2017: Tʜᴇ Mᴏᴠɪᴇs
part one


In theaters:

The General (1926): This is absolutely one of the greatest comedies ever made. It is a bit weird to watch a movie and be on the sides of the Confederates---that frisson never goes away---but maybe it's all the better a movie for that.

Silence (2016): This is a hard movie. It is true movie and it is a good movie, but it is a hard movie. This is not a movie where you hope the protagonists make certain decisions---because you don't know any better than they do what is right. Perhaps nothing is right. Perhaps we can only choose a lesser wrong. And in those circumstances, will God yet be with us? This movie gives us hope that he will. But it does not suggest his presence will make our pathways easy. No. This is a hard movie. (For further evidence, look away from the protagonists, to the lay Christians around them.)

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017): As funny as I was counting on. I thought it would be a bit emotional and, being a sucker, I thought I might tear up. But baby I cried. Sadly, our theater's speakers were half out so we didn't get the fully involved experience, but even so the sound design was good. One sound effect got perhaps the biggest laugh out of me. Which is why the diminished sound was so very very frustrating.

Get Out (2017): The theater comped us tickets to rewatch LEGO Batman, but Lady Steed and I walked into this instead. So glad we did. From what I'd heard, I was thinking Stepford Wives, and it did me good to hear Jordan Peele plugging it as an influence (although Terry Gross had been tricked by the people too good for that film). This movie didn't affect me as strongly, but that's not to say I think it's a lesser effort. Not at all. In fact, I think it is very much the film of our moment. It's a terrific film. Beautifully shot and tightly constructed. I think this Peele guy may have a future.

At home:

Room (2015): Emma Donoghue's script is a perfect adaptation of her novel. It's been five years since I read the novel so I can't be too precise, but I can't complain about anything left out (the only things I know were missing were fine to leave out---adaptation generally requires some of that). The editing is marvelous and steady; the sound is impeccable (and not just the music). Brie Larson deserved her Oscar nomination, but let's not neglect the performance of Jacob Tremblay who played her son and narrated the dang thing. That's a lot to ask of a kid and he was up to the task. A moving film.

The Hidden Fortress (1958): I checked it out because of its influence on Star Wars---and the DNA is easy to see. Not just the peasants who inspired the droids, but the wipes and Obi-Wan and Tatooine and Leia and more. Though to suggest that this movie is that movie would be wrong. Everything is slippery and changing and not what it seems. The film is shot beautifully---the framing! And it takes a long time to do certain things (climbing a hill, fighting a duel)---but that extra time creates a greater sense of place and measure. It's hard to get used to all the yelling in Kurosawa's films, but no question they are great rides. Why not spend the extra time with them?

The Karate Kid (1984): Since the Relief Society president talked about this film in her sacrament-meeting talk, my seven-year-old has not ceased asking to watch it. The thing is: I hated this movie as a kid. While the rest of America was flocking to dojos, I became more uninterested in karate than I was before. Which wasn't any. (That said, I will cop to trying to crane kick while alone and bored.) The problem was, I hated the bullying in '80s movies, and this one's no exception. And the fighting at the end wasn't much better. But, of course, I liked Mr Miyagi. And I don't know but that this movie is what introduced me to Japanese Internment. Anyway, I was unthrilled about letting the kids watch this but neither would I let them watch it without me. I think because of my transparently bad attitude, they couldn't enjoy it as much as they would have anyway (although the requisite '80s romance was also a turnoff), but they did enjoy it. And, to my surprise, I did too. I mean---I don't love it and I have no regrets about the almost thirty years spent not watching Karate Kid, but it wasn't so bad. One question though: am I crazy or did the scoring change between all the initial matches and the final match between Daniel and Johnny? It did, right? From best of three to best of seven? Am I wrong?

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993): I haven't seen this in about twenty years and my only memory is the twist (don't look it up---my family was surprised by it), but I have it on good authority that it is the greatest Batman film ever, and I understand the argument. It is a fine, fine Batman movie. I don't know if it's my favorite, but it's great to have the character introduced without having to watch his parents get shot.

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015): Hey. It's a straight-up crowdpleaser and well crafted to boot. Who's complaining? UPDATE: I considered including a parenthetical modifying "well crafted" to note problems with plot- and character-development and the objective excellence of the alleged showstoppers but decided not to. By the time I woke the next morning. I realized the real issue. The dialogue is sharp enough and the actors excellent enough that, for all its flaws, PP2 still feels well crafted. Cast well, filmmakers!

Storks (2016): Watching this while holding a baby might be ideal. Sure it's underbaked in a couple spots, but mostly this is a very funny and visually clever and susprisingly moving film. As an aside, I wonder if the reason I never heard about a boycott of this film is because its alternative-families-are-legitimate-families agenda was balanced our by its pro-life agenda? Ha ha! Modern culture!


The Princess Bride (1987): This class was too cool not to be bored by this pathetic oldtime piece of crap

Mean Girls (2004): I'm teaching Julius Caesar and bumped into gifs of a certain JC-related scene I had forgotten exists (it's probably been ten years since I've seen this film). So I watched it. Still good.

The Princess Bride (1987): This class was utterly delighted.

Orc Wars (2013): I have some technical complaints, sure, but many of those can be placed squarely on the budget. What I would rather talk about is the storytelling beats which I thought were quite good. It had a few surprises that were justified by what had preceded and although some of the characters were decidedly less developed than others, they all made sense. Also, the film surprised me with such things as the good-guy bodycount. So yeah, it's a low-budget affair (and the constraints upon the writing were absurd), but it works.

Previous films watched






Allow me to comfort you with failure and sin and escape


047) The Natural by Bernard Malamud, finished March 28

Knock another baseball classic off the list! I'm done early enough, maybe I'll fit in a nonfiction baseball book this year as well. We'll see.

This book is exceedingly modern---it's heavy with the Arthur imagery and the time symbolism and the symbolism through sex and the ending is very modern as well. This is stuff that often annoys me---and I'm not about to claim this is one of the greatest novels evah, but this book managed it all in a short 237 pages, so we'll forgive it.

My version included a couple nice intros (only one of which I read before the book) which get into the symbolism of the novel but which, for me, may have been of most interest because they were written thirty years after the novel which was written about that long before the events of the novel---in otherwords, they engaged in recursive nostalgia. They were well written and interesting and incisive, but they assumed a certain sort of lived experience shared between themselves and those who might pick up The Natural and read their introductions.

Obviously, I'm too far removed from Babe Ruth or the Black Sox to even have any inherited nostalgia---it's all book-lernin to me. Which isn't qute the same thing. But I think the novel does just fine without those elements. In fact, having those memories not be personal perhaps allows the book to be even more mythic in its scope.

Could be.

At any rate, it's a tragedy. And somehow I did not expect that.

(Incidentally, I haven't seen the movie since I was a kid, say around eight. I remember very little. But now that I've read the novel I'll have to rewatch it.)
maybe twenty days


046) Let Me Drown with Moses by James Goldberg, finished March 26

If I make time for it, I hope to write two reviews on two different sites about this poetry collection.

I might say so now, but this is the first book I've read on my Kindle and I can't figure out how to access my notes....
seven months


045) Kaptara Volume 1: Fear Not, Tiny Alien by Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod, finished March 25

Okay. So imagine a Frazetta imagining of The Princess of Mars + Masters of the Universe + Douglas Adams-lite jokes + Sassy Gay Friend + Xanth + my high-school experience of making up stuff to make each other laugh (minus all the sex jokes because we were remarkably clean kids).

I can see why people talk so highly of the gentlemen who made this volume.

say a week


044) The Big Book of Exit Strategies by Jamaal May, finished March 22

This is the longest of the single-author collections I've read this year, but it's also one of the strongest. It does have one flaw (some sets of poems are clearly just variations on each other) but it's okay because they do draw out and expand upon each other, even if I doubt they were originally meant to be placed beside each other. (That said, were I May's editor, I would have axed some of them.)

The book is remarkably coherent as a whole considering how long it is (~120pp). Although some of the poems were a bit too obtuse and others needed tightening, I enjoyed this book. Well done.
nineteen days

Previously in 2017


That time that Swedish dude killed a kid in a submarine---a magical submarine


043) Casanova: Acedia Volume 1 by Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon and Michael Chabon and Gabriel Bá, finished March 18

What a writing cast! And the art is a style I'm very fond of! Okay!

The real problem with this volume is that it's really not long enough. They should have waited to make a collection. Why must they all be the same length? This was super intriguing, but some of what made it intrigue also made it dissatisfy. For instance, there is, if I'm counting correctly, three ongoing stories (one of which is superbrief and meta and may be ignored as far as this argument is concerned). Which means the pagelength is split between the two. Which makes both even slighter than they would normally be in this sort of collection.

That said, both stories are genre-bending bits of bitesize brilliance (or at least curiosity). But was it enough to stick with me long enough to read more next time?

Ask Shutter.
one week


042) Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan, finished March 15

This charmer (free from publisher) is about two loner kids (one by choice, one not) who find each other and embark on an adventure that is about three parts imagination to two parts reality.

It's fun and super simple. If you're looking to break a kid into chapter books, this could do it. It's smart and reasonably witty. It lacks the madcap strain on impossibility that you see in, say, Roald Dahl, but it's a dialed down entry into that same genre.
two noncontiguous days


041) Cyrus Perkins and the Haunted Taxi Cab by Dave Dwonch and Anna Lencioni, finished March 13

I picked this up off the library's Adult Graphic Novels shelf and my nine-year-old read it before I knew it was in risk of being touched by a child. Luckily, this was okay. I mean---there's blood and ghosts and a demon and stuff, but nothing beyond your average Disney movie. Which is the great American benchmark for child safety.

Here's the story: cabbie picks up a fare who's been shot and dies en route to the hospital. The boy's soul is trapped in the cab and the cabbie feels obliged to solve the mystery of his death in order to, he hopes, set him free.

And so it goes.

What I like best about the book is its hints at richness---the sense that there is much more story to tell, characters to develop. The ghost in the cab is not close to the most intriguing element (though alas: it looks rather like it'll be adopting a ghost-of-the-week format going forward), but I recognize the value of less interesting stories while the larger arcs grow more naturally. Sure. That's fine. I get it.
two days over three days


040) An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, finished March 10

What a play! This is a thrilling read and make no mistake. First we have what seems like a great victory of the liberals over the conservatives. Then we learn the liberals are exactly the same as the conservatives. Then we see our hero leap into a tragedy-sized abyss. Then we realize the tragedy will be less literal and all the more horrible therefor. Then we see that suffering is the actual heroism. Then we close the book and sit back and wonder if we were manipulated into the correct opinions, or tricked into the wrong opinions.

I believe all I’ve read of Ibsen’s before is A Doll’s House, and this play has many similarities. The mix of secrets-vs-disclosures within a family is different but present, and the hero is set up for utter tragedy, but by embracing that seeming tragedy, somehow finds a complicated and beautiful “happy” ending.

But along the way, Enemy of the People presents its themes with much more energy and vim. This would be a lot of fun to watch on stage, done right. And a film version should be rushed into production Right Now. THIS IS THE TIME!

probably a month reading only on some fridays

Previously in 2017


Caesar! Bunnies! Poetry! Gaiman!


039) Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, finished March 9

I first read Shakespeare my sophomore year of high school. Mrs Errecart said we were reading Julius Caesar and I was, I'll admit, pretty scared. Shakespeare??? It was going to be hard and boring and miserable.

Only it was not. I loved Julius Caesar. When I graduated high school, my parents got me Oxford's complete Shakespeare and he's been a big part of my life ever since.

But I've never again read Julius Caesar---which strikes me as rather remarkable, given how much Shakespeare I was assigned in college, not to mention the occasional for-fun reads.

But given the current climate, I thought this play might be a good choice. My AP kids are reading it next week and I just finished my first-ever reread in preparation.

And holy cow, guys. It's really good. So much fun to read. It's fast-paced and full of great dialogue. No fat on this baby.

Now to see if my students feel the same.....
couple weeks or so


038) In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary, finished March 5

So let's start by noting that Gary's professional life is dedicated to bringing out the voluminous, unpublished treasures Margarite Wise Brown left behind. This doesn't excuse that the purple-prosed hagiographic tendencies of this biography, but it does explain them somewhat. It's also worth complaining about that the biography tells a lot about what was flitting through its characters mind at any given moment, but the notes don't clearly back up that level of detail. The other thing that drove me nuts was how Gary would set up a storyline as important, then completely forget it. See her parents, for example, but the most egregious example, I felt, was her relationship with illustrator Phyra Slobodkina. They were working together at Margaret's Maine home when she parroted the anti-Semitic language heard from her America First Committee friends (and broadcasts). Phyra, being Jewish, was offended and left the next morning. Margaret felt awful and planned to make an apology. Did she? Dunno. In the remaining 140 pages Phyra's mentioned only twice in passing and there's nothing about the whole anti-Semite thing. That sort of thing is the book's biggest flaw.

But flaws aside, I really enjoyed this book. I didn't know much about Margaret Wise Brown coming in except she had written a whole lotta books. In fact, the only reason I checked this book out is because I had to talk to a librarian for checkout, was embarrassed by what I was getting, and had grabbed the closest respectable-looking thing off the NEW shelves as balance.

Even with the salt poisoning, I'm now convinced she was a genius. And not in the mystical sense, but in the sense of she had an unusual ability and spent her life working to refine it. Learning about how she got into the trade and the amount of time she spent with kids finetuning her stories was inspiring.

And her stupid, stupid death at the hand of a French doctor was shocking, even though I knew she was doomed to die young. She seemed to be on the cusp of her first healthy romantic relationship and then she was dead.

There are other biographies about her which I'll probably never read, but I now add her to the list of writers I admire. And the list of writers who were taken from us much too soon. I have to admit to a great, never-to-be-consummated desire to know what she would have done next.

(In closing, here's a you-never-know for you. During probate following her death, the estimated future worth of Goodnight Moon was estimated at $200.)
maybe a month?


037) Ritual and Bit by Robert Ostrom, finished March 3

I really liked this collection. Even though some of the poems were dumb and some pushed a simple concept too far, I liked how adventurous it was and how it bounded about, sticking its nose in unexpected places and turning up all sorts of weird things, some of which even managed to be beautiful.

Here's to mating fun and ambition.
a week


036) Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman, finished March 3

Gaiman's an interesting fellow. I stopped reading his novels for adults (not in an I've-sworn-them-off sense) because they just don't work as well as his shorter works---comics, short stories, novels for kids. And although I wouldn't call this new collection a 100%er, it's mostly good and mostly very good when it's good.

Gaiman's at his best when he's mining old myths and tales and melting them to ore to pour into new moulds. And there are some lovely examples of this here. (But also some examples where it almost seems like a Gaiman imitator taking his schtick too far. So it goes.)

I started this in the audio version. I enjoy listening to Gaiman, I suppose. He reads well. Though I'm not sure that his is always the best voice for a particular story. But hey: he's a rock star. No way around that. Give the fans what they want.
sixty-two days

Previously in 2017


Redesigned Thmusings


Thutopia has a cleaned-up look as of five minutes ago. A redesign was overdue, but my hand was forced by failed image hosting and Blogger's new set-up that doesn't allow the behind-the-scenes access to code I used to enjoy. No wonder everyone's moved to Wordpress.

The downside is this is just a generic Blogger look because, well, access to the code is extremely limited.



Lost Songs: “Just When I Needed You Most”


Here's a really cheesy video that Google recommends when listening to this song:

I never know when I might start singing this song. When I was a kid it was probably because some dumb thing had made me think my life was a cesspool of sentiment and no song could better describe my forlorn state.

These days I guess it's just because the song has implanted itself deep into my musical dna.

Listening to it now, deliberately, yes, the song does show a few signs of age. But it is in fact a pretty great song. The fascinating way it emphasizes 'I'---in contract to how it emphasizes the word 'you'---is part of it. Randy VanWarmer suggested two reasons: one that nasty breakups are universal (though I love this song and have never gone through one) and the sweet autoharp break. My personal opinion is that it's the heartbroken pathos of his voice. And the fact that it is pathos and not bathos. He feels sincerely damaged, but not trying to wallow therein.

It's a beautiful song. It's not complicated. It's simple and therefore direct and therefore finds its way past my ironic barriers.

If you're interested, here's a Dolly Parton cover I just found.

The parts with the backup singers are hilariously badly aged. The parts with the actors, however....

I'm sure there are terribly saccharine covers out there, but the song doesn't require adornment. The simpler, methinks, the better.