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









Happy Thanksgiving! Here, we are thankful for poetry, comics and ... math?


088) Children of Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez, finished November 23

It's been a while since I've read anything by a Hernandez brother, but nothing's changed. I recognize their place in history, their importance on several counts, their craftsmanship, and their voluminousness, but I just     don't     get it.


I mean---this book seems like something I would love---bits of fantasy and nonsense among the grounded realness of a small town---but it never quite works for me. It's time to accept that.


089) Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics by John Derbyshire, finished November 24

We were with friends for Thanksgiving last year and picked this off the shelf and was immediately sucked in. I loved it. It stretched my mind and made me think mathematically. I still regularly cite a couple tidbits I picked up from these early chapters.

So I borrowed it and kept reading---and had a Hawking experience: I understood as I read, but the understanding fled me as soon as I set the book down.

As I kept reading, my inability to retain what I had previously learned meant I soon got to the point where I understood nothing. Eventually this became comical as when I read:
1 + 1 = 0 [...] 1 - 1 = 0. (Notice that these results are the same as for addition. In this field, any minus sign can be freely replaced by a plus sign!)
It's that exclamation mark! that really got me. I mean, golly! There's nothing left to do but laugh!

Somehow I did finish the book, and enjoyed the experience overall. Though if I had it to do it again, I might follow Derbyshire's advice.

He noted at the beginning that the book was written in alternating chapters---history chapter, math chapter, history chapter, etc.---and that I was welcome to just follow one track. Ignoring the math chapters, I'm quite certain, would have rendered the history chapters somewhat nonsensical, but at least I would have finished quicker!
three hundred sixty-eight days


090) Leaves of Sass by R. A. Christmas, finished November 25

I've been aware of Christmas forever and read him (or about him) in Sunstone and Dialogue over the years.

The acknowledgements page makes it sound like this collection is an old man making sure everything makes it into print without worrying too much whether things are quite ready to be in print yet---like he's running against the clock, in other words.

And much of the collection reads like the bad impression that suggestion leaves. Some of the poems really do just feel like prose with line breaks. There are some winners in here, yes, but they are certainly easy to overlook given the amount of bog they're buried in.

The two strongest works, imo, are the two final works---both lengthy.

The first is an eight-parter (although the seventh part consists of twelve parts itself) and is an homage to the Church's involvement with Boy Scouts. An homage that includes child abuse and a look at the Scout Law that, at times, reads like a seven-deadly-sins confessional. But his love for Scouting nevertheless shines through. The combination of earnestness and earthy cynicism is a balance many of the poems in this collection aim to strike, but never better than here.

The second long poem (more than a quarter of the collection's length) is a translation from French, an earlier version of which once appeared in Dialogue. Although not Christmas's purely original work and a translation from a nonMormon author, it manages to be as complicatedly Mormon as anything in the book. Plus, the years of work and polish are evident and render the rest of the book even dingier in comparison. This translation deserves wider attention. I hope Valéry's people get it into something more people will see.


091) I Gave Her a Name by Rachel Hunt Steenblik with paintings by Ashley Mae Hoiland, finished November 26

My feelings about this book are almost identical to my feelings about its progenitor---you could just reread that review and know what I'm going to say next.
The Baader-Meinhof
to our Mother. After
you first have reason
to see Her, you see Her
everywhere (228)
This pretty much captures Rachel's entire MO. She's seeing God the Mother in everything and she's just writing it down. (She's teaching us how to do this through example.) She has good instincts, so most of the poems work (although some are short to the point of absurdity), but the overall effect is of an artist's sketchbook---a thousand versions of the same face, presumably in preparation of a major work.

In this sense, the accompanying art is perfect. Deliberately "unfinished" to the point of overlapping images and smeared or splashed paint. It captures what the poetry is doing.

Largely I find this multifaceted manner of attacking the subject successful (if, by this point, a bit redundantly redundant), although it did result in at least one inadvertent hilarity:
She said that all of
the temples on her island
are for female deities
and that they’re all active.
She pointed to one that
was for fertility and another
for protection from the sea:
She takes care of the sailors. (196)
over midnight


092) Life in Poetry by Kate Piersanti, finished November 27

I know Kate---bump into her every once in a while---and thus know she's always thinking about poetry. But she also gave me the impression she had not done much more than think about it.

I was wrong!

This is her fourth collection, newly out. Her style is consistent and, unlike Christmas (above), always poetic. her hit rate is only so-so, but her work does have moments of beauty and grace to celebrate.

The book's of a classic giftbook appearance (lots of photos, small square shape) and I think a lot of moms would go for it.

(Incidentally, what surprised me the most from this nice Mormon grandma was the celebration of physical passion in many of the poems at the collection's beginning.)
one month even





The ARCH-HIVE is a Mormon-themed arts collective in Utah that's doing some interesting work these days. I just bought the first five issues of their HIVE ZINE. Here's a brief reaction:

001: God and My Ex by LAZERos
Poems* and images, *all in the Deseret alphabet. Which I have not yet bothered to translate. Because, well, hassle. That's all, that's my whole excuse. (Sorry.) But it's cool!

002 by The Desert Prophet
A phony Revelation that reads much like a statement of influences. Although Andy Warhol's missing, so ... maybe not just that exactly.

003: Deseret Brands Vol 1 by LAZERos
Popular brands Mormonified. Now available on tshirts.

004: The ARCH-HIVE Post by Saint Michael
A Provo newspaper from an alternate timeline. A bit of parody, a bit of fantasy, a bit of nonsense. It fit in the envelope and included a lovely aged paperclip, but honestly I would have loved something more ambitious. At least an interesting paper! Nice draft, though. Mostly, I appreciate they're coming them out on a schedule. I know how hard that is.

005: Spells for Many Blessings by The Desert Prophet
This is the strongest of the five so far. The most complete and coherent as a piece, for one thing. But also a distilled example of an important trend in Mormon letters. You take something like Stephen Peck's King Leere or Mel Larson's Pilot Program and you get one strain of the weird in this literary moment. Then you take something like what Dave Butler's doing with his Witchy books and you get another strain. "Spells" combines both these trends but strips away plot and character. It's like---essence of weird Mormon, 2019. Even Ardis approves!


Rift Zone by Tess Taylor


087) Rift Zone by Tess Taylor, finished November 13

The author, poet, is my neighbor. Which you will know if you came to hear me speak at LDSPMA. Although she's written quite a lot about being from this here town, she hasn't really embraced her smalltown East Bay heritage in a collection of poetry until now, with collection number three(1)(2), which is entirely about addressing that heritage, including all the awful stuff. (And although this collection is wise and clever and nuanced, it does contain a pretty high percentage of awful stuff---racism, pollution, and other top hits of American ugliness.)

Visually, the poetry in this book engages deeply with ugliness or, more deliberately, with earthquakes. The geology of California is famously fractured and the book's epigraphs largely describe rocks and faults. But many of the poems are also fractured, bits of lines spread across the page.

Given my personal poetic preferences, it will surprise no one that these poems are not my favorites. (I recognize the irony that my latest published work looks much the same.) I get that Tess is exploring how far form ("form") can be pushed without breaking, but she's so good when she's focused more on content. Or so say I, anyway.

(Although I should mention that, when she chooses to go lyrical, she's quite good at it and has lovely restraint.)

The parts of the collection I think I am most likely to share with students are autobiographical. Or, presumably autobiographical. The poet is under no obligation to be lower-case-t truthful, and some of the "autobiography" doesn't seem to be possible (that is, the calendar does not allow one to be that age in year x and this age in year y).

Immaterial and not a complaint.

I could write about individual poems I liked, but I think instead I want to talk about the envoi.

It begins with an epigraph about San Francisco being built upon old ships and docks, then begins to list some of those old things the Bay is built upon: "floating opium dens next to floating prisons" ... "Whose white settlers funded their own microgenocides" (21, 23). And so forth. but key is the final line:
As much as of anywhere I am of you.
It's a lovely and appropriate conlcusion to a book that is about just that: embracing the where and what and when and whom and (etc) "I am of."

available to purchase april twentytwenty

about exactly a month



081 – 086, in books


081) Hansel & Gretel Get the Word on the Street by Al Ortolani,
finished October 19

I have a high regard for Rattle and reading about this chapbook made me feel ... almost obliged to buy it:
Each poem is like a chalk mark on a blackboard. Much like the teacher who has leaned one too many times against the chalk tray, Ortolani wears his poems on the back of pants, his shirt sleeves, his jacket elbows. These poems represent connections to others, sometimes dark, sometimes light, often quirky. A fellow teacher, and mentor to the poet, once said that one of the most difficult measures of the career public school teacher is their ability to stay positive and elevated by interest, if not always in the subject matter, then in the hand raised outside of the T zone.
So how is the collection?

Pretty good.

We might have a no-prophet-in-his-own-country situation here, but I didn't love most of it---in part because I kept thinking about how I would (re)write such a poem. (For some reason, I never really write poems about my experiences in education. I'm not sure why.)

I haven't reread many of the poems yet, but every time I have, I've been more impressed by the second reading. This suggests the poems have power they are only starting to reveal.

I plan to take and leave this in my classroom. I suspect I will find utility for it there.
maybe a week


082) Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, finished October 23

With mixed-skill classes, is it at all sensible to read the entire thing?
much too long, almost a month


083) The Autumnlands Volume 2: Woodland Creatures by Kurt Busiek and Ben Dewey, finished October 28

Although it can't startle with the sudden unexpected originality of the first collection, this one too impresses. I thought it was going to be the end of the story, but it's not. Now I have to wait! Dang.
couple weeks


084) Toil and Trouble by Mairghread Scott with Kelly & Nichole Matthews, finished November 1

I'm of two minds about this comic.

Of the first mind, it's a creative take on the Scottish play, an exploration of who the witches are, why they're involved, what their goals are, and the lives outside the narrow confines of the play. It's a well shaped world and beautifully visualized.

Of the second mind, the bits of play that exist are just that: bits. Which wouldn't be a complaint except the end of this novel is to disconnected from the end of the play. The last couple-plus acts are dispensed with in the last four pages and ... why? It's a dissatisfying conclusion.

I kind of want this to become a grand ten-episode tv extravaganza just to correct the imperfections in something so close to being truly marvel-making.

Recommended! You might like it more than me!
under a week


085) Compulsive Comics by Eric Haven, finished November 2

I recognize Haven's work, but I'm not sure from where. Probably Best American Comics, I suppose.*

*(Having said this, I thought a moment longer and even knew which story I had seen in BAMC---"Mammology." Which is impressive---I read that over ten years ago!)

Anyway, I loved it. Absurdist nonsense. Even when it's engaged in something no less realistic than reg'lar ol' superheroes, his manner of doing it heightens the nonsense. Short collection, made over the years of doing something else, happily concluded.
this evening


086) Apocalypse Bow Wow by James Proimos III and James Proimos Jr., finished November 11

This illustrated middle-grade novels pass before my eyes without notice these days, like hoodies or pedestrians* but Lady Steed handed me this library book and said it was worth reading and indeed it was. I laughed.

Basically---it's a standard no-more-people apocalypse from the perspective of funny animals. That's it.

Not a bad conceit at all.