Feature Films: July2019


Toy Story 3 (2010)

As you know, I just saw this, but I enjoyed it even more than when I watched it a couple days ago. The whole third act moved me even more, and so did the epilogue---which somehow still does not feel long even though it rather is.

It was also interesting this time to really note how much the film uses the language of horror and suspense. For small children, it doesn't seem to quite tie into that as their less familiar with the tropes, but it works for me, even as it's punctuated with humor.

The baby loves the movie. She's been talking about cowboy since our last viewing, and the worried about him losing his hat and about Big Baby getting his bottle. She is invested, just not quite in the same things I might be.

Also---was the movie my introduction to Kristen Schaal? Regardless, great voice casting all around.

Yesterday (2019)

The film gave me all the pleasures I had hoped for from it, but it ended up being about something quite different than I anticipated. Something much more.

And that's why John was the right choice. He, of all the Beatles, most represents art. And when your choice comes between art and fame versus love and home, well, what does it even mean to have it all? What does it even mean to succeed.

The movie offers a surprisingly nuanced exploration of these questions.

It's nice, not being told what to think.

(Although I would like to know whether or not Pet Sounds exists in this universe.)

The Tree of Life (2011)

If I'm ever featured in a Room 237-like movie, I hope it's this one I've given my life to. I'm not as stunned as on first viewing, but I'm at least as impressed. I want more.

Unfortunately, I have a rental-store copy and so it has no special features. Meanwhile, the Criterion Edition has not only that but a completely second movie made from the same footage! (Thus, if you have me for Secret Santa....)

The film can clearly be considered in many ways and I will push back against anyone who proposes a "correct" interpretation, but the film presents itself as biblical and that is a fruitful place to start.

For instance (but, again, not limited to), there are no grandparents*. So the parents are either God the Father and God the Mother or they are Adam and Eve. If they are Adam and Eve, you can read the three sons and Cain, Abel, and Seth. If they are God, then the sons could be Adam, Jesus, and us. And as the mother says she gives her son, only for us to see a field of sunflowers, we are all her son.

Knowing the Tree of Life is an ancient symbol of God the Mother and seeing how the film ends with a clear focus on the Mother, makes the film easy to read as a meditation on the divine feminine, even though the relationship of primary focus through the film is father/son.

The Mother offers us our choice: the way of nature or the way of grace. And Jesus has long been conflated with Mother.

The story is one of adolescence, but what is adolescence but our Fall from innocence?

And what it modern science but a chance for us to deepen our mythology?

I have so many questions. Some I don't think are important (eg, is Sean Penn dead). Some I've a great desire to know.

I can't wait to watch it again.

The Tree of Life (2011)

Sean Penn is a visionary man. Who knew?

I don't know what to do with the dogs.

I'm not sure about the translucent cloth---that seems to be doing more than one thing.

And all the water.

Lady Steed noticed that the film shows the preexistence as children prepare to be born.

The first time I watched this, I felt the only thing I could do right in life would be to dedicate myself entirely to parenting perfectly.

The more I watch it, the more I realize that is impossible. (Which does not mean we should not try.)

As I watch it, I realize that it's not just similar to 2001---it's directly responding to it. It's its spiritual counterpoint. I first made the connection with the quotation of the eclipse, but the references are more legion than that. We have the rings of Saturn. We have, in the creation of the Earth, newer versions of the techniques Kubrick used to make the final journey. (Incidentally, I saw some pre-2001 experimental films at Bampfa that helped me see where he was coming from with those hyperspace scenes.) But all together, it's a more wholesome, spiritual, beautiful, hopeful, forgiving vision.

And what's with the attic? That's straight-up Lynchian.

Let's do it again!

Toy Story 4 (2019)


It's didn't blow away the previous films which each blew away the previous (even though they started from excellent), but it was a daring move and a fitting end and full of laughs and tears of all sorts.

The most striking difference between 4 and the previous films however was aesthetic---the camera has been let loose!

When Pixar started, they had strong static-camera rules---the camera was not allowed to do anything a real camera in real space could not do. We live in a world now however where such a statement is meaningless. And so Pixar set their cameras free, and boy did they use it well. The camera was always moving and moving with style and sense. Unobtrusive yet always assisting the story. Great, great camera work.

And back to the ending, I'm startled by the boldness of the choice. I'm happy it went where it did but also saddened. But not ... that much. It is, in short, a variation on the theme already established.

Ultimately, it is an excellent sequel. Old friends are themselves but not overplayed as fanservice, and new characters are both fresh and vital. What more could you ask?

(That said, I'm pleased with Pete Docter's announcement: no more sequels.)

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

There are so many (so many) Marvel movies now that you shouldn't see it as an insult when I say this film doesn't crack the top tier. It's a good movie.

But what really makes it a cut-above is the first post-credits sequence. (Spoilers to follow.)

First, it's great to see J.K. Simmons back, but it's even greater to see him as an Alex Jones-type character. Marvel is taking on fake news, deep fakes, conspiracy theories, etc. It's a big bucket to open and I'm interested to see how they keep control of all these worms, but it's a bold move, a NOW! move, and a move that fees important---maybe even necessary---maybe even significant. We'll see.

Also, MJ's even greater than she was.

This is totally a movie for teenagers, but we've all been teenagers. It doesn't hurt to look backwards every now and then.

Even if this look backwards fails to obscure our terrifying present.

(Note: the final credits reveal a. explained some weird behaviors previously in the film and b. sure seemed like a reference to Valerian. But that would be crazy, right?)

My Neighbors The Yamadas (1999)

Picked this one up on a Twitter recommendation and I don't know what I expected, but a series of vignettes---some so short they were the animated equivalent of a gag cartoon---was not it.

I am not complaining.

Trivia: the film was the first Ghibli film to be done fully digital---I guess to get the watercolor effect just right the same director would later apply to Princess Kaguya fourteen years later.

A father and mother and two kids and a grandmother live together and experience life together in pieces.

At Comic-Con last week, Chris Ware said that the order one reads a story in isn't really the most important thing. What matters is how it is compiled into memory later, by the reader's brain. Like life.

I suspect that if I watched this movie several times, to move it into longterm memory, it would feel, in memory, entirely coherent and not at all pastichey. That's my suspician.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

I theorized the first time I wrote about this movie that the complaints I have might be first-watching complaints only. I was right.

The first film (which I have not rewatched) was good---intelligent, hilarious, bold, provocative, daring, successful. It was also a film filled with cliches. And I'm not anticliche---they exist because we love them---and that film used them well, but it also opened the film up to a lot of fair criticism.

One of the things that makes this sequel so excellent is that its true to the first film but also addresses those criticisms thoughtfully and uses them to expand the franchise's heart and soul and intellectual and moral heft.

Maybe the clearest piece of evidence is the rewriting of the first film's theme song:
Everything's not awesome
Things can't be awesome all of the time
It's an unrealistic expectation
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try
To make everything awesome
In a less idealistic kind of way
We should maybe aim for not bad
'Cause not bad right now would be real great
(It works better in the film.)

I hope the awards don't snub this #2 while they're throwing love at a #4.

I, Tonya (2017)

Around the time the movie came out a read a now interview with Tonya Harding (I think this one) and I was forced to confront the truth that I was one of the millions who never really thought to treat her fairly.

We'll never know with perfect accuracy what happened, but it's nice to get a story like this told. And this movie is told with style (similar to what Adam McKay's recent films have done). I think I would find it funnier on a second viewing but aspects of it are so hard to watch that I'm not sure I ever will.

Largely I think the film treats everyone fairly, but her father is used primarily used to a) laugh at nonelite culture then b) disappear so sad. It's the least fair part of the movie.

I think it will stick with me. If I do come back to it, that will be why.

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

The very last thing on the screen is the title. And I realized: that's appropriate: that's what the film was supposed to do: bother us: (sorry).

I agree with my first viewing in that the film is too long. I still think it might be the most painfully accurate look at race in America and I love how daring it is, though it didn't fit as well together for me time. But ultimately it doesn't matter. What matters will be how the pieces fit into the mind long after the viewing has ended.

I hope it rolls around a lot of heads going forward. We need a world where Sorry to Bother You has been influential.


Previous films watched

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








Adam and Even and Mark Twain and Dr. Seuss and people I know and people and don't and movies and music and drawings and more


052) The Diary of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, finished July 1

This is not a proper "novel." The proper description would be a collection of sketches which Twain never quite spent enough time with. Not because the sketches are bad but because it never became clear what the overarching goal would be. A shame, really.

The bits were first published in 1906 (3), 1923 (3), and, incredibly, 1962 (2). This collection bringing them all together dates to 2002. And it's a good collection. The bits have marvelous moments and the leads are likeable characters. Eve, in particular, is lovely. And the death of Abel is a rough read. So yes it's light and charming and a showcase for innocence, but the darker old Twain is lurking.




053) Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler, finished July 2

It's a novel by a friend and one highly acclaimed by other friends with good taste. Plus, said writer friend sent me a gratis copy before the book was released over two years ago so ... it was about time.

I'm glad to say it holds up to the praise. It's what the promotional copy calls "flintlock fantasy," set in a 19th-century America filled with magic and divided in ways that could have been historical---a French nation based in New Orleans, for instance. But also not, such as a nation of beastmen led by the Heron King. The world is rich and full and sometimes it can be hard to remember what is factual and what comes from old tradition and what is new. By the end of the book, you may have forgotten that Ben Franklin did not, in fact, invent the tarot.

Sarah is a smart Appalachee kid making her way in the world when that world explodes into pieces---nothing is quite as it was, including her own self. I don't like giving much away in these posts, but if you like richly imagined worlds and characters who develop as the pages past, Dave Butler's America is a good place to visit. Volume two is already at my bedside. (Volume 3 [and final] now available for preorder.)
a hair over three months


054) The Tree of Life by Terence Malick, finished July 9

I found and started reading this right after watching its film (which I've watched again midread) and it's a wonderfully strange read. Not a script you're selling for someone else to direct. A script you sell to producers who already believe in you.

It's quite different from the finished film and I'm hesitant to apply anything not in the finished artwork, but it was gratifying to see one of my primary theories explicitly stated on the antepenultimate page:
Now he sees that it was she [the main character's mother] -- his mysterious guide, the guardian of his heart, the source of his moral being. She is the mother of all creation. All flows out of her; she is the gateway, the door. She smiles through all things.

Through her the eternal sought him. From out of her mouth it spoke. Through her life and actions she brought them near it.
Two more quotations from that page:
This is God's world, and not an infinite plain of chaos and sorrow after all.
And in the Mother's own off-screen voice:
Know that I am.
I leave the rest as an exercise for the reader.
three days


055) Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones, finished July 10

I picked this up off the library's NEW shelf intending to read a few bits here and there and get a sense for the book. Then I accidentally read a couple hundred pages and assumed I would read a bit more then pen an Unfinished Books post about it. Then I just finished it.* Out of order, but the whole thing.

Which is not to say it was over licketysplit. It's over 400 pages (ignoring notes and the like) and thus it took hours and hours of reading. But it was time well spent and didn't feel like workish long hours at all.

I do have complaints. Jones occasionally reaches outside his sources to talk about feelings or gestures which do not appear to be supported by the (voluminous) footnotes. He feels a need to both justify and claim that justification is impossible when talking about things such as his subject's use of racist caricatures early in his career. (Which was in the news only recently, as you may recall.) (If you are of the Dr.-Seuss-is-racist camp, I encourage you do consider his growth as a person and if you are willing and eager to condemn everyone who grew beyond their milieu back to their milieu. Few writers opened more people to better thoughts during the 20th century. Obviously he had to start with himself. If you reject him, make sure you do it thoughtfully and not just because it's cool to cancel.) The book is clearly well researched but it's also clearly aimed at a popular audience. I suspect that other one-volume Seuss biographies might be more rigorous.

I also wish that some things were explained better. The last half of the book treats this stuffed dog as a long-established fact. But looking for it as I then read the first half, it's not. I still don't know if it's a toy dog or a taxidermied dog or what. The first it arrives, it's already beloved and already been around.

This sort of underexplaining-what-Theric-wants-answered thing is common of course in nonfiction, but some of the oversights seem serious. For instance, it talks about how sometimes Ted Geisel would get frustrated with one of the other authors working with Beginning Books and rewrite the book himself, them publishing it under the Theo. LeSieg pseudonym. WHAT??? How did THAT work?? Writers were okay with this? Was that how all Theo. LeSieg books came about? I have so many questions here, and they are lightly brushed over with grossly insufficient explanations.

My greatest complaint, however, is the lack of visual support for the text. Over four-hundred pages of biography and only eight glossy pages of images? And three of these limited images are of him sitting in his La Jolla studio. What a waste. Even if they didn't want the added expense of glossy pages, they could at least have included black-and-whites of his work directly in the text. It's an upsetting and egregious oversight.

(As an aside, I was struck by how parallel his life was with Charles Schulz's. Interesting how their paths never really seemed to cross. the most notable difference in 2019, however, is that the good Dr.'s second wife-cum-widow didn't use some of the their money to found a museum / research institute. I suspect he didn't leave anything close to Peanuts money, but that will have a long term effect on their respective legacies.)
four or five days


056) Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel edited by Richard H. Minear, finished July 26

This is not a full collection of his PM cartoons, but it seems like enough to give a full sense of Dr. Seuss's politics and attitudes.

The only disappointing one is how he fought with great clarity for social and economic equality for Americans of all races and nationalities ... except those with Japanese ancestry. It's clear from his later work that he worked hard to correct that blindspot, but without the aid of serious university research, that path is not completely clear, nor is his final position on the racism/antiracism scale. It seems likely to me that he left that bias entirely behind, but most of what's been published is just some of what exists and expects you to take their word for it. This seemed the fairest take (admission: I just skimmed the essays) but I would still like the full evidence to examine for myself. I'm especially curious if the LIFE photoessay still exists somewhere not in its published form (which he felt didn't give the Japanese people their full due) but as he originally composed it.

Anyway. He was a pretty good editorial cartoonist. And a few of them still seem fitting today. Gun legislation, anyone?

one day



Mexican food in San Diego


The only thing I really knew about "Mexican food in San Diego" is that they are the inventors of the California burrito which is a burrito with french fries on it. I had one of these at a burrito place in Millbrae and was not impressed. And so I was not that interested in San Diego's Mexican-food scene.

But then: it is close to Mexico. And we are in San Diego....

And so we have eaten and we have been impressed.

La Fachada
We got the carnitas burrito (we always get this at new places for purposes of comparison) and carnitas tacos. Which is to say we purchased a lot of carnitas with a bit of tortilla holding it all together.

I can't believe these things were so cheap, beacause they really were mostly meat. The five tacos were just a ton of carnitas with a bit of cilantro and onion. The burrito was just meat with a bit of pico de gallo and guacamole in place of beans.

We ordered and sat outside and it took us awhile to understand the place. There was an open barbequeish grill in the back. That had a pot of beans and foil with grilled (grilling) onions and peppers. All this was freely available to supplement one's purchased food. As much beans as you want. I thought they were a bit plain but Lady Steed liked them a lot.
We got a breakfast burrito (eggs and potatoes---which were french fries) and a super burrito.

To the breakfast burrito I added beans and "Mexican salsa" which is basically pico de gallo. It was a good burrito. Big. And, by Bay Area standards, tell me if you see a trend here, hella cheap.

Lynsey had them, instead of all the meats, just put carnitas on her super, but I guess in San Diego when they say super, they meeaan suuuper. This thing must've been two feet long. It was constructed of two enormous tortillas (props to the burrito maestro who pulled this off) and full of all the foods.

Incidentally, you can get half a pint of guac here for five dollars. That is not restaurant prices! Do all the world's avocados originate in San Diego and we only get what they decide not to pick up off the ground???
The most important detail here however is that both were excellent. La Fachada was superior but both were quality, quality institutions.

San Diego is about more than french fries in your burrito. But they do have those french fries ready for you any time you want. (Both places, incidentally, did have the California on their burrito menu: carne asada and french fries. And why not? This is San Diego.


Books forty-five to fifty-one
Nothing else is getting done


045) Eric by Terry Pratchett, finished May 31

Let's start by admitting that the Rincewind books are my least favorite Discworld books (though thanks to this one for clearing up the pronunciation of his name---it's like what blows from the west, not a toy duck, and the first vowel matches the second).

This one (which reads FAUST ERIC atop each page) is based on Faust (tada!) and it's primary satirical targets (outside whatever Rincewind is ever normally satirical of) are teenage hackers and corporate culture, each of which reeks of the 90s. In other words, I suspect most will agree: Eric has not aged as well as Discworld books as a whole are apt to do.

(I am interested that Eric was apparently as popular a name in Britain as it was in America for that generation of hackers, er, teens.)

A friend of mine who reads Terry Pratchett novels over and over again and thinks they are all pretty much excellent, even if he does have favorites, dismisses Eric as subpar. I tend to agree.

I wonder if this is because he has a cowriter (not listed on the cover or the title page, but on the page of other-books-by, Josh Kirby is mentioned---perhaps it is a reference to this version only).
at most twenty days


046) The Library Book by Susan Orlean, finished June 7

This is my first Susan Orlean book, although I'm pretty sure I've read her work in The New Yorker. I picked it up off the new shelf at my local library simply because the cover was eyecatching and tactilily inviting.

I opened it up and read a tad and, somehow, took it home. A few days later I read the first chapter and I was hooked.

The locus of the book is a fire at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Library in the mid80s. It explores that day, the leadup, the results, the favored culprit---but she also spins off in many other directions, back to the beginning of libraries and into the future. Along the way we meet many fascinating librarians, and one is left with utter confidence in the vital importance of libraries.

We Must Have Libraries.

It's the sort of book that made me want to start/improve endless Wikipedia articles but alas---someone else had placed it on hold and the book needed to return home.
perhaps two weeks


047) Sing to It by Amy Hempel, finished June 8

I'd never heard of Amy Hempel before which, I suppose, tells us something about what I pay attention to. But, having read this review, I wanted to learn more. So I went to the library and brought this book to high-school graduation. Between waiting to start, suffering through, and walking/training home (plus twenty minutes of Little League party-avoidance), I got this entire book read today. It's not that long.

Not only is the book not long, neither are the stories (you can read the entire first story in that review linked above). Most of them are no more than three pages. The final story is much, much longer (and the weakest of the bunch), but over all, this is the perfect book to carry about during a day of errands.

I don't know that I "love" this book, but I certainly admire it. She writes the perfect short of bizarre gems that I used to aspire too---and she makes me want to read them again.
one day


048) The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood, finished June 17

This slim volume is comparable to the Everyman Library's Pocket Classics, although the poem's are wholly contemporary---no Shakespeare or Plath will be found in these pages.

And, frankly, that's a loss. This exact collection with some ballast (or, if you prefer, leavening) from the past, would make it stronger and more engaging. The collection has some wonderful entries, but no collection wins on every point. Adding some works from those who have survived centuries, or even just decades, of consideration naturally increases the hit rate.

I'm not complaining. I'll probably pick up another sometime.
two days


049) Batman: White Knight by Sean Murphy, finished June 28

This volume came out the same year as The LEGO Batman Movie---which means they were both being worked on simultaneously. And I doubt there was much sharing of info. And yet they both begin the same way. With Joker describing his relationship almost romantically and Batman denying it. Now, the stories go in very (very) different directions from that point, but the connection is striking.

Anyway, the story does interesting things. Joker gets on his meds and works to save Gotham from the chaos of both villains and Batman. It's pretty good. But what I like most is how loose it plays with the mythos. Jason Todd was the first Robin, Dick second; there are two Harleys, Thomas Wayne knew Mr Freeze---why not? I wish the DC movies trusted their audiences this much.
one day


050) The Great Pie Robbery and Other Mysteries by Richard Scarry, finished July 1

(Hey. It qualifies.)

I put most of the library's Richard Scarry Books on hold because I've developed an interest in the evolution of his illustrative style.

But one of the great delights is rediscovering how witty Richard Scarry became. This collection consists of three mysteries originally published separately: The Great Pie Robbery (1969), The Supermarket Mystery (1969), and The Great Steamboat Mystery (1975). Sam Cat and Dudley Pig are our intrepid gumshoes and they're serious and silly in equal measure. And perhaps my favorite aspect of these books is how Scarry gives each character a rich character, usually without drawing attention. Yes, he points out how badly Dudley drives, but not nearly as much as he could. And Sam's relationship with a broom in the first story goes utterly unremarked upon even though it is key to much of what happens in the story. They're like the great silent clowns, but the images, being sequential rather than continuous, leave much of the humor to careful readers only. Or rather, in the case of target audience, repeat readers.
one sitting


051) "O" Is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton, finished July 1

I think because of a line in Deathtrap, I thought a bit about the construction of this book as I was reading it, trying to see how it was pieced together. But I admit that even trying to start from the end I now know and work backwards, "O" is a complex maze.

I do like how we're working our way backward through Kinsey's past as the books continue and it makes me all the more sad, knowing we'll never get "Z" Is for Zero. I'm sure she had something in mind.

about two weeks