Feature Films: October2019


Not nearly enough Halloween movies this October, but I think a few may spill into next month. Fingers crossed!

The Kings of Summer (2013)

I loved this movie. It captures late adolescence precisely and its cast is stellar. Every supporting role is just perfect. Just look.

This isn't the first kinds-in-high-school movie the flim club has selected. Edge of Seventeen and Eighth Grade were also excellent, but I think I liked this one best. Perhaps because its protagonists were male? Maybe. I don't know. But I heard what this one saying a little more clearly.

(Don't bother with the trailer. It misses the tone and artistry of the film entire.)

Toy Story (1995)

This is the baby's favorite film. Or, rather, she just loves Cowboy and this is the one that was playing on repeat to day when I came home.

I saw pretty much the whole thing.

Though hardly in order.

mother! (2018)

So. First viewing.

It's not what I expected. First, I found the narrative to be a) compelling and b) throughout the film. I expected neither. It is true that at about the halfway point it rejects even its tentative hold upon realism for a purley surreal dreamscape, but it never stops telling its story.

I'm not sure it's "good" but, honestly, I'm not even sure what that means. The film it reminds me of most is Eraserhead---but that might be for these two reasons: first that birth is an important event and second that it's surreal and Eraserhead has become the go-to comparison in my mind. I don't know that I really actually truly remember Eraserhead well enough to make meaningful comparisons.

The thing that I'm having the hardest time with is the film's final collapse into allegory. There was symbolism aplenty throughout, but when the poet says "I am I," we fall into allegory. And at that point, everything must mean something. And with that sort of demand placed upon the material by itself it begins to fall apart. It's less surreal movie asking questions and more religious text providing answers. It's an awkward transition---and would have been unnecessary if Arenovsky had just trusted his audience a tad more.

Anyway. The goal's to watch it one more time (this go-round with Lady Steed) before Tuesday's film group. Here we go!

WALL·E (2008)

Some aspects of this film feel even more on target now than they did ten years ago. Although, of course, now Fred Willard would be playing Jeff Bezos. I do think the robot relationship would be handled a little differently. Sure it's cute and sweet but it always struck me as a bit nonconsensual and I figure the people at Pixar paid to worry about such things would now find me less crazy.

Gravity (2013)

Watching it on a 27-inch screen is nothing like watching in 3D right next to the screen, but it's still a solid piece of entertainment. The long takes and the near-realtimeness work to build the suspense which builds and builds and ends satisfyingly.

Although I agree with the 15-year-old that I want to know what happens next.


It looks like a place that would have dinosaurs.

For the record, we're watching these movies out of order. Gravity should have been first, then The Martian, then the still-unwatched Interstellar, then WALL·E. Ah, well. Parenting is hard.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

It has some very funny moments but I'm not convinced it's the horror-comedy masterpiece people always say it is.

mother! (2017)

After a couple days thinking about it, I decided I really liked mother!. I disagreed with two choices (the "I am I" line of dialogue which turns the whole thing into a 1:1 allegory, which is messy; and that it loops is recursive---which seems to cut away from its cathartic potential), but overall, I think it was excellent.

Fresh off a second viewing, I largely agree with myself. The birthnight decent into chaos lasts a bit long as its happening, but I didn't mind once it was over.

Curious to see what other people think. I know the film is widely hated.

Macbeth (2015) ×2

It's interesting.

I just showed this to two classes. My class which has a harder time engaging in in-depth intellectual discussion was much more successful appreciating the daring artistic choices made by this film. They were much more into the actor's presentations of the characters, etc.

The class which I can't get to stop digging deeper so we can Get to Other Things, thought this film was doing too much, found the depictions of madness absurd, the cinematography pretty but laughable.

I'm oversimplifying of course, but that's largely true. And something I've long known about film: the audience you see a film with can greatly affect your experience of that film, your opinion of that film.

That said, watching it post-read was definintely the right choice.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

First, how cool to see (hear) Frank Oz playing a role in his own body?

Okay, that out of the way, this movie is pretty great. The ending is sudden, but the effects almost entirely hold up, the acting's good, the werewolf mythos is worthily interesting, the jokes are funny, the filming's fun, etc. Just a well made movie.

Would watch again.

And less a couple sins, I could watch it with my kids.

Alas, alas.

Little (2019)

The two leads are great, but most of the pleasure of the film can be had in the trailer. As a 109-minute story, it indulges in a lot of lazy set changes, set pieces, and character development.

Which is a shame because it has moments and interactions and suggestions that are joyful and pure. They're just weighed down by lazy storytelling and a weird unwillingness to make tech companies or middle schools realistic.

Moana (2016)

Notwithstanding all my snide remarks about Disney, they do make things like Moana. It's beautiful and moving---it's impossible not to be swept away. If nothing else, the chicken will pull you in.

One of the aspects I find most compelling is the sense of history and myth that my own culture feels distant from.

We tell the stories of our elders in a never-ending chain
Do we have that?

Romeo Is Bleeding (2015)

Although this movie is basically "old" now by high-school standards it's so local and so raw that it still speaks to my freshmen. Both those who are skilled at stepping into others' stories and those who resist such.

I still haven't figured out the best way to use it as a pedagogical tool, but I'm trying.

Donté turns thirty this year. You can see his latest project here.

Shazam! (2019)

I missed most of this movie between phone and baby, but it's okay---I've seen it before.

Fortunately, I caught most of the movie's best parts which are its moments of unbridled joy. That's what it's best at. The violence and action are fine but suffer from the same difficulty seen in most Marvel movies or, say, Justice League: they're a bit loud and samey and, well, boring.

I like character development and interaction. And while actions scenes can include characters growing and changing and whatnot, there's usually not much of that as a percentage of the action scene. So you suffer through the action to get to the good stuff.

I have hopes for the sequel, but don't worry: I'll keep them in check.

I mostly just want to see Zach Levi be a kid again.

The Addams Family (2019)

Look: I know the reviews weren't that hot. I get it. But I liked it.

First, the film does homage to the cartoons and the tv show both (maybe the '90s movies as well, but it's been too long for me to be certain) but manages to be largely it's own thing. It does well with the character design and the animation. I know some people have complained that it's derivative, but it's worth nothing that all those things it's "deriving" from derived from the work of Charles Addams.

(Incidentally, aren't we now due an awesome Edward Gorey movie?)

But I think the film may have made some of the wrong decisions deciding where to reach out to new audiences and where to serve fans. Our theater was pretty full or parents and kids and I was laughing at waaaay more jokes than anyone else. But the film's stretch for Theme and Plot and Meaning are super-generic. Pretty much every animated movie that isn't sure what moral it should send settles on some version of Be Yourself, Accept Others Being Themselves, etc. It's tired stuff and just because it's an Obvious Fit for yet another film doesn't mean you should settle. I mean...what do other studios think when they see a Toy Story 4? And that's a sequel!

Anyway, I still enjoyed it. I was a bit worried when it told us Snoop Dogg would be cousin it but he did great. Although, he was so itty one has to wonder why they hired Snoop Dogg. Was it...pandering? without being willing to actually give him Snoop Dogg stuff to do? I have to wonder how many iterations that went through.

Overall though the voicework was good. Nick Kroll who I find generally irritating did a commendable job with Uncle Fester. I don't like the urge to hire Names to do voices (it's not going to save Artic Dogs, I'll bet money)---hire voices to do voices.

Anyway, that's enough letters spilled on a mediocre movie, even if I did have plenty fun watching it.

(Less fun was the twoyearold screaming halfway through that she was done wearing pants.)

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

You would think, given today's media landscape, that fourteen-year-olds would be pretty film literate. It's really not the case though. And it drives me crazy when a good student (as defined by desperation to never be sullied by an A-) rejects this movie as "bad" simply because they lack the skills to read it properly.

I know that kind of literacy isn't my job, but gee whiz.

I mean.

Just, gee whiz.

An Honest Liar (2014) ×2

I love how this film can completely suck kids in. And it's so layered---we can have excellent conversations afterward.

It also depresses me how a minority of kids are completely incapable of engaging with a form of media longer and more complex than a tiktok.

I'm very glad I watched it with the commentary once upon a time. It gives me a few additional insights that have come in handy.


Previous films watched









Poison Circus prep
(and other books, good and so-so)


073) Mort by Terry Pratchett, finished [some time between September 10 and 15]

I was a little underwhelmed by the last Terry Pratchett book I read, but that one's reputation is not as good as Mort's. Yet here I am, underwhelmed again. Do I need a break? Was I off as a reader? Am I just not into the earlier Discworld books?

This is a great and possibly terrible mystery.

How To suggested that the Bromeliad books might be where to go next but ... they're even earlier.

A great and terrible mystery, indeed.


074) Scooby Apocalypse by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis et al, finished September 15

I first saw some Scooby Apocaypse art a few years ago and thought it was fan art. Cool, but then I forgot about it. Until, recently, I found out it is in fact a published comic. And's been around long enough to several collections to appear. So of course I put it on hold.

It's ... pretty good. Maybe as the story continues it'll develop into what the Scooby gang was always really about, but at this point with the real monsters and the character's grown-up not-getting-along, it feels like it's missed the entire point. Plus, it's really too bloody to be a kids book. (Though my kids found it and read it and asked if there were more. I said yes, but they did not ask me to obtain them.)

I don't mind the recreation of classic characters---Scooby-Doo's premier was fifty years ago this month; by rights he should be in the public domain---but I don't have to like your recreation. I hope I'm not the LAST JEDI SUCKS dude of the Scoobyverse, but I only just kinda liked bits of this Book One.

I'm interested enough to want to know if they eventually align with Traditional Scooby Values to keep reading, but the overall quality of the storytelling is low enough that I don't think I actually will. Probably not, in fact. It would take some serendipity. And the real Mystery Machine does not run on such stuff.
gosh maybe a month


075) Thistle and Brilliant by Wren Tuatha, finished September 22

I bought this book because I am a fan of the poet and also of the rag she edits, Califragile. The theme of the collection is love and relationships; the intro warns readers that the poet will stay away from "salacious stereotypes" and while I agree with the stereotypes maybe a bit more of the salacious would have been a good idea---some of the best poems are those that rub up against the erotic.

My other favorite poem (and the only one I read several times) was the final poem, "Shiny Thing while Wintering." Sadly, it only exists in the collection so I cannot link to it for you.

So it goes, so it goes.
maybe two weeks


076) Macbeth by Wm Shakespeare, finished Oct 4
077) Macbeth by Wm Shakespeare, finished Oct 4



077) Miles Morales: Spider-Man Vol. 1: Straight Out of Brooklyn by Ahmed Garron et al, finished October 10

This was reasonably fun and had moments of real character and pathos, but ultimately it never grabbed me. I never quite cared. And I dig Miles Morales!

The kids like it. They can have it.
over two weeks


078) The Autumnlands, Volume One: Tooth and Claw by by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey, finished October 13

This was sitting in a Little Free Library and I almost didn't take it, but something about its anthropomorphic animals was instantly compelling. I couldn't leave it behind. Plus, Kurt Busiek is a name with a reputation although I couldn't place it at that moment.

But truly: these are some of the best anthomopormics you'll ever see.

It is the far, far future. A time of magic that long ago replaced our world of technology. How we got from the world we are creating to this world is unclear, but the various tribes of the world are the various animals of the world---all people. The wealthy living in floating cities that remind me of 17th-century Amsterdam and the less exalted upon the ground. One such tribe is the bison who speak in a nearly movie-Indian patois.

Which gets us to the stylepoint I love most about this book---its cheerful mining of midcentury (and earlier) pulp culture. Each issue's third and fourth pages are doublespread splashes that look like they are the opening spread of the featured tale in a pulp magazine in the time of gaudy illustration and fancy dropcases. Here are three that I could find online:

And the comics, although of the highest modern sensibility, respect the glories of that tradition. Truly, if comics had matured to point fiction had back in the forties, we would have had comics like this. Just...not on as nice of paper.

Anyway, the characters are terrific, the plot is exciting, the world is compelling, the dilemmas matter, and after several disappointing popular comics of late (see above), this was a feast. I can't wait to read volume two!
four days


079) Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, finished October 17

I first heard of this book from Chip Kidd who sold me on it. And the cover is so striking and reveals so much through an apparently plain surface, that I never forgot the book---even though it's been over a decade since he first pitched me. And, in that decade, I've become increasingly aware of how popular and influential the book is. Once you know about it, you'll see it pop up a few times a year.

I read walking to and from work. No one ever says anything. I was stopped four times (FOUR TIMES!) by people who just HAD to tell me how much they loved the book. A stranger gardening who had seen me many times before. A women IN HER CAR waiting at a stop light who rolled down her window to yell at me. Plus a librarian and a colleague (who once hung with Dunn in Portland). Incredible.

I finally picked a copy up in order to prepare for Poison Circus happening this weekend.

Anyway, the book!

I did enjoy it. It is very easy to read this book and see how, at the right moment in time, this book could mean everything to someone. I will definitely recommend it to people who might be living in that moment.

I could never teach it---sex and deep psychic trauma and genuinely creative cursing are not my high-school-classroom jam---but yes, I will have students I recommend it to. I feel confident about that.

If you don't know the story, it's a family of circus freaks born to a ringmaster, a geek, and a host of dangerous chemicals. And that's only for starters.
perhaps a month