December 2019, films de la feature


The ███████ Report (2019)

All I knew about this movie was it was a true story and that Adam Driver was looking to get an Oscar nomination for either this or Marriage Story. It was playing at the theater when we saw I Lost My Body and then, while I was looking for something completely unrelated, I saw that it was now available on Prime, and I started watching it, not really intending to pay close attention. But oh did I.

This is about Dan Jones, the lead investigator for the Senate into the CIA's recent torture, um, shenanigans? mistakes? evil? He works for Dianne Feinstein (and, let me just say, that if Annette Benning had been playing Dianne Feinstein all along, she would be my favorite politician of all time).

The Report is like watching All the President's Men if Deep Throat were the protagonist. I mean---sort of. It's contemporary, like AtP'sM was oh so long ago, yet the story is even more buried in obscurity than Woodward and Bernstein were. I knew nothing about the people involved in this story. Now I feel well educated. And, considering the movie's about one of the darkest chapter's in recent history, it's kind of a feel-good story---the good guys win. The nerds with their thousand-page reports come out on top.

One of the smart choices this film makes is not casting most of the more famous politicians. Dianne Feinstein and Mark Udall are cast, along with other Senators and bureaucrats whose names you might remember, but Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, McCain, Obama, Kerry---if they appear at all, it's in actual footage from the time. Arguably the emotional climax of the film is an extended take of McCain's anti-torture speech on the Senate floor. It resonates because we have so, so much context for what he's talking about.

But it also resonates because we know McCain. The film doesn't explain who he is, but we, the audience, know that he is a Republican, that he was a victim of torture as a POW, that he just lost the presidential election---it's powerful, with all that context. He's an American hero.

But I don't know if that resonance will work if someone born twenty years from now watches it in their twenties. I'm not sure it would have that kind of resonance now if you're under twenty or don't pay any attention to the news. You'll probably still appreciate the movie, but you would be missing several layers of meaning. Probably, I'm missing additional layers.

Dang good movie.

The Best Two Years (2004)

Often, while at the church making copies of that week's bulletins, I grab on old VHS off the library shelves to watch. I've watched some old BYU classics this way like The Phone Call and Greater Love, but it wasn't until recently that it occurred to me I could watch a feature if I broke it up over multiple weeks.

The Best Two Years was one of the best reiewed movies from the Early Oughts' Mormon Film Renaissance, but somehow I never got around to seeing it. But a VHS copy was in the library and, since mid-October?, I've been eating it piece by piece and I'm happy to say that (at least in piece-by-piece form) it's still good. It got some big laughs out of me and managed to move me a couple times. The details felt right, good and bad, and even the over-the-top characterizations (notably Elder Calhoun) ultimately are fully human persons.

Although they work fine, I was most disappointed with the musical montages. Montages are, you know, fine, but there are several here. They are very 2004 with very 2004 music---a white guy and his guitar (in this case, the white guy is Michael McLean's son). When we reached the end of the movie and it reprised the opening song from over a month previous, I was, like, oh yeah, I like this song, where do I know it from? So this paragraph's complaint is not that sincerely meant.

Good film! Doesn't seem like the writer-director's done much film since, though. Shame.

Elf (2003)

I noticed a really obvious Wonderful Life reference this watchthrough I don't remember seeing before.

I got our DVD at a Tehachapi News white-elephant exchange in 2004 (or possibly 2005) and boy was that a good gift! This dvd is one of only a couple certain Christmas traditions I think our kids will remember.

We would be utterly culturally bereft without it.

Gremlins (1984)

I last saw this movie when it was close to brand new. I only have a couple images left and a sense of it being very scary. And even though I love Gremlins 2 (it is the subject of much research backing me up) and admire Joe Dante. Of course, I also find Chris Columbus generally annoying, so...

We were at the Goodwill and this was for sale for a dollar and son #3 likes kid-friendly scares and it's Christmastime and Gremlins is a Christmas movie, so....

Me, I laughed more and jumped more than the kids, I think. I also enjoyed more of the references. (Having just watched Elf, I also can't help but to wonder if it referenced Gremlins with its date.) My favorite references were at the inventors' conference however---Robbie the Robot and the Time Machine (which disappeared between cuts which, frankly?, hilarious. And the movie-theater scene? Is that a Muppet Movie reference?

The movie wasn't quite as madcap as its sequel, but much more of the DNA is in the original than I would have guessed.

It's been thirty years since I was brave enough to watch it, but I had a good time.

It's surprising it hasn't been rebooted. BUT WAIT. HBO's putting a prequel series on one of its streaming services next year. I just hope they have practical effects.

Oh: One last note: Scenes in Gremlins---especially the early outside scenes---feel more like my memories of '80s America than about anything else I can remember seeing.

Bagdad Cafe (1987)

So.... It's weird to watch a movie that seems to be aimed directly at what I like, but never quite hit. Maybe because I never quite figured out what it was up to. At times it looked like it would be weird like Trent Harris or lean become magical like Twin Peaks, but not really. But it never turned into realism either.

It's the film-group film this month. Maybe others will help me know what to think, (I also checked out four film books that discuss it---one on Christian film theory, one on queer film theory, one on feminist film theory, and one other I forget which theory---which may help.)

One weird thing is the German tourist seemed to play a Magical Negro for the black family in the desert.

It was pretty great to see the Mojave looking like the Mojave.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Film club watched this over four days, which is probably part of the reason we all found it so enjoyable. It is, frankly, too long and no doubt watched in a single setting, you would really really feel that.

Which is a shame because this film was so so so much fun to watch! It's utter nonsense and endlessly amusing.

So: watch it, but turn it off if you're feeling bored. Come back a couple days later.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Buster Keaton will warm your frozen heart and recover your shriveled soul.

His work does not get old.

(And it's had plenty of opportunity.)

Hitler's Hollywood (2017)

The main thesis of this film is that popular cinema as produced during the Nazi era is, in a very real way, the work of a single auteur: Joseph Goebbels. Because he and his had to approve every film made and distributed, the thinking goes, we can see the progress of his psyche through the changing nature of popular films produced during his reign as Reich Minister of Propaganda. Writer/director/narrator Rüdiger Suchsland stops talking about Goebbels early on, discussing film more as a dream state for a people, but I find his argument more persuasive if we keep Goebbels in mind through out, as a sort of organizing intelligence throughout. Not that "film as a dream state for a people" is without merit, but the way he talks about it becomes borderline mystical if we forget his initial statements about Goebbels. Which Suchsland will certainly allow us to do. Goebbels is nowhere to be found in the films' conclusion.

Many of the sourced films are otherwise locked up and unavailable. Which is kind of a shame. I believe Suchsland when he says they're not that good, but some of them would manage to be interesting to modern non-neoNazi audiences. Every once in a while would come a shot or a performance that was chillingly modern-feeling.

Fast Color (2018)

I remember readings about this movie when it was unceremoniously (and exceedingly briefly) dumped into theaters. People who knew about the film were disappointed-cum-outraged about a superhero film about three generations of African-American women was treated so poorly. The trailer looked great and I was disappointed too, now that it was too late to do anything else.

I've now seen the movie and I'm glad I have. It does have a couple of awkward joints, but overall, I it brought new things to the genre. Which is all I really want. (And why I will get around to watching Brightburn.)

The trio of main actors is great (I know the youngest best just from all those times I've seen Fences) and it's a shame their work has gone so unseen. And the effects design is solid. And when it goes to the hi-CPU version of a classic '80s effect, it embraces that moment with synthesizers.

It's ... maybe the near future. The dustiness feels a bit like Logan, but most of the details suggest this is actually, maybe, twenty years ago? There's one detail that makes near future more likely, but over all, this is more like an alternate present than a possible future.

The plot's a bit reminiscent of Midnight Special, what with feds and scientists chasing down a super in a flick that avoids seeming overly supery. I don't remember Midnight Special that well other than that I found the ending a bit hokey. This ending I think is similar, but more grounded. And I liked that. And the face work of Gugu Mbatha-Raw makes that moment---like so many others in the film---just sing.

Imperfect but most certainly worth a look.

Go (1999)

Even though I had plenty of opportunity to see this for free when it was new, I never did because I figured it would be an immoral yuckfest. Then a few months ago I got the dvd for free. I still might have never watched it except I read this article pitching it as a Christmas movie and I decided I better watch it so I can at least return the film to a Little Free Library. (Incidentally, other articles making the same sell include this and this and this---plus, did you know it's over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes? If we'd had Rotten Tomatoes in 2003, I might have long ago seen this on VHS!)

So I was right about the immoral yuckfest thing. It's about drugs and drugdeals and raves and even has a stripclub thrown in for good measure. But the film is almost like an anthology film, moving back in time to start new stories with different characters (the yuckiest story is the British guy's, easy), and although the characters are hard to like, the film is pretty well written and edited. It's like the '90s wanted to go out in fine form and chose this film to make that so.

It also seems notable as a time capsule. Twenty years ago, Timothy Olyphant didn't even make on-the-poster identification. Now, even though I didn't recognize him, I can name shows he's been in and have listened to him on NPR. Sarah Polley might have been doing the traditional break from a Disney-kid reputation (a recent example), and yes, we see her, nonsexually, in a bra, but the movie's pretty smart, as I said, not just trashy. It's a pretty good role. And today we know her more as a director, anyway. Jane Krakowski and Melissa McCarthy get lots of mileage out of tiny roles.

In opposite news, I recognized name and face of Jay Mohr, but have no idea why. How and when did I come to know Jay Mohr?

Anyway, I wouldn't say I liked i but, to my surprise, I do not regret watching it. #highpraise

Jack Frost (1979)

While I am quite certain I have seen this before, outside the actual appearance of Jack himself, I have retained zero memories of it.

Having now rewatched it, this is not surprising.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The Animagic World of Rankin/Bass (2018)

After Jack Frost, although it was fine and although the baby's been wanting to rewatch it, we might not have gone back and rewatched anymore Rankin/Bass specials except for two things:

1. There's a certain cultural literacy you lack until you get the references. And we can't show our kids Elf (see above) or listen to Sia without educating them as to source material.

2. We'd already picked the dvd up from the library.

Anyway, I'm glad we did. This is the ur-Christmas special, a year before A Charlie Brown Christmas, and it's so much better than I remember feeling as a child. It's also, speaking as a culturally literate adult, so obviously influential. It's not just Elf and Sia---and it's not just other stopmotion, either. And if I say there's a clear influence on Isle of Dogs, it's not just the stopmotion or the Japanese connection I mean. I mean the actual Isle of Dogs and the motivations of the dogs there is a direct and clearly intentional parallel to the Island of Misfit toys. It's core to the movie's intentions.

Baby enjoyed the movie okay, but she found the abominable snowman terrifying. Climb-in-dad's-lap-and-shake terrifying. And this is a girl who watches Nightmare Before Christmas three or four times a week.

One surprising connection is found in Hermey's facial expressions and body language which I'm certain was an influence not only on Lock, Shock, and Barrel but also on LEGO Batman's Joker---subconsciously if nothing else.

The accompanying documentary has luminaries in animation (and animation-adjacent) talking about how Rankin/Bass affected them and animation generally. Plenty of facts I didn't know, but mostly I appreciated being forced to reconsider my childhood antipathy. (At least towards the stopmotion. I always liked Frosty.)

About a Boy (2002) x2

We had some tech issues so we ran out of time, meaning we just watched a movie with hardly any pedagogical support, but I ... honestly don't even care. This is one of the great films of the century and it's much too overlooked and underappreciated.

I watched it split in half (part one, part one, part two, part two), and each time---the second time more than the first---I was very nearly broken by the concert scene.

This is a beautiful film---intelligently made, wonderfully shot and edited, with great music and stellar performances---and I'm all for making it a part of every holiday season.

Babe (1995)

Same same. Tech issues prevented time for proper pedagogy.

I don't consider Babe a Christmas film (even if it has one of the great Christmas lines), but it is a powerful film. And don't we all wish we could go back in time and switch envelopes, give James Cromwell the Oscar instead of Kevin Spacey?

Although the entire film is perfectly constructed, Cromwell's performance is what elevates this from a Good Kid's Film to something universal. His silence makes his words weigh so much more. Although he does speak more than I remembered, the Academy might think of this performance as they're discussing Anna Paquin.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

So Aquaman was a little dumb, but it wasn't trying to be anything other than what it was. The Meg was dumb, but it embraced its dumbness, reveled in it.

The first Godzilla in this series was also dumb, to be fair. It also had the benefit of being first. What both movies are great at is inspiring awe. They are truly awesome movies. They're just also filled with bloviators and insultingly bad science contradicting other insultingly bad science. I mean---it's a kaiju movie---I'm not expecting good science---but Come!! On!!!

This is the first of these I've watched with all three boys (none saw Godzilla; only the youngest shared Kong, more on which in a moment)---it's the first time we've roasted a movie together. But it deserved it.

What I don't understand is how the two Godzilla movies can be so stupid when the King Kong movie---part of the same franchise---was so dang good. Who is the Kevin Feige around there?

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)

Even though, baby reasons, I missed chunks from the middle of this film. Even though I could mention a couple things I don't think are perfect. Even so. Last Jedi is one of the very best Star Wars films. After tonight, I'm changing my rankings for most entertaining (IV VI VIII) and most artistically successful (IV V VIII) and putting Last Jedi in the two spot, both categories.

Also, while I'm at it, Holdo is a terrific, terrific character. Star Wars is so much richer because of her alone. Haters can hate, but they're only hurting themselves. Even the great haters must recognize that. Last Jedi does not hate you.

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

It's a good movie. Sadly, it a bit better-than average Star Wars movie. It's a weird mix of slavishly devoted to precedent (everything is a remix, sure, but you don't have to be so obvious about it!) and utterly disrespectful thereof. The movie---perhaps understandably---has no idea what to do with Leia.* But it also has no idea what to do with its own title. I'll want to see it again before I say much more. I just wish it were more thematically coherent, to go along with all the great pieces assembled.

Among those great pieces assembled, a special note for Richard Grant whose cold performance makes him the best Empire (slash First Order) officer since Grand Moff Tarkin himself.

* That said, I don't know what portion of Carrie Fisher is real vs cgi in this film, but they did an incredible job. It was really her. (As opposed to the couple seconds of young Leia which, even in the dark, was still awful and fake. Young Luke, however, looked great. Weird.)

It was nice to see Wedge again...even if I had to go to IMDb to figure out who that old guy was I was clearly intended to recognize.

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Now this is how you compete an epic film series.

I cried so dang much. And this is how you redeem a "villain."

(All the Toy Storys had good, understandable villains. This is the first that molds our opinion of that villain into something approaching a co-hero.)

Plus, it's hilarious. Can't do much better than that. I look forward to the three-year-old watching it again and again and again.

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Above when I talked about the film's thematic inconsistency? I stand by that, but the much bigger issue is how it is in utter argument with Last Jedi. That movie took everything in Star Wars and set it on its side, forcing us to see everything in new ways. This movie pushed it back up and says nu-uh. The most egregious example is this: Last Jedi suggested anybody can be great. This movie says no, only somebodies can be great, but somebodies can be any kind of great they want. It's a very royalist argument and I don't like it.

Also, I never liked Palpatine. He shows up in Episode VI. Which is fine. Then he dominates the prequels. Then he shows up here again. In a very real way, the Saga is Palpatine's story more than anyone else's. And that's kind of awful, don't you think? Evil makes history. Good only prevents history from stopping.

In addition to making constant references in shape and size and color to every other Star Wars film, this film also makes definite references to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. (At one point, first viewing, I said, possibly aloud, "That dagger had better not start glowing.")*

*(It didn't. The other two times I had that reaction ["They had better not kiss" and "She had better not say 'Skywalker'"] did happen, but I felt better about them this viewing.)

Other obvious references include Indiana Jones (although if you want to rebook Indy with Oscar Isaac, I'm listening) and probably Harry Potter (I've seen four of those movies once and didn't like any of them, so I'm not an expert). But I think this is what JJ Abrams is best at. You hire him, you get clear and present references. That's the deal.

Overall, I liked the movie. At least as much as Force Awakens and maybe better. Certainly it's in the top of the second tier of Star Wars films. Maybe even first tier. Time will tell.

It was certainly John Bodega's best movie.

(This tiering assumes that the original film isn't in a tier all its own. Which would probably make for a more accurate tiering.)

Incidentally, science is right. This viewing, free of having to decide what I thought about every revelation, the movie was much, much better. With the ending now in place, I want to rewatch the trilogy and see what I think.


Previous films watched









And Orson Scott Card Makes One Hundred


093) Starlight: The Return of Duke McQueen by Mark Millar and team, finished November 29


An Air Force pilot has a JohnCarteresque experience---swept onto another planet where he becomes a great hero---only to be returned home where he is dismissed as a liar and a lunatic for the rest of his adult life. Then, forty years later, he gets a chance to return. And takes it.

This comic ties nicely into the pulp tradition that birthed it and is great fun to read. It did make a point of telling us how much older McQueen was now, but it never seemed to make any difference. So there's a lost opportunity.

But overall a fun and satisfying read.

Some previous Millar: Huck, Red Son, UpUpandAway, Aztek.
from morning to juuuust past midnight


094) Blackbeard's Ghost by Ben Stahl, finished December 6

Stahl is better known as a painter and, seeing the cover to the first edition, I'm convinced he's also the painter of Aldetha from Disney's film adaptation to the novel. Also, it's bears a striking resemblance to the most terrifying book upon the bookshelves as I was growing up.

The movie takes greeaat liberties with the novel, but rightly so, really. It's ... not a great book. I mean---it's fine, I guess, but it's hardly a book that will be remembered. Its best part was the prologue which shows us ol' Blackbeard still alive and in his time. That part's great. Then we move to the present (c. 1965) and we get a couple generic schoolboys who say "Jeepers!" a lot (a lot) and some rules of magic that never quite make consistent sense. In an age that's really grappled with the rules of fantasy and worldbuilding, he would probably get better editing. The illustrations are keen, though!

There is no romance, there is no track coach, there is no casino, there are no little old ladies, etc etc etc. Aldetha is a friend, not a wife, and she outlived Blackbeard, although she did die by fire. So it's really nothing like the movie.

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, we watched a Disney film that was based on a book we had read in class. It was one of the first times I realized a movie could be better than a book it was based on. The main character was abducted by local natives and eventually returns to white civilization because he wants to hang out with his younger brother. The movie makes it a girl he's falling in love with which even as a middleschooler made waaay more sense.

That was a relatively small change compared to what Blackbeard's Ghost would do ten years later, but it just goes to show.

Hitchcock said he would never make the Brothers Karamazov into a film because it's already perfect as a book. The thing to do is to buy bad books with potential and recreate them into excellent movies. Now, I'm not saying these Disney films are "excellent" but it does go to prove the point.
maybe a week


095) Supermarket by Rudy Vanderlans, finished December 11

Flipping through this book, the photographs are ugly and poorly designed---they break all the rules---and the only reason I paid a dollar at the library sale is because it's about the Mojave, the desert that is part of my sense of identity. The towns under his lens brush right up against my hometown. So I paid my buck.

I think I decided to read it finally because we were about to watch Bagdad Cafe and it too is Mojave-based. Even more appropriately, though I did not know it at the time, both are made by Europeans.

The book is mostly two photographs per page, often taken out the window of a moving car with parts of the car in-frame. Every once in a while with a different kind of paper---older is demeanor---featuring quotations from John C. Van Dyke's The Desert, celebrating is starkness and color and beauty. Not what Vanderlans has been capturing at all.

For much of the book, I did not like it.

But then---these humanless photos---the grotesque emptinesses---became to feel almost unbearably true. Although I could not see it at first, this Dutch Berkeleyite has captured something about the desert that I absolutely recognized and, ultimately, was moved by.

"Sometimes it takes an outsider to see a whole clearly."


096) In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang, finished December 14

Video games and economics! That's what this book offers, according to the introduction. And it was an honest description.

Besides the pleasure of just reading it, what I liked about this comic is how it played with identities. There was the surface level of characters appearing both as their IRL bodies and their avatars, but also how the nerds bully the preppie and how foreigners aren't quite so foreign while being more foreign than imagined. Just the opportunity to think about the modern world with empathy makes this book a valuable exercise.
one shoe-shopping trip


097) The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards, finished December 16

Twelve traditional tales from around the world. Lots of overlap, lots of divergence.

A lot to think about.

I'm using this as fuel for this year's solstice poem.

Edwards has a knack for making her tellings feel old and oral. She also has a knack to be bloviate in her introductions. But, of course, one could skip those.
month or two


098) "P" Is for Peril by Sue Grafton, finished December 18

This might be the longest I took to read one of these Kinsey Millhone novels, but that's no knock on its character. It was misplaced a few times, for one thing, but also---it might be fair to say I savored this one a bit more. Reading it slowly let the writing settle in a bit more.

I'm not making claims that Grafton is a George Eliot or anything, but she's good. She writes good books. And reading it more slowly, with long gaps, I was able to see how her craft expands to fill the space.

And she ends with a lovely ambiguity that doesn't really match the hardnosed PI's "writing-a-report" gimmick---but would you have it any other way?

The revealed-in-the-final-pages "villain" is no villain at all. She's so richly drawn and good that it hurts to learn she's the bad guy. But, for Kinsey, truth first. And the guilty must be punished. Even when it's kind of a bummer.

onehundredthirtytwo days



099) The Fall of Richard Nixon: A Reporter Remembers Watergate by Tom Brokaw, finished December 20

I heard about this book in a Washington Post review. I was actually more interested in the other book talked about in that review, but the library didn't have this one and they had a dozen or so available copies on this. So I went with #2.

It was okay.

As the review said, it's more a personal remembrance, which largely means Brokaw is telling personal stories, only some of which are amusing if you don't know the people. He also repeats himself sometimes. Once he said roughly the same thing three times on a single spread. He comes of as ... old. From the acknowledgements, it sounds like he wrote a bunch of random stuff and some folks at the publisher put it together for him and edited it up into form.

He's a clear writer but not an interesting writer. Which I'm sure served him well on television, but not so well here. Considering how short this book is (and that it's his eighth) I expected more.

Still. Timely stuff. Who knows what will come next, here, in 2019? The past mostly reveals it'll never be obvious until it's long over.
couple weeks maybe


100) Treason by Orson Scott Card, finished December 23
This novel is:

a rewrite of an earlier novel, Treason.

still an immature OSC work (which he admits in the rewrite's Author's Note) but possessed of the strengths of both his short stories and better novels.

flavored like fairy tales.


delightfully inventive, and happy to be a fantasy as much or more than a work of science fiction.

grotesquely violent in a medieval way.

humanist in the sense of being deeply engaged in questions of what it means to be fully human, both as an individual and as a society.

in possession of a colophon the likes of which the world will never see again:
The manuscript of this novel was composed using
WordPerfect on an AL 386 computer with an NEC Mul-
tisync monitor; it was printed out on an Epson GQ-3500
using a Glyphix font, and duplicated on a Canon NP3525-
an excellent example of everything people who feel betrayed by old Scott Card loved about young Scott Card.

easily interpreted as old Scott Card was there all along.

a rollicking fun read, even with its distant, quasi-philosophical, first-person narrator.
sixty days even, including start and end dates



Thoughts on three great (and very different) Christmas albums since the year 2000 (more or less) in order to explore what makes a great Christmas album now, here, beyond the year 2000


Low Christmas (1999)
Although ten years ago we'd never heard this album, now the true beginning of the Christmas season in the Thteed household is the sleighbells that open this album. Low's slowcore hermeneutics are the perfect opening to a season that so often turns overloud, overcommercial, overartificial. It will stay quiet and background until slowly you realize it is telling you true things about the season that might otherwise get overlooked in the hustle and chaos. Even the Little Drummer Boy stops banging on his stupid plastic drum and begins to serenade the Christchild who came, like us---yet unlike us---to die. This EP's not even a half hour long, yet I'm not sure a better Christmas album exists.

Barenaked Ladies Barenaked for the Holidays (2004)
The cover art suggests midcentury hokiness and BNL doesn't shy away from that, playing sub-minute galloping renditions of Christmas-album staples on my grandmother's electric organ and presenting an absurdly overthetop sincere "Jingle Bells" (mashed with a borderline screamo "Jingle Bells" that will blow your speakers if you're not careful; "Jingle Bells" is now the one song I skip on any of these albums). BNL embraces the holidays (plural) in Barenaked for the Holidays with new and classic songs about Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year's. It's the original songs that are the real standouts though, freshfaced carols that, in a just world, would be regularly covered and showing up on your local all-Christmas radiostation's lists. "Green Christmas" (which I recently learned was written for Jim Carrey's Grinch and "Elf's Lament" bring new emotions to Christmas while simultaneously engaging BNL's uniquely brilliant humor and wisdom. (One note: a live bootleg of BNL doing "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" that I got off Napster c. 2001 has more bright originality that this competent and fun but not-fun-enough version featuring Sarah McLachlan. Love you, Sarah!)

Sia Everyday Is Christmas (2017)
Sia is a master of modern pop's fuguelike layering of hook upon hook. And she's bold enough to ignore the Christmas Music Canon, while adept enough to adopt other relevant influences, like turning the Island of Misfit Toys into both a rousing drinking song and a cheerful freakflag athem. But that song's an exception if you worry this album might be too adult. No. There are songs about puppies---our baby's favorite stars colors and candy---but also a melancholy song about the ephemerality of life as represented by snowmen. The surface simplicity of small hooks legoed together into single-length songs is an entry point to an album that is, finally, joyful and fresh and new and unashamed.

The clearest throughline across these very, very different albums is that each of them embraces what the musicians do best. The highlights of all three albums are original songs, grounded in the artists' own sensibilities, and what covers there are are, generally, with a few arguable exceptions on the BNL album, embraced into the artists' respective ouevres.

In other words, instead of crashing the carol's house and having their way with it, these artists invite the carol into the their home and make it feel welcome---thus letting the carol learn something new about itself. Nothing against Michael Bublé, but he just does old things well. And there will always be a place for that---Thank you, Pink Martini!---but the best Christmas albums won't be trying to knock Bing Crosby off his period-appropriate perch. The best Christmas albums will say something about Christmas now, here, beyond the year 2000.


Films, feature-length, 2019, November


Short Circuit (1986)

So. Haven't seen this movie in easily 25 years. Maybe thirty. I have fond memories of it, but I don't think I've seen it since the sequel was in theaters. And although one scene from that movie has always stuck with me (in a positive way), mostly I remember its a supercheesy conclusion.

But after watching WALL·E with the kids, I thought they should see the source of some of its DNA.

Ends up there's a lot more DNA here than I expected.

WALL·E doesn't just look like Johnny Five, he runs over a bug, has a metal top hat, watches movies and thus learns to dance, makes similar sounds, and on and on and on. Of course, as S pointed out, he also's pretty similar to Bumblebee. It's all one story.

The funny thing, watching it now, is how minimal the role of Ben is, the Indian engineer. I had forgotten Ally Sheedy was in it or Steve Whathisname-starts-with-a-G. They're not that interesting, really, although at least they tried with Ally Sheedy. But the Fisher Stevens character---even though he's a brownface malapropping stereotype---comes off as a real and interesting person. I mean, sort of. I remember him as the lead and so, even though that's not true, I think we have to call him an important character in my filmwatching history. A nonwhite lead I could get behind. I mean, sort of.

Short Circuit 2 (1998)

I remember that Steve Whathisname-starts-with-a-G was Too Big a Star to be troubled with this sequel, but it's hard to see how his inclusion could have made the movie any better. It's not much of a movie, but you could reasonably argue it's better than the first (but why would you?).

We again have our brownfaced lead which, really, has not aged well, but at least the character is a bit less of a joke this go 'round. (Although the Bakersfield/Pittsburgh joke might be the best in the first movie, giving him a more realistic background and making his relationships more realistic and meaningful. (Maybe not with the girl because, come on, but still.) Even though he's basically a brownface Chico Marx, his malaprops aren't quite the point of the character. It's a step toward maturity. Not much of one, but good job, Hollywood.

The scene I remember so clearly (see above) actually is two scenes. Him reading all the books in the bookstore, yes, but the reveal of the two books he keeps does not come until later.

Frankenstein and Pinocchio.

I think that reveal pushed deeper into my heart the role books can have in our lives.

It is interesting that I understand more of the "robot vocabulary" now---some of which has aged well, some of which has not, some of which I now see as nonsense.

Anyway. I don't suppose I'll ever watch these movies again. If I want to, I'll probably just read these little reviews.

Love you, Johnny Five. You made the '80s a little more human.

The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (2014)

Okay. Now THIS is a weird movie. An obsolete satellite hears a music student's terrible sub-Ben Folds number and falls to earth to find him. Midfall she is turned into a girl by Merlin who has been turned into a roll of toilet paper only to find the student has been turned into a milkcow and is being chased by a man with a plunger who is taking livers from all the animals who used to be humans before their hearts were broken.

Got that?

I suspect the movie makes more sense in Korean (and maybe the songs are better too?) and I don't think it's intended to be a parody although the flashback covering the high points of the title character's love story really made me wonder.

Or maybe the director's just a nutcase.

The dvd includes his 2007 short film "Coffee Vending Machine and Its Sword."

This one's about a master swordsman reincarnated as a coffee vending machine and how he falls in love and ... it's pretty nutty too. If you watch it, I highly recommend watching it at doublespeed.

Then I was bumming around online and found "Wolf Daddy."

This is my favorite. Watch this one. This one will make you laugh in shock with less wasted fat than the other two. And it's only nine minutes long! (Watched at 1.6 time.)

Blackbeard's Ghost (1968)

It's been at least six years since we've watched this and although the oldest remembered liking it, he didn't remember "that it was so funny."

It is so funny.

No one is going to confuse Blackbeard's Ghost with a "great" movie, but it's pure fun and evidence that great casting can raise a movie up. You put someone else in Peter Ustinov's place and this flick descends into the embarrassing and long forgotten. He's brilliant. And Elsa Lancaster! A bit role but so, so great. Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette doing their solid Disney best.

It deserves a remastering.

And, dang it, Disney+ really needs to have a Godolphin series, don't you think? I mean---I still won't subscribe, but still.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

So great. In retrospect, I'm not sure its logic was entirely coherent, but it makes horrible sense as you're watching it. And its stressful and looms darkly about like a nightmare.

I watched it on Kanopy but, if you don't mind ads, it's also now free on IMDb TV

Kevin McCarthy (no, not the one I was so terribly wrong about) does solid work here, but I'll admit to being slightly distracted by the man who will always be R.J. Fletcher to me.

I think I saw bits of the remake somewhere in my childhood (although it may have been the colorized version of this film), but it's hard to say. What I HAVE seen is the 1992 "Looney Tunes" parody. (Scare quotes intentional.) Like most later uses of the WB stable, most of it is awkward and doesn't quite work well. But as the snatchers show up, it really comes to life. Allowing its animators to work in something more akin to their OWN style rather than a style from half a century yore allows them to really breathe and nail little things like timing that just didn't work in act one. Worth checking out just to decide if you agree!

The Prodigal Son (1990)

I was shocked to learn that my seminary students did not know the prodigal son. Like, at all. Vaguely familiar at best. So we did a whole day on supplementals. Including this little classic. Which held up waaay better for them than other oldtimey things I've shared in the past. (Looking at you, Captain Moroni.)

It is surprisingly difficult to find information on this film online. The IMDb link is almost certainly to the correct film, but it has a bizarre image as the lead image (because the director is disguising the film? more than one of his movies are so labeled), and the only information I could find on casting is that Jongiorgi Enos is in it, though I don't know who he plays. Not one of the four leads, certainly. One of whom looks quite a lot like that big redheaded comedian from Boston.

Thirty years ago, this was an event. We all went to our ward buildings and watched it, astonished. Church film had entered a new era before our eyes. It made us grapple with the story in ways we had not before.

And, like I said, I think it holds up*. That could just be the nostalgia talking or the fact that seminary's funmaker-in-chief slept in Wednesday, but I don't think so.

Time for remastering!

*(except for the hairstyles)

The Light Bulb Conspiracy (2010)

Not a lot here I didn't already know, but the specificity and deliberateness with which our economy of planned obsolescence came to life is still shocking and upsetting.

That damn printer made me so angry. I wish people at Epson could go to jail for **** like that.

The movie's a decade old now, but AirPods and the death of Right to Repair prove we really haven't come that far.

Everything you own is garbage whether it is garbage or not.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

This is a well crafted film with excellent performances from the leads (both got Academy Award noms, after all). It does everything right.

I'm not sure it does more than that, though. I doubt it is a film I will remember.

If you watched it last year, do you remember it?

Frozen (2013)

After the genuinely awesome teaser for Frozen II, I've been looking forward to rewatching Frozen for the first time in forever. I had enjoyed the first go-round fine, although I liked Tangled better (and still do). Frozen has aged well in my mind, however. Some of its plays against form I remembered fondly and they held up. I like the film better now than I did then. And although I still find the music meh overall, some of the songs do get stuck in the ol' head, don't they?

Unfortunately, this was a subpar viewing experience. I missed the opening and a chunk in the middle, so maaybe I'll try to fit it in once more.

The baby however has utterly fallen in love. It's no cowboy movie*, but we'll take her to see it, methinks.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

This was an enraging viewing experience. Interruptions upon interruptions. And so I still feel, as I felt upon first viewing, that I haven't quite found my way inside this film yet.

I wanted to view it twice before film group, but now that is tomorrow night and, yeah, hahaha.

No question I love looking at this film.

I do have plenty other questions, however.

Kids + Money (2008)

I have undoubtedly watched this (several times) since I started keeping track of features watched, but it never occurred to me until today* that, by the standards I'm using, it qualifies as a feature. So let's talk about it!

I sat in a different place in the classroom this viewing and noticed some details I hadn't seen before. But what I love most about the documentary (speaking of form and not content) is how the editing and framing includes details that would normally be left out---stuff the participants certainly didn't imagine would be visible. It makes the film much more truthy---by which I don't mean truth-seeming, but truthful by placing the truthiness of the particpants' words within the truth of their reality. Nice stuff.

I've long wanted to watch her featurefuturelength followup, but I haven't got around to watching it on my own and, given the section on porn, I'm not going to just show it to my students and hope for the best. I recently heard of another film in similar vein that intrigues as well. I'll have to get to it as well.

But, honestly, a just-over-thirty-minutes film that gets students' blood boiling is about right anyway.

I worry it'll be too long ago soon, but that hasn't happened yet.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The baby has developed a love affair with Jack Skellington to rival her longtime relationship with Cowboy Woody. All this without seeing the movie---just a doll that came out with the Halloween decorations and the picture book found on the shelf.

But we have the dvd and after I gave it to her, she began carring it around---and has done so for, oh, a week now? And finally, tonight, we watched it.

I really love this movie. Since I first saw it and continuing through today. In my mind, it's the highlight of Tim Burton's career (and yes: I know he didn't direct it; that may have helped...).

Sally's theme is one of the songs I found myself singing my newborn babies in the hospital (not part of my everyday internal jukebox), and she's such a relatable character. Sally is all of us; Jack is who we aspire to. To discover they are equals is one of the film's great joys.


Should really watch this movie more often. I think the only reason we don't is confusion which holiday it should accompany....

Isle of Dogs (2018)

I liked it better than the first time---I laughed a lot more. It still doesn't resonate for me like Mr Fox does, but it's a lovely film.

I think my perception has also been altered by looking at every page of and reading many chunks of the companion book about the film's creation. I picked it up quasi at random from the library, and son #1 said, Hey! I need to see that! so we put the movie on hold as well and now we have watched it.

They agree it was good, but the nearly flawless-looking disc kept freezing on us, which was upsetting.

I certainly look forward to watching it again. Because even a bad Wes Anderson film (I'm skeptical there is one) will have topnotch dialogue delivered perfectly due to topnotch casting and direction. And that makes a huge difference even to ugly movies. Of which these most certainly are not.

I Lost My Body (2019)

We had a Buster Scruggs situation this week, with I Lost My Body (which I've been reading about all year on Cartoon Brew) making a brief appearance in theaters before disappearing behind Netflix's paywall.

I'm so glad we went. The film was thrilling and surprising and risky and bold and it left me so, so happy.

(Lady Steed begs to differ. She says she no longer has much faith in movie-promised hopefulness. This kid's life will be hard, hard, she says. She is right of course. But he has rewritten his faith, and I believe in him.)

In brief, this is the story of a disembodied hand trying to reconnect with his body, and the adventures is undertakes in this city while on its odyssey.

But---and here's the sneaky bit---it is NOT an odyssey. Ends up, it's something different. It's not a homecoming. It's a leavetaking.

And it is beautiful.

Space Is the Place (1974)

I've heard vague things about this before, but it got some play at a recent SFMOMA exhibit and it stoked my interest enough to get the dvd from the library. And...


From one of the essays in the booklet: "part documentary, part science fiction, part Blaxploitation, part revisionist Biblical exhibit"---which seems reasonable. I could try and share the plot right now, but that seems beside the point. It's images and philosophy and---

Well. It's a document of its time. And it's interesting as a piece of anthropology. And some of the images are cool. The vibe is pretty great when it's working. The 60-minute version was probably better. A 30-minute version would probably be better yet.

Anyway. Strange stuff.

Clue (1985)

The high school put on this play a year or two ago and the son that went with me has a surprisingly keen memory of it. He wasn't here tonight when another son took it off the shelf and started it up. But he was upset we started without him. He still sat down and watched the last third with us. And enjoyed it.

We all did.

I was a bit worried about Professor Plum and all the bosoms, but in the end, I have no regrets.

Murder of course is fine. This is America.

Frozen II (2019)

I really loved the experience of this movie. I don't know if it was any good in terms of plot or character or anything else, but I was carried along by waves of beautiful colors and images and emotions---and I was satisfied.

I wonder----

The baby was introduced to Frozen when I brought it home from the library to prep for this film (see above) and has utterly fallen in love with it. I've heard her singing "Let It Go," for pete's sake. And she sat on my lap through almost the entire film. And I can't help but feel that our physical proximity gave us a deeper proximity that let me experience the film as she did.

I don't know.

But I really liked it.

It wasn't what the teaser suggested (a dope superhero movie) and it was way better than what the trailer thought it was promoting.

I don't know if, watching it again someday, I'll recreate this experience or stand by my love of this film, but I really did love it. I really did.

(Note: Lady Steed and I seemed to be the only ones laughing during the power ballad for some reason.)

Aquaman (2018)

This was a strange experience. The DNA from Star Wars and Valerian and Indiana Jones and Marvel (notably Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok and Endgame) was clear and sometimes distracting and sometimes attracting. But, of course, there's a lot of ignorance on my side coming in as I've never seen a James Wan-directed film (except Saw, which feels pretty different and was a long time ago) and rumor has it he's terribly influential. So maybe I'm confusing cause and effect. I've done it before.

By the end, however, I was into it. It' not a top-ten or anything like that, but a good time was most certainly had.

Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Still the coolest movie ever made.

Weird thing's happened since I saw it in theaters eighteen Decembers ago: I'm now older than George and Brad and Julia. That's a weird feeling.

They look good. Thirty-four to forty are good-looking ages. That's most certainly an opinion I've aged into. Have you looked at me in a mirror lately?

Previous films watched