Feature Films: September2019


Captain Marvel (2019)

First, Brie Larson is so great. In particular how she uses her voice, but in movie after movie she has proven she can act. I recommend her for your next project.

Second, the movie's good, but Marvel Studios come off a bit lazy, considering the use they put her to in Endgame. Very few of the moments in this movie pay off. Maybe they will later, but I haven't even heard a rumor of a Captain Marvel 2. In retrospect, it feels like it's a) a response to Wonder Woman and b) a bunch of nonsequiters. I would like to be proven wrong.

It also makes me want to watch other, earlier Marvel movies.

Will I? Dunno. Only if the kids get them from the library themselves. But I know they feel the same way.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This is not an easy movie to write about, so soon after viewing.

I decided long ago I would not see Lawrence of Arabia until I could see it on the big screen. Today I did so.

And it was not what I expected

I'm not sure just what I did expect, but it wasn't anything so complicated as this. I expected clearer emotions. A simpler message. Something thrilling and awesomely large, but horse-opera simple.

What a fool I was.

I also didn't expect to have it uncover the original Star Wars's mild racism, or to explain the ugly evil in Attack of the Clones.

I thought there might be some white-savior tendencies, but I didn't explect it to deconstruct and stomp upon that ideal.

If you hire some Arab actors instead of (old favorites) Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn, along with a couple other minor changes, then this film still feels remarkably modern. Certainly it feels post-Vietnam.

Certainly it demonstrates how war turns even the best men into monsters.

But I don't know what I think.

Ask me after the next time it comes to theaters.

The Martian (2015)

It's been four years. Geez.

But it did not disappoint! Great cast (Matt Damon is a treasure) (I couldn't help but notice Ridley Scott positioned the camera to shoot Jessica Chastain's cheekbones to full effect), complex details hung on a simple, accessible frame, immersively staged and shot. I loved it.

I had decided the movie was going to be enough for me. I still feel this way. But it's worth noting that the three people I live with who read and loved this book (two of them have read it multiple times) wouldn't shut up about their favorite bits missing.

Would watch again. Plus, it made me want to rewatch some of the other recent films in its neighborhood: Interstellar, Gravity, Arrival. It's been a nice run for near-future, realistic scifi film.

I had guessed this was thirty years in the future, but I learned from these videos linked to in the credits that it is actually only 2029. Not far off at all. They decided to make Earth pretty much as it is now---which is a pretty good choice. No matter what you try, the movie will age. Why make mistakes which are, ultimately, deliberate?

These astronauts are in school right now.

I rather doubt we'll actually get to Mars at all within ten years---let alone a third mission---but I hope I do get to see it.

Blinded by the Light (2019)

I was excited to see this film (even though, as so often happens, its best moment was ruined by the trailer), in part because I was looking forward to how it was going to render lyrics visual. I rarely understand lyrics and I certainly can't watch a movie and listen to lyrics at the same time and I have little familiarity with Springsteen's music. The attempts largely worked for me. I hope to see it played with again.

I remember quite liking the director's Bend It Like Beckham, though it's been a long time since Lady Steed and I watched that at Movies 8.

So I liked the trailer and heard a compelling interview with the director, but after a year of jukebox movies, this one has not done beaucoup boxoffice and I probably would have missed it were it not for a friend who love love loves Springsteen inviting us to join her.

(Incidental personal note unrelated to the film: I enjoyed so much hanging out with Lady Steed and three other women our age. I've always found being with women so much easier than being with men, but it's almost impossible for comfortable situations to develop---which has been true since we got married. [The reasons for this are twofold: it's hard for me to just hang out with women and women hanging out with each other tend to be less comfortable with me there.] It was great. There's something about the dynamics of American women that I find so much more enjoyable and pleasant than being with my fellow American men.)

UPDATE: It's been three days since the film and it's dropped a bit in my estimation. Little things I thought were evidence of imperfection seem more to me like the basic fact of the films. Viz., many, many moments in the film seemed be included to be sure to check off all the main intended moments rather than because these characters living these lives would necessarily pass through them. At the time of watching, these felt like irregularities. Now, in memory, the film feels more like a pastiche of these moments rather than a coherent whole. If you watch it, I'll be curious if you see what I'm talking about and if you agree with me as to the seriousness of the issue.

Sylvio (2017) ×3

So I've seen this film maybe ... seven times now? I still like it. I figured today I would really know what I thought. And I think it's good.

It occurred to me today that this may be a film about Sylvio. The easy metaphors to assign Sylvio have to do with race, but autism might be more useful. He's not verbal, he's very aware of small sounds, he's deeply invested in an obsessive hobby---it's a bit autism-adjacent, don't you think?

It's also interesting how dang much of this film is shot in point of view.

Sylvio does not speak and his mask doesn't change expression, yet he manages to be the most emotive character on screen. It's like a Greek mask, revealing a deeper truth.

Also, and this may be over reaching, but am I seeing a direct reference to Piss Christ when Herbert looks through his beer? And if so, what does it mean?

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)

So. Three acts.

Act one: Drags, much too full of fan service in a movie that has no other purpose. But still: I laughed a lot.

Act two: Holy turn of events, Batman! The movie takes a turn I never saw coming! Plus, my LPM (laffs per minute) shoots waaay up.

Act three: Ties it all together and just manages to be short enough.

In all, a fitting return to the '60s show's glory in animates form (starring Adam West! Burt Ward! Julie Newmar!). My kids who barely know the original (mostly that it exists) loved it too, calling it stupid enough to be hilarious. So there you go: Success.

Kings of Baxter (2017) ×2

Documentary about a couple actors who run a twelve-week course at an Australian juvie, teaching them Macbeth. I'm trying it out as a film introduction to the play. I liked it. They liked it. I didn't love watching it twice in a row.

The real test is how it affect their feelings about the play as we get underway.

The Lady Eve (1941)

I love Preston Sturges. My first experience bewildered me, though I'm certain I will love it when I watch it again. And my second experience also bewildered me, but I loved it first go-round. This plays some of the same games, but I was ready for him.

And I loved this film. It's the easiest of the three to love, although maybe that's because it is my third experience---it's no simpler, I don't think. I kept not knowing where it was headed next. And it kept making me happy.

And that long, long take---master shot---of Fonda and Stanwyck as she seduces him is one of the realest bits of sexery I've ever seen.

Also fun, I also learned that that farmer who had a dog? whose name was Bingo? That tune comes from something else. And it's a doozy.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

I still like it?

Do you still like it?

I'll bet you do.


Previous films watched

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








This little book went to market
This little book stayed home


067) Wheat: Humor & Wisdom of J. Golden Kimball edited by Mikal Lofǵren, finished August 25

I picked this book up at a short-lived LDS bookstore here in the East Bay once when I was helping chaperone thousands of teenagers without a book. Then it became a nice little number to dip into now and then. It's just a bunch of quotations (all or nearly all) from General Conference. No none of the really wild stuff. I finished it today in my quest to build up J. Golden's Wikiquote page.

Not a bad addition to your own bookshelf, if you're into such things, but largely the sort of book rendered irrelevant by the internet. (Hi, internet!)
a few years


068) Witchy Winter by D.J. Butler, finished August 27

Witchy Eye was a quality novel: a fine read---enjoyable, intelligent, new.

Witchy Winter however, though I didn't realize this until the end, is a step above. It is a deeply satisfying read. Although I like Butler's writing, I'll admit to a bit of skepticism that this novel was better than the steep competition it was up against for the 2018 AML Novel Award, but I now repent. I still haven't read those other two novels but two authors I admire, but it's hard to deny they're now underdogs.

The richness of both the individual characters and the world in which they inhabit is utterly intoxicating. I will admit to a personal interest in various Mormony aspects of the text (two of which I'll discuss in a moment), but the reality of this world and its inhabitants deserves more mention.

This is an America settled not just by Europeans and not finally conquered by Anglophones, but with large African and Egyptian and Dutch areas, Native American nations (plural) with their own interest and politics, as well as more fanciful races (the Ophidians are clearly related to Tolkien's elves). And when we meet someone, such as Ma'iingan (who is Ojibwe) he is full and developed in a way I've rarely seen so-called token minority characters. When we first meet Ma'iingan, we meet him as a loving father and husband, and an engaged member of his community. Then we learn to appreciate him as a spiritual man. Then as a brave adventurer. And with those things in mind, it can take most of the book to pick up on his slyly sarcastic sense of humor.

That's how you do it.

A couple Mormon observations.

I realized quite early that a recreation of Ammon and Lamoni was unfolding before me. But the complexity of that relationship was truly a wonder to behold. And it's conclusion was ... so great. I'm possibly most excited to pick up the final volume just to read more about this minor subplot than anything else.

I like to talk and think about my faith's feminine theology---our believe in God the Mother and so forth---but after finishing Witchy Winter, I am hungry. Because this novel gives a true image of what a religion that really embraces the potential of the feminine divine might look like. If we really accepted our feminine divine as thoroughly as we accept our masculine divine. It's eye-opening and wonder-stoking.

I do think it's better to read book one first (which is also great, remember) to have the full orientation of knowing where you are. (Remember, I'm also the weirdo who thinks The Two Towers is the best Middle Earth novel, but I would never recommend starting with it.) Just know it gets even better.
not quite three months


069) Mary, Mary and other plays by Jean Kerr, finished August 28

Three plays in this collection: Mary, Mary; King of Hearts, Goldilocks. I have mixed feelings about about these plays. Except Goldilocks. Which is terrible.

Mary, Mary and King of Hearts and bright and funny plays. King of Hearts runs on the popular romcom engine of Girl Engaged to Wrong Man When Right Man Shows Up But Haha He's to Be a Tool. Mary, Mary is the Divorced Couple Getting Back Together model. In both cases, casual sexual harassment is coin of the realm. It's a little depressing to watch, even though the female protagonists are smart and witty and unflappable because, you just now, by the end the man will win and you, being a Modern Person, will feel a bit sad and dirty for enjoying the ride.

This makes them sound worse than they are. Ten years ago, me and the writers of Ms. would have been the only people complaining. It's largely subtle and, with charming actors, most people would love them for their caddery. Even though I found those slightly icky aspects icky, I still, overall, enjoyed the two plays very much. With a couple minor rewrites, they could return to the stage without being "problematic."

Goldilocks on the other hand....

It's another Girl Engaged to Wrong Man When Right Man Shows Up But Haha He's to Be a Tool but can't get most of the redeeming elements off the ground because, brace yourself, it's a musical. Which means long breaks of time wasted on half-wit songs. And, frankly, the Big Broadway Musical Budget that spent on all the song-and-dance numbers, extra characters, and scenery! scenery! scenery! are much less fruitful constraints than the single-set limitations of the other two plays. It's depressing to read. (And listening's not much better.)

Most of my complaints that I make about most musicals apply here: The songs destroy pacing as they slam the plot's brakes. The development of relationships are done lazily making the characters seem like quasiemotional idiots. That sort of thing.

I just can't get over the main plot engine. We're really supposed to believe Maggie would throw over her nice and supportive (and rich) fiance for that jackass just because ... I don't even know. Because they're both artists? Shut up.


I'm sad to be writing after reading Goldilocks because I'm enraged at that play, which is coloring my mostly-liked-it experiences with the first two. Sure, I had my complaints, but the plays are about sixty years old and I get that it was a different world. But then I read Goldilocks and there's something about the lazy self-indulgence of so many musicals that just makes me want to scream. Sorry, other two plays.

Worth mentioning: the best of the three plays (Mary, Mary) is the only one Jean Kerr does not share a writing credit on.

Also worth mentioning, the young woman roles from these plays were created by Cloris Leachman and Elaine Stritch and Barbara Bel Geddes.
under two weeks


070) Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, finished September 5

This is a small but enormously ambiious book. It's a joy to see someone doing something strange and new, but doing it because it is the right way to do what they are trying to do.

I also like seeing someone succeed at something I tried and was meh at. I have a short story I haven't been able to sell that shares some dna with the novel, but I see now my error was keeping it too short and constrained. Even though Lincoln in the Bardo takes place in one night in one cemetery, it is large and expansive and ambitious and human instead of an unsettling notion popped out in a couple thousand words without much character to speak of. Lesson learned.

I really love the incorporation of historical and critical sources, though I would like to see a list of just what was and was not real.

I know I will resent this review later when I come back to it because I will remember having though so much about it.
six or seven days


071) Trish Trash: Rollergirl from Mars by Jessica Abel, finished September 7?

I had high hopes for this book (science fiction from Jessica Abel!) and the vision of Mars is good enough, but I haven't learned to care about any of the characters yet. I honestly don't know if I'll pick up the next volume. It'll have to be easy and soon, methinks.
one evening


072) How To by Randall Munroe, finished September 9

Look: the books is funny and filled with smart stuff like math and physics. All of which make is a rollicking read. But just to say xkcd and this its child are funny and smart and rollicking seems to miss exactly why it's the only longrunning comic I'm still reading every entry of and why it's the only one I seek our related books therefrom. Randall Munroe's work has a deep humanism. Soul. It is inherently good---optimistic about us as a species. What we can be and where we can go. And jokes and maths are really just the trappings of this belief in us, all of us, and our potential.

So yeah, it's great to read just how to build my own moat of lava or how to send massive amounts of data with butterflies, but what sticks is that people are good---and amazing---and we can do anything. And by "anything," Munroe seems to mean possibilities great and good and, dare I say, holy.

Let's come together and make the future xkcd is prophet to.
three or four days