Feature Film: March2019


Macbeth (2015) x2

This is a beautifully shot film. And it makes some impressively interesting choices (the kids with the Weird Sisters, the ghosts of Macbeth children). But ultimately it's a film for people who already know the play, the story, the characters, etc. As I was watching it, I often suspected I would be utterly lost if I didn't already know the next step of plot. Given that my students, pretty much universally, were lost and confused, backed up my suspicions.

To you teachers out there---this would be a better film to show after reading the play. Then they can debate the choices made. To watch it first? Well, it'll raise plenty questions for the reading to answer later.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Okay, okay. I see why it's lesser Disney now. But it's still fun enough and my kids liked it.

In addition to being a movie-to-see-as-a-kid-or-you-won't-like-it though, it also hasn't aged supergreat. For a timeless sorcerer, Merlin's hella eurocentric.

Also, I'm not sure this thought had really occurred to me before, but the Genie is clearly a descendant of Merlin:

Frankenstein (1931)

I wish we weren't so stuck on "realism" these days. It would be nice to see some stained cloth playing sky, for instance. Some things set on obvious sets rather than on location or a striking facsimile thereof.

Let's step away from the real! We live in an era of superhero movies, for peak's sake!

(Special shoutout to Spider-Verse.)

Eighth Grade (2018)

I did not want to watch this movie for exactly the reasons it ended up being so great: I've no desire to revisit the horrors of being thirteen. Which it captures so, so well.

But it's not just universal. It's also specific.

The cellphone usage is quasisatirical, but only barely. I would call it pretty accurate.

Fun: after finishing the filmclub viewing, our president said a) you were all this accurate and b) go home and hug your parent. And the Big O in that moment walked over and hugged me.

Beat that.

Don Verdean (2015)

I've now watched this three times (first, second), if you can count this as watching. I was largely listening to the director's commentary by Jared Hess. Who began by predicting no one would listen to said commentary. That's about as valuable as it was as well.

Jerusha was also supposed to be there, but their kids had stomach flu the day of the recording so nope. Which is a bummer. I imagine it would have been a better commentary if Jared could have bounced off somebody.

He did talk a bit about the inspirations for the story (including Mark Hoffman) (but not including Ron Wyatt, sadly), but it was scattered and disconnected, alas.

Superman (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078346/)

I haven't seen this movie in aaaaaaages. I'm much more film literate now. So, for instance, I can see visual references to 2001 in the early scenes. But the much more interesting comparison is to the movie that came out one year earlier: Star Wars. Starting with the Jonathan Williams-penned overture upfront, the similarities keep coming. Rural setting. Having to do chores rather than go driving. Dead father figure. Exploding planet. Magic powers. Clark even inherits his father's lightsabre! (If you haven't seen the movie in a while, you might doubt me, but he pretty much exactly does get his father's lightsabre.) Margot Kidder even has a similar voice to Carrie Fisher. (How cool would it have been to have them play badass sisters?)

One thing I utterly did not remember is the poem during the flying-together scene. It's cited like a song in the credits. And ... I don't know. Lady Steed said she was utterly bewildered by it.

And the final act still a mess of nonsense---worse even than when I was a kid. The time thing didn't really work for me as a kid, but the problems with space and time start from the moment the missile goes off. None of that chronology really makes sense. And Supes's manner of prioritizing is absurd. (Apparently, this is where many of my wrongheaded ideas about earthquakes were born.) Then, if he's going to move time backward, why not far enough back to stop the missiles altogether?

I will say that Christopher Reeve is terrific. Even though the script isn't always great (poor Jimmy), Reeve is great. He's the modern superhero archetype and he deserves to be.

Fences (2016)

I've seen this a good many times now and feel qualified to make some judgment calls.

First, the acting is incredible, across the board. The performances improve with rewatching.

Second, why is the camera so active? I noticed it a tad on earlier watchings, but now the multiple angles and slow zooms (especially---almost to the point of constantly---on Troy).

The most idiosyncratic camera choice has grown on me, but a couple other choices (eg, the neighbors' window) still don't make sense.

I'm glad scenes with Alberta and Troy's father didn't make the final cut ... but I'd sure like to see them.

Macbeth (2010)

This is a pretty fun ride. I never imagined a Macbeth this old, but it works pretty well. Good casts can do that.

ALL THAT SAID, this is waaaay too long. Three hours? You have to be kidding.

As a stage-to-screen adaptation in the BBC/PBS tradition, this looks terrific. But ... it's too dang long. Even though I liked many of the choices (combining/splitting characters, frinstance). And check out the witches.

That...is really something.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

It's been a looong time. I think, largely, I like it better now than I did twenty years ago. What's interesting, though, is to judge it through some modern lenses. For instance, how Jodie Foster's character (and the other female cadet) have to navigate constant sexual harassment of varying degrees just to get through the world and live their lives. Now, of course, this is parcel with the themes of the movie, but one gets the sense it wasn't far at all from ordinary.

One complaint the movie has been getting since the beginning is that it doesn't represent ______ well. The thing in the blank has changed over time, and I'm certainly not willing to tell someone their experience with the film is wrong. I do think that the film is doing something complex with Buffalo Bill, however, starting with Hannibal Lector's insistence that Bill is not transsexual and ending with the easy crossing of the Bechdel bar, even though much of the film has Clarice alone in rooms filled with men.

My own reading is that the film is an attack on the sort of attacks the LGBTQ+ community was (communities were) upset about. It's difficult, to show something as one way and expect anyone else to see it another way. Silence of the Lambs isn't a broad satire or morality play or anything so obvious as that. What it "obviously" is is a horror film about a guy who makes suits of women's clothes in order to be something other than he is. And no matter what commentary may be in the subtext, it's easiest to see what's there lying in plain view. If that hits a sore spot, not much you can do. Because it is also exactly what they say it is.

It's an interesting problem from a critical standpoint. Maybe intractable.

Macbeth (1979)

I still haven't found a Macbeth I can show year-in/year-out like I have with, say, Romeo & Juliet. And I'm not sure why. I don't know why they don't work well enough to through at fifteen-year-olds.

This rendition plays with stark chiaroscuro and, although it's shorter, it's too dang stylized (and colorless) for my purposes. Still. Ian McKellin is much younger and quite good. Judy Dench is much younger and quite good (though I did get distracted by how much she sounds like the mom in Mary Poppins).

The cover also promised Ian McDiarmid as the porter. But long before the porter arrived, I was asking WHO THE HECK IS PLAYING ROSS. Ends up there was some doubling in this movie. C'mon, BBC!

Jane and Emma (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8581198/)

What a way to close the AML conference! We followed it with a Q&A with director, screenwriter, and a producer. I intend to mull over it some more before really writing about it.


Previous films watched

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








As books go, these are passing good


022) One Dirty Tree by Noah Van Sciver, finished February 25

And with this I've read ALL the AML Award-nominated comics (sort of---I probably haven't read ALL of Brittany's collection, but the other three, sure). Thematically, it's somewhat reminiscent of Tara Westover's Educated in that it's the memoir of a Mormon kid who grows up and away from the faith, but Noah's story is very different.

For one thing, although he is less isolated overall, his relationship to church membership is unlike Tara's as she lives in a Mormon town and has Mormon relatives. Noah's parents are converts living in New Jersey. His father is diagnosed with the same mental illness as Tara's but if you ever wondered if all bipolar manifestation is the same, here's your answer. (No.)

Noah's is a strong work, but he's not as far along in the process of grappling with his upbringing (and arguably has not equipped himself with so many tools to do so).

I don't have a say in the award, but in my mind, it's between One Dirty Tree and Green Monk.

A fun thing for me personally with both books (as well as the other three, for that matter), is that my intimacy with their work gives me a lot of intertextual pleasures. But you don't need that kind of background to enjoy any of them.

(One side note: Tara spends a lot of time noting that her experience is not typical Mormon experience. Noah only hints so and it's clear he's unsure how far from normal his experiences might be. If you find generalizing triggering, you might be upset by his retelling.)
two days, possibly not next to each other


023) Snotgirl: California Screaming by Bryan Lee O'Malley & Leslie Hung, finished February 28

I ended up deciding to put the second on hold because Lady Steed wanted to read it (even though she didn't like the characters any more than I do). And how does it compare to #1? About the same. Any question of what's real doesn't feel much resolved. The characters are still awful. You know.

I grobbed this one off the hold shelf as the librarian was checking #1 back in, and she got excited when she saw it. She told him about how great it was (the characters are all Instagram models!) and she made some good points, eg, that the main character is outwardly beautiful but has awful allergies which makes her ugly in private so irony or something. It made sense as she was saying it (if oversold) but felt less true as time passed and I read on.

Which isn't to say I hate it. Sometimes it has something to say. Frinstance:


And artist Hung said something in her book-ending notes that's worth repeating: "Maybe they're not good at being friends, but they are friends."

I can accept that.
about three days


024) Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, finished March 7

I can tell already this one will stick with me for a long, long time.

This isn't the world I want to live in, but hey, America---this is us. This is our world. Most of us can glide by easily enough, but many of us---more all the time---are touched by disaster. And some of us who aren't are consumed by conspiracies and nonsense and bad thinking that feels truer and safer than the already hellish---but chaotic---facts that surround us.

In short, this is a book about the murder of a woman. Not the woman herself, really. Not her murder, we never see it. But about the madness that surrounds violence---and the particular breed of madness that exists now, today. And how, once you start seeing the world through that lens, even the most everyday and innocent moments can be nervewracking---on the cusp of the next bout of violence. See here:

This book did not attract me on its own merits. The art wasn't interesting---Chris Ware plain, but ugly, and who needs to read a comic about a snuff tape? But it kept getting covered with laurels by mainstream outlets and nominated for awards of all types and, eventually, I felt obligated to pick it up. I'm very glad I did. Drnaso has captured the mundane and turned it into a horror show without making the world scarier than it actually is. Most days are totally safe. Most people are good. Danger stays far away and abstract. And thank God. Because when the unusual day, the unusual person, the danger does arrive---

I'm going to be haunted by this book for a long, long time.
maybe six days


025&026) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished March 14

I love reading plays aloud in class! We have our very best discussions talking about plays. Enough so I'm tempted to make all literature in-class literature. It's hard to imagine abandoning novels, but plays are so great. So great. I don't know a better way to have deep and challenging discussions.
almost two weeks


026) Fences by August Wilson, finished Ides of March

It may never get old, being with students as they react to this play for the first time.
about a week


027) N Is for Noose by Sue Grafton, finished Ides of March

I had to close the book and go to sleep at a moment of true Hitchcokcian terror, the crushing pressure of smalltown malice. And I couldn't sleep. I could not.

This is one of the best ones. There are a couple moments I had to say, Come ON, Kinsey!, but not many. I think getting out of town was a good choice.
at most a week