April 2018’s Feature Filmery


Darkest Hour (2017)

My neighbor who is in the Academy? This was her favorite movie of last year. And while more people voted for something else, her opinion is totally valid. Great movie! And I love that it came out the same year as Dunkirk. Watching them in conjunction really helps me feel fully that I was there. Both feel so ... present. In the case of Darkest Hour, this is a combination of granularly precise cinematography, natural lighting, and perfect sets and costumes, the film makes no excuse about being British. I felt in a foreign country at every moment.

And, of course, the acting. Much has been said of Gary Oldman, and rightly so. Some people feel obliged to talk about scenery chewing with this sort of role shows up on award lists, but I think that is grotesquely in error. If Oldman is showing off, it is only by disappearing. Churchill is fully human, not denied moments of silence and conflict, as well as loud speechifying. It is his vulnerability and the film's ability to make clear that these people do not know how the story---which feels authored by the Nazis---will end. That's some feat, to make us not know how this war ends, but the power of the drama pulls us into orbit and will not let us go.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

This was, perhaps, the pivotal film of my childhood. Now, I can recognize that it has its flaws (example, example), but it still gives me joy. I give it, now ... fourth best Star Wars film? Current rankings: 4, 5, 8, 6, 7, 3, whatever. And no, I do not stand by those.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

This was the first Ghibli film Lady Steed and I watched together, sometime between August 2000 and April 2002. It was not an easy film to watch. Rarely have I had so clearly demonstrated my illiteracy. I simply did not have the tools to read this film. Sure, some things like the celebrity voices were merely distracting, but Princess Mononoke's real challenge was presenting me an epic fantasy saturated in moral ambiguity. My personal film history did not prepare me for this film.

Since then, I've watched a lot of Ghibli movies, some of which I count among my absolute favorite films. But it was only tonight that we finally revisited this one.

I appreciated it much more this time. The complex ethical questions the film poses are still difficult and left unanswered, but now I understand that the lack of clear hero or villain is part of its pleasure.

The fact that this is one of the highest-grossing films in Japan's history (briefly it was the top-grosser) says a lot about what the Japanese want from a movie and how different that is from an American movie. I guess you could say Marvel's flirted with this kind of ambiguity (Civil War, Black Panther), but even in those films, where there are heroes in conflict or a well-justified villain, there are still outright badguys to hate, so you can always keep one foot on solid ground. I just don't think America can put a movie this morally complex into our top ten. (If there's an exception, please let me know.)

I suspect this is, in part, due to Japan's grapple with its twentieth-century history. If that's the only way to make Princess Mononoke strike a nation's core, I hope we stay our simple selves. Oh how I hope.

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

I saw this when it was fairly fresh, and I don't remember much about it. My only real memory isn't directly related to the film---I just remember when it came out there was some controversy about being rated PG-13 instead of R. That's it. A very Mormon memory, one might argue.

Anyway, great acting from the leads in particular, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, although there is something about a Welshman (technically Englishman) and an Aussie (technically a Kiwi) running out solid American accents in a western, isn't there? Gee whiz. Also, this was when Gretchen Mol looked like she might be hanging around, remember her? (Fun fact: she's a year older than Bale, who played her husband.)

The reason I revisited this film is because my ward's elders quorum is starting up a film club and this is the first entry. Chosen "because it’s a great western that asks questions about fatherhood, manhood, and the weight of proving ourselves to those we love." It meets that billing. I would call it an open question as to whether or not Bale is a victim of so-called toxic masculinity, but certainly the weight of being a man is a motivating force in this film.

The only flaws I would call out in the film are related to Crowe's character. He's a good enough actor to make them fly, but he also might be a good enough actor that he's the reason they come up in the first place. He's a cold-blooded, casual killer, but the conclusion, as in Rerturn of the Jedi, relies on there being some good left in him.

Is there?

I dunno. It's ... complex.

If the club initiators get their way, we'll probably talk more about the Bale character---and frankly that likely has better applicability to our lives---but it's Crowe's character I find most difficult to crack.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

I had no great drive to see this movie and it was about what I'd expected. Some good laughs, some good action set-pieces, some adequate lead characters, some great side characters, a boring villain. And forgettable. Utterly forgettable.

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

One thing about watching two versions of the same story back to back is that the differences become so stark that they become about the only thing seen. So I watched this, cataloguing this difference and that difference and trying to judge the relative merits of the divergent choices.

The first half of the 2017 film is much stronger. The two leads are better developed, and prioritizing the father-son relationship over the husband-wife relationship just makes more sense. The older film rushes right to what is, in the remake, the very end of the film. But spending so much more time in the hotel room is a terrific choice. It's a little boiler room and the building pressure is terrific.

The disbelief-stretching decisions at the end are similar in both films, and the older film makes more effort to throw some clear symbolism at the audience as it closes---it also gets a more pleasant ending, for better or worse.

In short, both are good films. But they don't excel at the same parts. If you're planning on watching both, however, watch the original first, I think. After all, the newer one's a half-hour longer and mostly because it adds stuff. There will be more surprises watching them in that direction.

Cinderella (1950)

It's funny how a movie that was a frequent visit in childhood never really leaves you, even if you haven't really watched it in twenty years. These are still songs I sing and characters I love even if I've forgotten, until the pictures remind me, that Gus is new and town or that there is a dog.

This is a perfectly satisfying bonbon of a movie. Just a one more observation:

It's clear that Alice in Wonderland is on her way. Whoever animated Lucifer is predicting character design choices left and right, and a couple other bits of funny business will recur there as well. I don't think I ever noticed these echoes before.

Muppets from Space (1999)

Ignore this film's reputation for a second. Okay.

I love the Muppets. And so I'm speaking from a position of some knowledge and authority when I tell you that Muppets from Space has some of the best lines for inside jokes in their entire repertoire. Granted, the editing could be tighter in the otherwise terrific first two acts and, granted, notwithstanding one or two good lines in the third act, it is terrible. Like Elf, you're fine just watching the first hour then turning it off and going to bed. Most of the celebrity cameos are subpar too, although Jeffrey Tambor is a treasure and Ray Liotta is great in a bit role.

If you've never seen it based on reputation alone, give it a shot.

The only other thing to say is that although the funk soundtrack is great and at times very effective, it was the wrong choice. Original music could become a path through some of the movie's problems. Alas.

Coriolanus (2011) x2

I've only just finished my first-ever read of the play and my opinions are still in flux as here comes this movie to try and sway me. Largely I think it's good. Some curious choices (were they afraid audiences would eschew a Shakespearean tragedy without suicide?), some good (playing up the homoerotic and oedipal elements) if reeelly deliberate. Ralph Fiennes is terrifying (I get why he was chosen as Voldemort), Vanessa Redgraves is terrific (as is Jessica Chastain, if she's as underused by the director as she is by her husband), Brian Cox is a wonderful as always. No real complaints as to the bit roles, either. The film could have used an occasional light touch---the lack of humor meant humor was found by my students where it should not have been (eg the homoerotic violence), but overall, good film. Probably the second-best Shakespeare's-language-today film I've seen (#1).

Moonstruck (1987)

Yes, parts of it were troubling and it did touch a couple romcom cliches I'm over, but really: those caveats don't matter. Largely because the world and culture these characters inhabit it so rich and full that the characters themselves are able to transcend any genre trappings. They live in a real place with real people (and dogs).

It's a much more satisfying look at Italian-American culture than any mobster flick I've seen.

It's also interesting how this grounded reality is happy to reject the laws of nature and have a full moon three nights in a row. And that we'll allow it. Remarkable.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Although the schoolyear chronology is bonkers (this was all fall?), this is still, overall, a darn good high-school movie. But my favorite parts of the film are Vulture (especially now that I knew his secret all along) and May (I only wish there were more of her).

I guess this means I am a grownup....

The Red Turtle (2016)

This felt allegorical, but without the special features, I may not have arrived where the filmmaker intended. But that doesn't matter.

Here's what I took from this simple, quiet, beautiful film:

I ask too much of life. Strip life down to its barest essentials, and, with deep breaths, I could be happy. I could be satisfied. (I hope.)

Although this is largely a French movie, it has that Ghibli flair and generosity. For example, the crabs are sootsprite-like in their joy and quiet companionship.

This is such a kind movie. I feel so wistful and happy having seen it.

Watching the special features, I learn that its peaceful perfection is the result of months and months and years of patient exploration. It takes time and exploration to make a movie like this. Let that be a lesson to us all.

(I could say more about the colors and the character design and the light and the passage of time and, especially, the sound, but at some point you should just see it for yourself.)

Don't Think Twice (2016)

This was a fine movie, but I have to admit I'm disappointed. I have high expectations when names like Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass are attached to preproduction, but this movie, though good, did not fly for me.

A film like this should fill me with regret that I didn't pursue improv as a life choice. It did not.

None of this is to push you away from the movie. The characters have moments of real transcendence and growth. That's what matters the most and what, thus, might make the movie grow and improve on further viewings. Now that I know what it is, I may be ready to like it.

Not that I expect to watch it again.....

Adam's Apples (2005)

Wow. Even though I watched it because a friend praised it as one of his favorites, it didn't start off that persuasive. Which is great, because that put me in the same place as the neoNazi and able to be caught utterly offguard.

First, it's funny. Hilarious for brief moments. And it uses violence to comic effect as well as any Coen brothers' movie. Which is a good comparison, maybe, because it is modeled after the Book of Job. So, like, A Serious Man with moments of horrifying violence.

And every downturn the plot took made me more and more convinced this would not end with redemption.

And thus I cried at the end.

Beautiful, beautiful film.

Note: Every time I see Mads Mikkelsen he is someone entirely different. Yet his performance are all in the same scale. Pretty cool

Tangled (2010)

I haven't seen this in yeeeaars, but it holds up. The tear thing is still a stretch, but overall? This is a terrific Disney princess film, well worthy of the tradition. And funny. We got it from the library because the kids loved the sequel short that appeared on the Cinderella dvd. None of them remember having seen it before. That's how long it's been.

I don't have a real problem with the character design, but there are moments where those giant eyes push me out of my suspension of disbelief. I guess that makes me an old. It was bound to happen.

Avengers: Infinity War ()

I hate that I saw this in theaters instead of movies I wanted to see much more such as Isle of Dogs or The Quiet Place. But that's what society's pushed me into. Gah.

Anyway, this is a good movie. Not a great movie, but a very good movie. A movie that successfully pulled of a difficult task---even if it took 2:40 to do it.

But while it may not be great, it is bold. Maybe the boldest movie in cinematic history, depending on your metrics.

I want to chat more, but, grrrmph, no spoilers....

Previous films watched

jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec







Orange Shovel, 2018.04.25


He never required a birthday or a promotion to spew his congratulations
in the form of booze and stomach acid and underchewed peanuts on-to
the pavement or a girlfriend’s lap. Tonight he’s wearing a shirt of Republican
red and waxing wise on the Card’s playoff chances while me and Debbie
sip white wine and eye better options. At midnight, he stumbles to his feet and slurs, “Lesko.”
Debbie sighs and gives me that look she’s always saved for his benders and puts on
an old high-school-boyfriend-esque letterman jacket she’d picked up during her
most recent thrift-store binge—the same one where she went and got me a big
-ass stuffed tiger, pink, blue-eyed. She handed it to me, acting like she was a carnival win
-ner and the woo-woo paragon of tossing rings onto bottles and baseballs in
-to stacked milk bottles. I don’t care to remember anymore how he became our problem, and the
truth is, I don’t need it anymore. Maybe once his grade-A suck helped me feel special,
like I was doing good things in this world, like it wasn’t too late for my election
by God’s finger. I don’t know why being good should be requisite for heaven or for
hell—as far as I can tell, it doesn’t make much difference anyhow. But this is Arizona
and no matter where I drive pretty much every single goddamn suburban house
looks like the one my parents raised me in. Over by the door, I can hear him yelling “’Seat!”
and I know they’ll soon be at a Denny’s or somewhere eating ham and eggs, and Debbie
will have to order his food while trying to get him to order hers because he will
make her swap after three bites anyway. The question is am I ready to switch from wine to do,
I don’t know, a strawberry milkshake or something. I would hate that this question is a
likely candidate for weekend’s-most-important-issue, but what if life were filled with actual great
and compelling matters of concern? Stress. More opportunities to watch folks vomit. I’m not Job,
after all. I got a job, a 401(k), a paid-off car and three payments left on a 4K tv. Try not to im-press
anybody else and all that’s left is yourself. And as far as I can tell, all anybody wants is
enough to go out now and then and somewhere else to stay in. That’s enough. So
let them go. I’ll finish this off and pay my bill and go to my top-floor apartment and be silent.

- - - - -

I'm thinking about beginning a series of golden shovels born of Trump tweets.... This is the first.


Murder and mayhem and light verse


021) M Is for Malice by Sue Grafton, finished March 28

Kinsey's halfway through the alphabet and with a few pages of beautiful writing at the end of this novel, she's changed in what I suspect will be fairly significant ways.

Here's what's interesting about these novels.

As genre fiction, each one's a well constructed detective story. I'm getting a better sense of Grafton's technique and so I start figuring out the solution before the end (not intentionally; I have no desire to outwit my hero), but the pleasure remains.

But if you treat the entire series as a novel, we have something more quote-unquote literary as Kinsey undergoes, here, a major catharsis, and over the course of the series is dealing with larger issues of family and meaning and belonging and etc etc. This stuff is barely visible within any individual novel. But as the books proceed, if you step back fifty feet, all those flurries of theft and murder fade away into the larger, human tale of one Kinsey Millhone.

Be careful or you might accidentally read some art.

. . . . .

Incidentally, more than any other reason, this is what bums me out that she died before writing Z. I'm pretty sure she was going somewhere. Imagine missing the last volume of Middlemarch. Sucks, doesn't it?
couple weeks


022) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany; finished March 31

Uneven. Some parts were dull. Some parts were moving. It must have been hella expensive to put on. And holy crap but this is a long play. Do they serve lunch halfway through?

I can see why diehards had issue with it---it's often attempting something much different than the novels; or, rather, it emphasizes themes that were merely supplemental in the novels. Some themes are superfluous which works better in a novel than in a play. Harry Potter himself recognizes that book five was a crap year. The magic, honestly, was the least interesting thing about this book though I imagine it was cool onstage. This is described as the rehearsal script but given the fact that stage directions are more poetical than practical, I wonder.

Anyway. I liked it fine.
under two weeks


023) It All Started with Hippocrates: A Mercifully Brief History of Medicine by Richard Armour, finished April 6

I only knew about his poetry so when this book popped up in a library search when I was looking for something entirely different, I put it on hold immediately. His poetry, after all, is hilarious.

This book was also enjoyable. Did I laugh? Yes. Like, actually? outloud? with sounds? Yes. I did.

I also learned a lot. Assuming I can successfully distinguish between the facts and the jokes. Which I think I can. But maybe not. Don't invite me to trivia night.

But the important thing is this: Armour's prose is also very funny. The closest comparison I think I can make is Will Cuppy, but I'm probably just revealing more of my geeky humorist interests than being helpful with that comparison. I am not sorry.
perhaps three weeks


024) Don't Bump the Glump by Shel Silverstein, finished April 14

His first book of poetry!

It's okay.

You can see where he's headed (some later poems are straight-up reworkings of some appearing here) and he's pretty much there, though the variety of feeling is what's lacking. The jokes hit, but they don't matter as much without the accompanying sincere feelings.
sitting on the porch


025) Coriolanus by Wm Shakespeare, finished April 16

It's exotic to read a play I know nothing about. This one is extremely troubling. In part because of the neverending violence, in part because of the no-one-to-like character list, in part because of its unsettling echos in modern politics.

I can see why the play has both lovers and dismissers. I can't tell you what opinion to have of it. After another two weeks grappling with it in the classroom, however, I hope to have a more settled opinion of my own.
three or four days


The other books of 2018

1 – 4
001) Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Book 3 by Ta-Nehisi Coates &‎ Brian Stelfreeze & al., finished January
002) The Complete Peanuts 1950-2000 by Charles M. Schulz & al., finished January
003) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, finished January 10
004) El Deafo by Cece Bell, finished January 12

5 – 9
005) Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice by Mike Maihack, finished January 13
006) Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve by Ben Blatt, finished January 15
007) Glister by Andi Watson, finished January 18
008) Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished January 20
009) The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun by J.R.R. Tolkien, finished January 21

10 – 11
010) The Vision by Tom King et al., finished January 23
011) Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds, finished January 24

16 – 16
012) Anthem by Ayn Rand, finished February 8
013) The City in Which I Love You by Li-Young Lee, finished February 14
014) Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle, finished February 21
015) It Needs to Look Like We Tried by Todd Robert Petersen, finished March 7
016, 017) Fences by August Wilson, finished March 8

18 – 20
018) The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, finished March 13
019) Star Wars Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to a Galaxy Far, Far Away by Tim Leong, finished March 22
020) Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen, finished March 25

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* the most recent post in this series *

final booky posts of
2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013 = 2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017