All the rest of the movies of 2016


In theaters:

Doctor Strange (2016): We finally returned to the theater! For the Big O's birthday, to see a movie both he and his mother were excited to see (though perhaps not for identical reasons). It's a visual feast and reasonably intelligent. Certainly a quality entry into the Marvel canon. I guess next we'll get to see how it integrates itself. I know about nothing about the Strange comics so I can't speak to questions of adaptation, but as a film, it seemed pretty good to me.

Rogue One (2016): I expected (hoped?) this movie would be brave enough to be Seven Samurai in Space (although, in retrospect, maybe it's more a Dirty Dozen, given all the Normandy references in the film), and it was! But . . . I had a hard time really caring about the characters. The two temple guardians were the most interesting characters, but knowing when they would die (and how) well before they did didn't build a nice dramatic irony or anything---it just felt sloppy. And I was thrown off how Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia looked like expats from Tintin (my initial impression of Tarkin was an audible WOW . . . it was every other impression that was the problem). Other than the unVaderlike pun, I thought that other returning character was great. And the people around the Alliance table, they were good. Hhhhh. It's a hard thing, this balance of innovation and nostalgia they're trying to pull. In the details, they succeeded. I'm willing to watch the movie again a time or two before dismissing it, but . . . it wasn't the world, you know?

At home:

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): For the first time, I liked a Marvel movie as much the second time I watched it! In fact, I may have even liked it more, as I found the bad guy better this time around. (Although of course Lee Pace's greatest role will always be the Piemaker.) This really is the best movie of its type outside the best of Star Wars.

Let the Right One In (2008): Although I new the gist of this film I was caught completely off guard by the beats it took to get to where it was going. It's weird to call a bloody vampire movie sweet and touching but inasmuch as such a thing is possible, this one is it. The saying of which probably puts me on some FBI watch list, but oh well.

Captain America: Civil War (2016): My hilarious complaint is that the cgi was distracting pretty frequently in this movie, specifically when certain characters were moving through space. But I never felt that way about Black Panther, even though he was recently revealed to be a purely cgi creation. Ha ha! Hilarious! Even though I found the crisis to be a bit engineered and less natural than my understanding of the comics' Civil War (which I have not read, but I understand it was more about something crossed between the Patriot Act and a superhero Kristallnacht---this was more like checks and balances against militarized police which really deserves a bit more attention than some moody scenes that end with fisticuffs. That said, the bad guy ultimately brought the depth and complexity to the problem that most of the movie skidded around. To my surprise though, I ultimately found the movie quite satisfying. I can't believe I've watched so many of these. (Though clearly I need to watch more. For instance, I had no memory of Sharon Carter.)

Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956)*: Except the two American films of the last twenty years, I've never actually watched an entire Godzilla movie. So we checked this out from the library. The kids decided to watch the American recut starring Perry Mason first, so that's what we did. The recut itself is pretty impressive. A couple scenes were a bit goofy in order to make it work, but overall, pretty stellar job remixing it into something new starring an American. I though the rubber-suit effects would be awful, but when the movie is good, we believe it's world. In its own way, the rubber suit works as well as King Kong's puppetry (see below). I'm excited to see the original Japanese version now and see if it is the movie I'm predicting based on what we saw here.

Gojira (1954)*: Although they did an impressive job injecting Perry Mason, the Japanese cut is more artistically coherent in almost every respect. The science is built up a little more (making it even more ridiculous), but every other aspect of the film is simply better. The underwater fantasia at the end is even beautiful.

Keanu (2016): 'Twas funny and fun and smarter than the usual movie of its type, but the pacing was off. It draaagged at times---could have been probably ten minutes shorter.

Shaolin Soccer (2001): Shaolin Soccer is one of a handful of films that changed my sense of what is possible in the movies. It's still fun and funny and charming and use-the-whole-bison creative, but it has also aged a little bit. I don't hold that against it, but I covet those rare This Changes Everything! experiences, and the knowledge that this movie can never give me that again is a bit bittersweet. I'm glad to say the kids enjoyed this film, though I'm not sure, in 2016, it changed much for them.

Mission: Impossible (1996): Man does this movie hold up! Sure the tech's aged, but who cares? Tech ages in every movie. The question is does it still speed your heartrate? This movie, methinks, will never cease to thrill. Dun. Dun. Du nuh. . . .

The Gleaners & I (2000): I heard of this film on a best-of-all-time documentaries list and it was free with Prime, so hey! The film probably felt a lot different in 2000 than it does after sixteen years of marriage to Lady Steed for whom many of the issues raised in the film are personal passions. Although interesting, it hardly blew my mind. And the artistic touches, though charming, did not grow my sense of the possible. Top ten of all time? Nah. But good and charming and interesting and funny and occasionally a bit moving. Worth gleaning.

The Abominable Bride (2016): In the end, this just pissed me off. It started with a PREVIOUSLY ON when I thought I was getting a true standalone. The cheeky references to Sherlock were amusing, but it wasn't until it embraced being period that it truly won me over. It was very funny while building real suspense. It had excellently used references to the original stories (notably "The Five Pips") and was an utter delight. Alas, it did get a bit maudlin at the end, and then it went haywire and started reincorporating contemporary Sherlock. I suppose it was playful enough, refusing to settle on which timeline is the real timeline, blah blah blah, but it just ruined for me what should have been a straightforward recreation. Trying to be clever and keep everything canon was just, as the kids say, extra. Part of the problem is that I'm not a big Moriarty fan in the best of times,* and Sherlock's Moriarty is probably my least of all. So I'm glad to hear he's dead; I am not at all glad that he still was turned into a cliffhanger. Enough already.

Fletch (1985): This might be my first Chevy Chase Movie (do you include Caddyshack?). I get the appeal. The film hasn't aged terrifically (casual sexual harassment as a source of humor, a blaring synthetic score), but it was still an enjoyable ride (no idea it had so much Utah in it). I'll probably always like him best in Community though. Sorry, Chevy.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016): First, the good. Matt Smith might now be Lady Steed's favorite Mr Collins. She enjoyed the film. Indeed, if you ignore its many failings, it's certainly an entertaining film. I do think they misthought their audience. Although I prefer the toned-down gore, PG-13 was the wrong rating for this film. Little shoutouts to fans of the book and previous versions of the film suggest this was aimed at people thirty and up. Adjusting the zombie violence to let middle-school kids buy tickets might have made sense in 1985, but it's a boneheaded move today. Now for the pedantic. Charlotte's lines kept getting spoken by Jane or Mrs Bennet. The beats of the film didn't match those of the novel, but they kept's the novel's beats anyway, even though they would only make sense if you were already intimate with the source material (see marketing note above). In fact, some of the beats were utterly backward. I couldn't sort out the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy, and even when you add zombies, that's kind of important. Of the two good things about the PPZ novel, one is excised entirely, and one simply disappears as they dropped the last third-plus of the novel for an entirely new plot. Elements of that new ending good, and that portion is, as one of the filmmakers says, "cinematic," but it also further confuses what makes a good P&P movie. The ending has nice kissing (and, perhaps I should mention, this film probably has the best cleavage of any P&P film and certainly the best legs), but the movie doesn't figure out how to properly end both a zombie movie and the ur-romcom simultaneously. Instead, it pulls a cheap summer-blockbuster trick and sets up a sequel I'm skeptical they ever expected to make (certainly, it's unlikely now). Hhhhhh. Anyway, here's the thing: if you think you might be interested in this film, just try not to think as you watch it and you should be able to enjoy it. Most of the time. Maybe bring some cough drops for Darcy. (Final note: the real trick might be to have low expectations because Lady Steed had a great time. I didn't expect much given its critical and box-office performance, but I still knew the movie had much more potential to be good than the book had realized.)

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989): The younger two wanted to watch this again, so I set it up without any intention of watching it with them. But you know what? This is a really, very compelling movie. So I set my mind to thinking about why, and the answer's pretty simple: The characters are compelling. Especially the historical characters. Even Joan of Arc or Genghis Khan---who don't really have any lines---are well drawn and fascinating. The actors and the director created space for a huge ensemble to thrive, even though that's not how I've thought of Bill & Ted. Even Napoleon, who is accurately described as a dick, has an arc that genuinely takes him somewhere. For a low-budget, throwaway, teen comedy, this movie has a lot going for it. It deserves to stick around.

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2014): I watched this on a whim and was astonished by how moving I found it. Other than He's the Guy Who Does Oscar and Big Bird, I didn't know much about Caroll Spinney. I'm very glad to have gotten to know him. And it seems like his marriage is much akin to my own marital aspirations. . . . Shouldn't have watched this flick alone, I guess.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947): I haven't seen this movie in well over twenty years, but it was a holiday staple when I was growing up. Glad to tell you it still holds up! Watched it with my kids tonight and they dug it---laughed all through the court scene. AS ONE SHOULD. (Note: I saw the remake when it was still fairly fresh---on the airplane to Korean. I don't remember it that well, but I think it was a case of That Was Fine But What Was the Point? Don't have much desire to revisit it now, either. Why when the original holds up so well?

Scrooged (1988): Pretty much as good as I remembered. I've never had a screen before where you could actually see her nipples, so that was eye-opening. The final scene is too long, but not because Bill Murray doesn't carry it (he does) but because it strains credulity regardless. Speaking of regardless, a very fun watch.

Elf (2003): It uses the two creepiest Christmas carols at important plot points. What's that all about?

Crisis in Six Scenes (2016): I know, I know. It's not technically a "movie," but if you cut all the credits out it is the same length---and it certainly feels like a Woody Allen movie. Not one of his best (largely because Miley Cyrus's character is a lousy miscreation), but the "movie" has utterly exquisite moments---the greatest of which are frequently centered around the ladies' book club. All these brilliant older actresses who simply do not work enough. Get them their own show!

Mr. Holmes (2015): Considering the main bits I knew about this film going in, I'm surprised by how much it surprised me. And delighted me. And moved me. This film is a remarkable acheivement. Anyone who wants to see the difference between a sentimental film and one that follows the same beats with honesty should look here.

Wishful Drinking (2010): This was probably the best way to mourn Carrie Fisher's passing---and perhaps her mother as well, if you include the almost-as-long nearly unedited interview with her that's included on the DVD's special features. She looks and sounds like your aunt, the one you like who also slightly worries you. I have to admit that the same bits, heard the night before on NPR, fell flat in comparison---she's better playing off someone, but a good line is a good line. She had so many exciting years ahead of her, and those, now, I mourn most of all.

The Big Short (2015): For such a fun upbeat movie, it sure left me depressed. . . . And not very optimistic about our crummy future. Take out some swears and nipples, and I would show this to every student I know.

Café Society (2016): A pretty good movie for New Year's Eve, as it ends up. It ends as a new year begins. But it's melancholy, and---at least personally---I feel hopeful. Anyway, Jesse Eisenberg makes a great Woody Allen (who I like as narrator), and thank you whoever made the trailer: I had no idea what I was in for. It was a wonderful movie. But it does make me glad I don't have a large closet of could-have-beens. Auld lang syne, ladies.


Frankenstein (1931): I watched this three times in one day as part of a discussion of how ideas evolve within a culture and I think I enjoyed it more each time. It's old-fashioned, sure, in certain respects, and it seems to have only the vaguest notion of what the book was about, but there's something very honest about that movie. Now that I own the full Universal run, I'm curious to see what else they did with this set of memes.

Young Frankenstein (1974): This one holds up great with the exception of one detail. The, what we would now term sexual assault, has always made me uncomfortable, good little Mormon boy that I am. But now it also makes my students uncomfortable. I'm curious to see if this impacts its reputation, going forward.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935): I like this movie even more than the first time I saw it. Now that I know the Bride will make only a brief appearance before the movie crashes to a sudden end, I can accept it and make it part of the film as a whole.

Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948): It's silly of course, but it's funny. I'm always nervous sharing old comedy with world-weary teenagers, but this won them over. For me, the most startling thing about it is some of the violence at the end. Those were some hardcore deaths.

The Babadook (2014): Wow! This is an utterly original horror film. Sure it shares DNA with everything from The Exorcist to Stepford Wives to The Sixth Sense to Dr Caligari to The Bad Seed to Eraserhead, but it's not any of those movies. The sound design is oppressive but functional, and it balances the shown and the not shown with aplomb. This may be a the greatest horror film for mothers ever. Certainly, I don't know of a better one. In a sentence: A mother and child are terrorized by sleeplessness and an unpleasant children's book. But it is absolutely about being a parent. And it's too true to be anything but a horror film.

Goodnight Mommy (2014): This movie made me crawl into a ball, scream once. The acting is good. The editing is amazing. The shots are lovely. The settings are perfect. The original title translates as I See I See which does a better job getting at the themes of doubling and twins and unmatched perspectives, etc. Even our own perspective changes, but rather than making it a twist, it comes gradually as we get more and more certain what is happening. The film has a few missteps, but I certainly enjoyed it. And it's another horror film about the tensions between parent and child.

King Kong (1933): I know it is, in some ways, a stepping stone to superior modern storytelling, and we wouldn't now do things the way this film does them (evidence), but I love this movie. It's a wonderful movie. And Fay Wray, man. Fay Wray.

Rounders (1998): I had forgotten John Turturro is in this movie too! Great cast. Probably the best movie ever made in terms of being about poker. Makes the game look both insanely attractive and also warns me far, far away. Language and strippers mean I'm unlikely to share it with my kids. Alas.

Ghost in the Shell (1995): This is one of a handful of anime movies I feel obliged to watch at some point, and with the live-action's trailer out now, I figured it was time to get educated. One thing about it is, not being Japanese, it's hard to see why the Japanese feel this film is quintessentially Japanese. Also, as far of science fiction goes, it fits into that tradition of ponderous-to-the-point-of-being-boring---like Blade Runner (in my opinion), 2001 (based on what I've made it through) or The Matrix (I fear, should I rewatch it now). That said, I think it's even more timely now than when it was released. Anyone into the film: are the static an near static frames intended to show an inhuman lack of motion or is it merely costcutting cheapness? (Asking for a friend.)

A Face in the Crowd (1957): This is indeed a masterful film. And unpleasantly prescient. The only thing it gets wrong is that, as it ends up, the people are only too happy to forgive their demagogue. Andy Griffith was a revelation. I'm amazed that this film opened his career. And that his career still traveled the road it did. (Of course, I've said the same thing of Fred MacMurray. And would of Anthony Perkins if, you know, it were applicable in his case.) Patricia Neal was new to me, and someone I would love to see again. She can do amazing things with her face.

Harold and Maude (1971): Watched this with high-school seniors and they were quite distressed by it. I think it'll stick with them and their opinion will slowly evolve. Here's what I think: it's a deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girl that arrived 40 years too soon to be read that way. Another tidbit: if you're going to use a strong soundtrack, not a bad idea to stick with just a guy and his guitar. Cat Stevens has aged much better than, for instance, the synthesized soundtrack of Fletch discussed above.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): They say it's weird. I say it's beautiful.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990): It's fascinating to me that such a media-savvy generation has such a hard time with metafictional stories.

About a Boy (2002): As part of a last-week throwaway assignment on intertextuality, we watched this and they wrote about it. Lots of insights on expected connections (Christmas movies, Frankenstein), but also some interesting unexpecteds like Annie and The Karate Kid.

Stranger than Fiction (2006): Something about all three of these movies is how good the crying is. High-school kids always mock crying as poorly done, but not here. Interestingly to me here is how there was a general sense of a) no one should tell Harold he should die and b) Harold should have died. How about that!

Pride & Prejudice (2005): Although all three of these movies were beloved of their respective classes (and all three elicited sniffles), this was the only one that ended with applause. Although that applause might have included a tiny bit of sarcastic applause---they were frustrated with the film for making them wait so long for a Darcy/Elizabeth kiss. The frustration was peanut-butter-like in viscosity.

The Blood of Jesus (1941): Although aspects of this film are pretty amateurish (including the acting---so "melodramatic" if you prefer), it's scattered throughout with striking images, making a simple it-was-all-a-dream morality tale feels like a truly supernatural experience.

Previous films watched





Some book!


066) Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet, finished December 30

Thurber's our of fashion and White's coming into fashion and I'm starting to wonder if my life would have gone a bit more according to plan if I'd chosen the latter as my literary hero.

Thurber, you see, is a bit too much like me.

And White is simply admirable.

This beautifully illustrated book is aimed at kids, but it is a marvelous introduction to the man---it captures his sensibility and his story as he saw it by incorporating his own words---even his own captions to his own photographs.

One anecdote:

When recording the audiobook for Charlotte's Web, it took him seventeen days to get down the chapter in which Charlotte dies. He couldn't get through it without weeping.

If that's not a writer---a man---to emulate, I don't know who is.

What a great way to end my reading year.

It's not how many books I cram in, it's about what they do to me, how they leave me, what they make me into.
two or three days

Previously in 2016


Into the sixties of books


065) Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything by Calef Brown, finished December 29

These are charming and amusing poems and I like how the margins are pulled into the game, and I have no qualms about recommending it to your kids or mine.


Everytime I read a book like this I'm struck by how rare is the genius of a Lewis Carroll or a Shel Silverstein. What the did was not easy. Even the very best poets working for kids rarely approach their heights.

So yeah, read this book, but not at the expense of the masters.
afternoon into evening


064) Cruising Through the Louvre by David Prudhomme, finished December 25

The surface of the book was about the Louve and makes cheesy comments about universality or something.

But the images of the book aren't making blase claims. They are showing the universal timelessness of art and humanity by simply placing them side by side.

while lady steed nursed


063) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, finished December 3

Ryan North is a very funny man. These books are almost unbearably clever and I laugh often.

This graphic novel version of Squirrel Girl manages to play the same games the comics do, but with the added layer of its ambiguous villain come from the good guys rather than the bad guys. It's scattered all over the Marvel Universe, but always focused on moving things forward. It's astonishing, really, how the words go simultaneously everywhere and just where they should.
past bedtime


062) La Jetée: ciné-roman by Chris Marker, finished November 28

I was subbing in the former photography teacher's room today, and as the kids worked on their animation projects, I read this book.

It's a photo-essay---or photofiction, I suppose---made of the same material of the famous-but-I'd-never-heard-of-it minifeature.

Just photos and accompanying writing, just as the film is just photos and narration.

It was a simple but fascinating piece of work. Lovely and disconcerting. Worth looking at once. I guess I'll watch the film as well, but only because I'm curious. It seems like it will be identical, but apparently the film's been a pretty big deal over the years.
under an hour

Previously in 2016