. Anyway. Back to the future.

Back to the Future Part II (1989): Okay. I admit it. There is one pretty big flaw in the time-travel logic. But hey---time travel. Anyway, I love how integrated the sequels are, even if Crispin Glover did sue.

Back to the Future Part IIi (1990): THE END appeared on the screen with 23 seconds left in 2015. What a marvelously satisfying way to end 2015.


Hamlet (1990): This is still my favorite filmed Hamlet. I'm ready for a new competitor to win the day, however.

The Bad Seed (1956): Yes! I'm so pleased when a film lives up to its reputation, and this one's only real flaw is one it shares with Psycho (which came out four years later---it was the times) and that's a tendency to over-explain the psychology at work here. Otherwise (other than a few weird time issues that were rather playlike and shouldn't have appeared in a film), this film is awesome. Chilling. Shocking. I couldn't believe what was happening even though I had known coming in what this was all about. It's...just great. I do take issue with its Hays-Code ending, but that hardly takes away from the pleasures. If we can call them that....

Romeo and Juliet (1968): The best way to watch this film is with freshmen who behave like groundlings, overreacting to all the sex and violence.

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996): Watch it with the right people, and this is the closest to the Globe you can get.

It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012): Dan Hertzfeldt's feature is a thing of beauty---a melancholy meditation on mortality and madness. And his filmic voice is so unique. I found it moving, and hope to watch it many more times.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015): I was subbing someone else's class and after some false starts and through some interruptions, we were to watch this film. Luckily, the class was right before lunch, so I got an extra 35 minutes of watch time, but to finish before my next class started, I had to watch some of the last bits on fast forward. It's a shame, because the film was good---chilling as a film on this story should be. It's shocking to watch how quickly the guards degrade. Frankly, it's their degradation that says more about humanity than the prisoner's. If you've been wondering if this film does credit to this true story, it does.

Previous films watched





The final book of 2015


I don't think it's too likely I'll be finishing another book before midnight tomorrow, but I may watch another movie, so I'll post this now and post the last movie post of the year tomorrow.

S'long, 2015!


126) The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht (English book by Desmond Vesey, English lyrics by Eric Bentley), finished December 26

Although the text noted that the first song ("The Moritat of Mackie the Knife") became a massive hit---massive enough, I thought, even I might recognize it, it did not occur to me until I sat down to write this review and fired up Spotify that that Mack the Knife might be that Mack the Knife*.

As it was, I had a really hard time with these lyrics (any of these lyrics) as written finding a nonce melody that fit. I could certainly see the story being the sort of thing musical nerds of any generation latching onto (though the vulgarity of this play seems to fit late 20s Berlin particularly well). And, as I neared the end, I found the Peachums referenced in a Frank O'Hara poem.

Anyway, I seem to find in The Threepenny Opera everything that annoys me about musicals. I can appreciate that Brecht is reveling in the mire, but it's still stinky stuff.

Brecht's notes on the text: can't decide how I feel about them. I didn't really care what he said and they seemed bizarre notes, difficult to implement in any meaningful way in performance, but their very existence fascinated me.

Anyway. I can't take much more of this music. I think I'll stop here.

(I didn't expect to be so negative when I sat down to write this. Most musicals make me feel this way. I always thought it was Sondheim's fault, or possibly Lloyd Webber. Ends up my antipathy can be pushed further back in time.)
two or three weeks

Previously in 2015 . . . . :


Two drawn by Kerascoët


I've written about Kerascoët-drawn works before: the excellent Beauty and the enjoyable Miss Don't Touch Me. Here are two more (Thank you, libraries!).

125) Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët, finished December 23

This is the first Kerascoët book I've read by an author other than Hubert and while it's not quite as stunning as Beauty, it is a wonderful wonderful thing.

Here's the beginning:

I know what you're thinking right now. You're thinking: Wow. Oh, wow. I-- I don't--- Wow.

And I would have to agree with you.

The book goes on in this sort of fairytale innocence pasted over a dark interior. It's Lord of the Flies with one character trying her best to stay civilized as the casual cruelty of the world around her threatens to take over.

I don't want to say more. I don't want to get into my analytical feelings or symbolic suspicions because you can read it yourself and make your own decisions.

If those first pages don't make you open another tab and start looking for it right now, you're batty.
dunno but let's say an hour again


124) Miss Don't Touch Me, Vol. 2 by Hubert and Kerascoët, finished December 23

The first volume was a rip-tearing murder thriller. This one has elements of that, but it's largely a doomed romance with Important Things to Say about how gay people were treated eighty, ninety years ago. I did appreciate how the twist was different from what I originally expected, but it was projected early enough it wasn't surprising, but late enough to be disappointing. In the end, society sucks for everyone---whether you're poor or rich, they'll find a way to get you down. Yay?

It was nice to see Miss Don't Touch Me approach happiness. And a bummer to see the closest thing these books have to a good person get so gravely disappointed.

an hour

Previously in 2015 . . . . :

Two of these books are about reading. One is about watching tv. One's about killing people. Actually two are about killing people. But that still only adds up to four books total.


123) His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison, finished December 21

I haven't written about this yet (Christmas! busy!) but when I do, it'll be here.)
coupla weeks


122) I Was a Child by Bruce Eric Kaplan, finished December 18

For most of the pages of this book, I couldn't decide if it was good or not. But I kept reading because it was made of bite-size pieces and littered with pictures so it was the perfect book for small moments.

In the end, I figured out what it was about. And now I like it. It was good.

Here's what this New Yorker cartoonist / tv writer's memoir of childhood is about:

It's about the impossibility of forgiving our parents. Not that we don't love them. Not that we can't empathize them. Not that we don't recognize that they did their best. Not that we've recognized it's unfair and unkind and unjust to wish they had done more or better or simply different. Just that parent-child relationships are fraught and lead inexorably to damage and love them or understand them or become them as we may, we never quite fully forgive them. And this is the damage we carry. And, I see looking down at the next generation, pass on.

For I too am damaging my children in ways they will never quite be able to forgive, not fully, not in this life, no matter how much we love each other or how good our relationship as adults turns out to be. The damage is too broad and too deep to ever uncover and release it all. Not in this life. Not in this life.
a week


121) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, finished December 18

I have (had) a lot I want(ed) to say about this book, but I'm fighting a cold and I'm not sure I'm capable of piecing together anything intelligible. So here are some disjointed thoughts.

I've been wanting to read this book since it came out ten years ago. I've had a (huge) hardback since that time. So huge that I would always read a page or so and put it back on the shelf. So when I picked up a free paperback copy earlier this year, I knew what my Halloween book would be. (I'd already started 'Salem's Lot, so that needed to be finished first, but it was done before Halloween). I've been reading it as I walk to and from school since. Plus a little but more here and there, but mostly on my commute. Took a couple months, but I finished it.

I like how the intro is dated three years after the book came out, leaving room for things to become real as they progress. (I also write things in the near future. Byuck takes place in 2000. Of course, by the time I finished writing it, that wasn't the future anymore. Just Julie's Fine takes place in the future year of 2005. Ask me how that's going.)

The first section of the book weaves past and present with great efficacy. But once the past changes from stories being told vocally to stories being told through documents, it's a bit less smooth.

Still: it's a much better book than Dracula.

The characters are well formed. I grew quite fond of many of them, though, with one notable exception, she only kills characters we barely know.

The title obviously has layers, but one final layer added at the end makes for a nice little twist.

The book feels insanely real. If this is not impeccably researched then it is the dirtiest of literary lies.



I feel bad. I spent so much time with this book and I wish I could think of more and better to say.

two months plus or minus a couple days


120) Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books by Wendy Lesser, finished December 16

I'll admit I skimmed parts of the first few chapters. I wasn't sold on Lesser's bonafides as someone *I* was willing to let lead me through reading, and she kept talking about books I had not read---and sometimes had not heard of.

But as I kept reading, I bought more and more into her ethos and I began to care about even some of the books I'd never heard of. Almost, in fact, she has sold me on the virtues of rereading---something I'm theoretically in favor of but from which mortality has scared me off.

The book's chapter's focus on various "reasons" to read---or, perhaps, various gifts books bestow (or hide away for the those who would discover): novelty, authority, grandeur and intimacy...). Each chapter builds on the last, It's like a How to Read...http://thmazing.blogspot.com/2011/12/s.html#lit for grownups.

Lesser was a good companion, even if she didn't speak much of our common read-list.

I enjoyed spending time with her. And I've noted a few of her recommendations.
about three weeks

Previously in 2015 . . . . :


Blogger predicts I'll call this post “Trigger Warning Starts with 33 Seconds” --- so let's go with that.


119) This Is Portland: the city you've heard you should like by Alexander Barrett, finished December 10

This little bitty book will make you want to move to Portland. In fact, if it wasn't for an apparent paucity of good burritos, I would, on the advice of this book, move there today.

I would go see the swallows.

I would spend all my evenings in second-run theaters.

Every day I would visit a new foodcart.

Eat a new deep-fried wonder.

But I can't go. The burrito problem is unsurmountable.
maybe three weeks


118) Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Able, finished December 9

I started this a loooong time ago. Perhaps as far back as March. I read the first few dozen pages and liked what I read but eventually got bored and set it aside. Time passed. Then I mentioned it at a party and promised to lend it to someone so I picked it up and read the remaining sixty or seventy percent in the last week. And I'm glad I did!

If I were to scan a page and put it here (I'm not going to) it would be from the end, where Abel's avatar talks about the difficulty of working out a long, complex, deeply researched bit of nonfiction about people working out long, complex, deeply researched bits of nonfiction. Of course, she's doing it through comics rather than radio/podcasts, and that interplay of mediums is actually part of what makes the book's frisson so fascinating. I don't work in either medium, but I'm fascinated by them both. And I'm fascinated by this sort of meta-art. The premier (in both senses) example of which in comics is Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, but what Abel's attempting here is in some senses more complex in that she has to juggle actual interviews with actual people---her work is also journalism (her endnotes are a fascinating variation when you look closely). Frankly, I would have liked more inventiveness in her visual metaphors, but given her presumably broad, not necessarily fully comics literate, intended audience, I can't blame her restraint.

I wonder what the legions of active amateur podcasters make of this work?
maybe as long as six months


117) Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert & Kerascoet, finished December 8

While no Beauty, this book from the same comics team intrigues. Sure, partly because it is looooooaded with sex and violence (whore houses! serial killers! s&m!), but the characters are pretty great. And it pulls a Psycho like I did not expect.



116) Kids Say the Darndest Things! by Art Linkletter, finished November 29

You've probably heard of this 1957 book. It's a cornerstone of American pop culture, to be sure, having started on tv and worked its way into print and common parlance. You could argue that the noncatcentric internet store of videos is descended directly from his work with kids.

Anyway, the book is charming and fun. Bits of it certainly show age and the jokey final chapter was fun but a misfire.

In the end, it's timeless humor and yet, at the same time, utterly of its age. It gets added gravitas by being introduced by Walt Disney and provides a larger audience for up-and-comer Charles M. Schulz's drawings. How 1957 is that?

ten days

Previously in 2015 . . . . :