The Films of October 2018
(as seen by theric)


Frailty (2001)

This is the second film* of the Elder Quorum's unofficial new film group, modeled after the Relief Society's decades-old unofficial book club. I'm not quite sure what I think of it yet....

I have a couple complaints, but many of those complaints were resolved in the conclusion. But that doesn't mean the conclusion is satisfying. It's more ... unsettling. It warps easy definitions of right and wrong, good and evil. But it's shaped like a clean conclusion. And so I need to let it settle. Luckily, I'll have some blokes to discuss it with tomorrow. That may help.

(Incidentally, it also made me want to rewatch Unbreakable and finally watch Take Shelter.)

The Truman Show (1998)

I believe I've seen this twice, once in theaters and once when it arrived on VHS.* I liked it okay. Aspects of it really stuck with me. Moments.

Seeing it now, into my adulthood, my opinion is higher. I think it's terrific. Moving and intelligent. Strong.

Truman's not trapped so much by his choices as by outside forces---and that's not entirely unlike the world. His heroism in asserting the right to choose over the machinations of an entire world built to prevent his greatest desires. And, in place, what do they provide? Peace. Happiness. Safety.

Reminds me of George Orwell (i) . . . and the Devil.

Batman Begins (2005)

I still love this movie, but after a decade of constantly watching superhero movies (thank you, Marvel), I'm better able to see its flaws. They're not serious flaws. The constant reexplaining of the water-main issue, for instance, is handled well even though it's rather a lot. And years of superhero films has also made me consider more deeply, mid-action sequence, the fate of innocents during, for instance, a massive citywide carchase. "It's a miracle no one was killed," says Alfred. But people were certainly hurt.

The question of risking others to save Rachel (or whoever) will be more seriously addressed in the next movie, but here it's just a couple words of dialogue and on we move.

The watching of this film was to finally introduce the kids to these films. I gave them the choice between this or Lord of the Rings. You tell me if they picked the right one to watch first.

When Marnie Was There (2014)

This movie is beautiful and lovely and fun and perplexing. I never quite felt like I was sure what was going on, but that was okay. I was happy in the world and willing to follow the plot wherever it led.

For quite some time, I was thinking it was a ghost story (and maybe it was?), but it was never a tale of horror. Even when it did get a bit scary. It's important you believe that, because movies it reminded me of include The Shining, The Haunting, and Sixth Sense, but Marnie IS NOT a horror film. Not even close. But that same sense of confusion and bewilderment is key to what Marnie IS doing. And doing well.

I also thought it was a prepubescent lesbian love story, but given the explanations that flow out at the end, this must not be true. Better not be true, anyway.

The Explanation Portion of the movie is its weakest spot. I'm satisfied with the explanation, but it's a bit ... well, you know how it is. Explaining things too much can kill them. And while the payoffs that are possible after the explanation are moving, the explanation is still a bit much.

(Disclaimer: I watched the movie over two days, so that might have messed up the storytellers' ability to win me over.)

One last comparison:

Early on, I assumed this would be Spirited Away without supernatural elements. Not so. But after one viewing, I feel it's likely Marnie holds its own against that masterpiece and they would make an interesting pairing if you're putting together a doublefeature.

Children of the Corn (1984)

I can't believe I've been living in fear of this movie my whole life.

I mean, to be fair, it probably would have terrified me at age eight---I still haven't worked up the courage to rewatch Gremlins---but now, it's pretty hokey. And the final act is just stupid.

That said, props on its jump scares. It had me popping like corn, for sure.

Justice League (2017)

Wow is this a stupid movie. I mean---the reviews were not exactly glowing but it comes up in conversation enough I thought maybe there might be something to it. But not really. It's bad. Zack Snyder's overdramatic impulses are largely unchecked, most of the jokes aren't funny, the writing is terrible, the actors---many of whom I know to be good---can barely work through the material, the editing is awkward, and, after a decade of Marvel movies, the fight scenes and cosmic elements feel derivative.

It's just a bad movie. Which is a shame. Because I still think DC has a leg up on Marvel, at least for me personally, in terms of quality of universe. It would be nice to see them figure it out.

(Which is not to say I think a Marvelesque incorporated movie universe is the way for DC to go. I would rather see them turn the DC universe into a playground laboratory where good filmmakers can try out different ways of using the characters. Some of the recent announcements make that sound possible.)

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

The book has stuck with me lo these five years and so I've been looking forward to seeing the film. It captures much of what I liked about the book---Dahmer is a sympathetic character, filled with confusion and self-loathing as he begins to understand himself. He's an exaggerated and distorted version of any kid that's struggled to understand his sexuality.

Watching the movie, it's not easy to tell how accurate this movie might be. So supplementing with the book ain't a bad idea. Unless you're happier believing there's nothing to see here, ha ha, what a charming entertainment. (But good luck with that.)

Previous films watched








I gotta coupla fine Halloween books, either of which you could still manage to read before trickertreaters arrive


091) Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, finished October 22

I was pretty pissed off the first time I opened this book. Nick Hornby had promised me blank verse and this was blanketyblankin free verse. Is there no fact-checking at The Believer???

Anyway. Everything else Hornby promised ended up being true. This was a great read---propulsive and lovely and jawdroppingly violent. It also had a few weird typos I suspect would have been caught in prose.

Here's the gist: FREE-verse novel about rival gangs of werewolves in L.A. Explicit sex and cannibalism. Mostly awesome. A few narrative cheats are taken but this is Poetry so somehow it's closer to okay. Some true things said about personal relationships and community. Makes you both want a dog and fear dogs. The cover's awesome---consider going for the hardback.

I won't claim it will still be here in a hundred years, but you can't do much better if you're looking for a Halloween book. And, ahem, free verse reads fast.
under three weeks


092) Homespun and Angel Feathers by Darlene Young, finished October 29

MS policy. (But it's really good.)
three noncontiguous days


093) A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny, finished October 29

This is a marvelous Halloween read. And if you're still looking for a book to enjoy this Halloween, it's not too late. You could read it in a couple cozy afternoons.

First, the dedication:

Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker,
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury,
Robert Block, Albert Payson Terhune,
and the makers of a lot of old movies—

This novel is a scrapbook of one author's beloved references. He's woven Larry Talbot and Sherlock Holmes and Shub-Niggurath into a single coherent tale. And done it so well.

Perhaps the purest stroke of genius here is to have it all narrated by a world-weary, good-natured, honest, diligent, intelligent, ancient dog.

I know. That doesn't sound like a great idea. But then you have not met Snuff.

Here's the gist: Every time the full moon and Halloween coincide, somewhere in the world a group of ... people, let's call them, come together to play the Game, in which openers and closers jockey for position and fight to open (or prevent the full opening) or a door which would allow the Elder Gods to conquer our world. So far, we've been lucky.

Each "human" participant works with an animal familiar, and A Night in the Lonesome October largely follows these animals as they investigate small mysteries and try to discover who is on which side as they prepare for Halloween. Each night marks one chapter in the book and they vary in length.

The novel is immediately compelling, but early in the month things are slow to get going. Which is sensible of course. Snuff makes his rounds and does his chores, etc etc, but slowly things come together and we pass through moments of insanity and violence and clashing climax. It's a dandy book, it really is.

Sadly, because of the cover by James Warhola, the interior illustrations by Gahan Wilson felt incorrect for maybe a third of the novel. Which was a shame because they are vastly more appropriate companions for the actual words. This is Zelazny's October:

Anyway, I don't want to say much more as much of the pleasure of the novel is recognizing old friends in new guises. That's something you'll want for yourself.
three or four months



The title image of one is both comforting and haunting. Can you guess which? I'll bet you can.


086) Murder in Manhattan, finished October 7

This authorless giftbook is 89 pages of interviews and facts uncovered by the lead detective. And then---can you solve the case???

The short answer, for me, is no, because the berry cobbler is being served and I don't have time to think very long. But the solution seems reasonable and if I run into another of these (if there are others) I would trust that the mystery is solvable and, if in the mood, would plan to give it more of my time.
an evening


087) The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, finished October 10

This violent play takes place in a police interrogation room in a totalitarian dictatorship. It does some fun things with metanarrative and the structure of the play is quite nice. I'm not 100% sure I like what it has to say about narrative, but hey. (A writer's stories are taken as evidence of his criminality. Ends up his stories actually cause criminality instead. So.)

My only real issue with the book is the "retarded" brother whose intelligence and lucidity and capacity for language seem to be unstable. A good actor can even out that weakness in the writing, but on the page it doesn't work so well.

That said, I liked it. I would kind of like to teach it when I'm talking metafiction but never would because of the language. Don't want to read that out loud.
two noncontiguous days


088) Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, finished October 10

I've been putting this particular Vonnegut off---largely because I've heard it is not good. It came out seven (seven!) years before Sirens of Titan announced the arrival of a New Voice and it's not, this is true, peak Vonnegut. But it's a terrific look at what Vonnegut is because all the hallmarks of his style are evident. Onomatopoeia in quotation marks as if the fireworks were speaking. Classic Vonnegut move. And all the absurdity and irony etc etc are there, but not in the amounts you would expect based on his later work. The smell of Vonnegut is there, but if you don't know the aroma, you might not recognize it.

I was reading it because I'm putting it on a list of dystopian novels I'm handing out to students next month. This dystopia, like all dystopias, is a utopia. In this case, a utopia for engineers and managers. The rest of the world has nothing to do and a crisis of boredom has set across America. As you might imagine (or if you've read the opening chapters of Cat's Cradle or chunks of Breakfast of Champions, for instance) Vonnegut finds ample room for satire. But (excepting the time at the Meadows) it's just less. Vonnegut, but not Vonneguty enough.

That said, as a first novel it does take some chances. And with hindsight, no reason to be surprised this virgin would go on to write Slaughterhouse-Five.


089) Lumberjanes, vol. one by Noelle Stevenson and village, finished October 16

This is more or less exactly what I was expecting and, having finally begun it, I'm happy to say it delivers in spades. I'm not utterly in love with it, but there's at least, like, seven volumes out and at the library already, and I think that love is apt to come.

The skinny: strange things are afoot in the woods, and the Girl Scouts-esque organization Lumberjanes is there to investigate. Happily, by the end of this volume, their troop leader has discovered the girls are telling the truth about monsters in the woods, so that won't be snuffleupagusing up the works going forward.

The book is fun and that makes its agenda fun too. And what's its agenda? Girls are fun and messy and dangerous and it's okay for some people and not all people to be lesbians-in-embryo. I guess. Whatever. All that matters is that the girls are fun to be with.


090) SkyHeart Book I: The Star Seed by Jake Parker by Jake Parker, finished October 16

It's been almost three years since I provided Jake with notes on the working script he shared with me and now I finally have the book in my hands and get to see how it turned out.

The short: it's good.

I won't have a long, but here's a medium:

I love the characters as they were originally presented (as collected in Antler Boy) and it's still hard for me when the pig and the whale show up and everyone doesn't have the camaraderie that I loved from those original stories. But that aside, the story here in SkyHeart is stronger. This volume ends on a cliffhanger, but by the time that rolls round, we're already fully invested in the world and our leads.

For the Latter-day Saint reader, there are at least two nods to the endowment to watch for.



I finally finished Middlemarch!
(also, some other books)


082) Beyond the Light by Ryan Shoemaker, finished September 17

Ryan sent me his collection back in May and I've been reading it off and on. I have mixed feelings about his stuff. His funny stuff is hit/miss for me (the shorter the missier) and his serious stuff largely involves taking awful people and letting them be awful. I do prefer ones with a hint of redemption ("Great Heights") or that are willing to be surreal without succumbing to the silly ("Lost in Furniture Land"---which [absurdism aside] is almost an identical tale to "Great Heights" and follows it immediately in the book, which is a strange editing choice...). I appreciate the craft of his awful people behaving awfully stories, but sometimes the push credulity ("Our Students"---although this story might just push my buttons because it takes place at a high school; Ryan has it out for high school, both students and teachers).

One thing I find interesting about Ryan's CV is how he ... I don't want to say recycles, although that's not unfair, but how he revisits works, like Magritte painting rocks in the air over and over and over. I don't just mean publishing the same story in two places---that's great and more outlets should be willing to do that. Nor do I mean really liking the name Hector.

The sort of recycling (I'm going for it) is "Brigham Kimball: Mormon Missionary Extraordinaire" also appearing as "Parley Young: One Mormon Life"---a longer (and, in my opinion, better) version of the same. (The two version appear to have been published just months apart.) Or taking "Bing," originally published in Irreantum, and giving it a new title ("Beyond the Lights"), sending it successfully through Santa Monica Review's slushpile and republishing it. (Full disclosure: Ryan told SMR that it had been previously published.) Again, I don't have problems with these reuses, but in neither case is the first-publisher-under-an-alternate-title cited in the Acknowledgments. Which seems a bit weird to me.

I'm intending to write a longer review exploring the good and the hmm about Beyond the Light for AML, but that largely depends on my health and catching up on all my other responsibilities that have slipped while I've been sick.
almost four months


083) Space Cat Meets Mars by Ruthven Todd, finished September 22

This ... I dunno if I'm accurate here (and I returned the first two to the library), but this felt slighter. Perhaps it's just because there's less intentionality on the part of our heroes. They went to the Moon on purpose. They went to Venus on purpose. Then they're captured by an asteroid's gravity and have some mechanical problems and making an emergency stopover on Mars. That sounds good, but....
I like the faux pre-Apollo science of these books, but Mars is pretty far to walk for a gallon of gas. I dunno.

Anyway, Flyball meets the last Martian cat and she's coming back to Earth (via the moon) with them, after which they'll get busy, but the whole thing felt shorter and lesser. Charming, but insubstantial. In comparison, I mean. I'm not claiming the first couple are great literature or anything. But I liked them.
two days


084) Invisible Gifts by Maw Shein Win, finished September 24

I intend to write a longer review of this (I hope for Whale Road Review) so I'll hold off for now.
perhaps fourth months but actually two separated bursts


085) Middlemarch by George Eliot, finished September 29

I began Middlemarch long, long ago. And I loved it from the very beginning. But then the main character made a very upsetting decision at the end of book one and I ... just set it down.

I picked it up again when our ward Relief Society book group (ambitiously) picked it to read earlier this year, so I read along with Lady Steed.

No one finished it in the month. Well, like two people did. So book group discussed the first four books only. But Lady Steed and I kept reading and we both finished it this week.

After book one, the idea of a "main character" seems almost laughable. Its subtitle is "A Study of Provincial Life" and it truly does take us through and around an entire town. The characters we spend the most time with connect, but every spot and soul of Middlemarch is fair game.

However, with the last two paragraphs of the novel, we are thrown a reference that (with one exception) we haven't heard since the prelude. And it is the prelude and those final paragraphs that make Dorothea---that first-book main character---the heart of the entire novel. Her goodness drives hope and possibility; her strength is what makes us believe humanity should yet continue.

Dorothea is a complicated character but she's motivated by a pure goodness that makes her one of my favorite characters in fiction. I love her because I cannot be her.

Other characters I more clearly see myself in. For a few pages, I was certain Casaubon and I were the same person. (Happily, we are not.) And Bulstrode's justifications for his sins rang much, much too true.

My failures are much like Lydgate's, but I'm in a better marriage. (Fun fact: Occasionally I give my students an essay prompt originally part of the 2011 test that includes a passage from Middlemarch; all but two or three of the best readers always misinterpret it, and believe that Lydgate is abusive and cruel towards his wife. I don't know if this is a comment merely on my students' reading ability or if it somehow revealing of modern entitlement....)

In short, Eliot understands people. I loved Silas Marner and I love this too. It's a loving look at humanity while clawing its criticisms deep. If we're unhappy with Dorothea's fate, it's not because of any failure of hers. And she is happy. But in a better world, she, a woman, could have been everything we know she could have been.

I understand why people read and reread this book. It feels borderline irresponsible to not. But no doubt decades will pass before I return. And I will be different then and I will understand it in new ways.

I'll see you then.

[Final note: Although I'm generally skeptical of narrators waxing philosophic, I would never deny Eliot that freedom.]
possibly over five years