The First Month of 2020 Films-watched


Knives Out (2019)

A wonderfully crafted whodunit who spoils the whodunit early while maintaining the suspense and uncertainty? I say yes!

Rian Johnson is pretty great. Brick, Looper, Last Jedi---I'm ready for more.

And now that he can cast anyone and everyone to do anything and everything, each one should be an event. Don't you think?

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

This film has an honesty an naturalness---a spontaneous life---that everything after the first trilogy just does not have, and even the other two first-trilogy films, arguably, cannot match.

It's just a great movie. Even with some dopey 1997 cgi thrown in for no reason.

The Death of Stalin (2017)

Neither as uproarious or as gruesome as promised, but I think I like this combination better than what I though I'd been promised.

It's also the best film I think I've seen to demonstrate the problems of mind Orwell shows us in Nineteen Eighty-four. People unable to control their own thinking, believing, understanding, seeing. Undercurrent of terror and trying to see other's minds.

It's also the best and truest and most worthy successor to Dr Strangelove. Since it's (largely) nonfiction, it might not be a fair comparison, but I think I'll like this one better, in the longrun.

Also---how great is it having Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin in the same movie? Why doesn't this happen more often? I'ld like to see what could come of more collaboration.

But that's a small detail! The cast is great, and the sloppy embrace of their own voices instead of some fake approximation of "Russian" is part of what makes us live in their world. That and the fact that the cast is great, of course. All the pieces.

Cars (2006)

The baby's taken to Cars and its on her rotation. This is the first time I (mostly) watched it with her. I didn't see all of it. I could have skipped writing about it. But Cars deserves the occasional defense.

Because we all expected masterpieces from Pixar, each and every time, by 2006, a movie that was merely very good was viewed as a disappointment. The toy saturation and sequel-happiness probably didn't help but, by now, Cars has kind of a bad reputation. But c'mon. It's a good movie.

Just like it was when it came out.

Amy (2015)

Here's what I know about Amy Winehouse. British. Sang "Rehab." Apparently some sort of rockabilly throwback. Died young (overdose)?

The primary takeaway I want to remember about this film is that she had some kind of voice and could sing jazz like nobody's business. I liked "Rehab," but for the first time, I want to hear more from her. I loved listening to her.

But man. Did she get a bad shake. If she were still playing to a couple hundred people, I think it's more likely she'ld still be alive, but she would still have it rough.

I can see why this film has cured people of their tabloid addictions.

But, like a lot of things, maybe it's better to just never start. Fill your life with something else.

The life you save may be your own.

Barcelona (1994)

I don't like it as much as Damsels in Distress or Love & Friendship, but this film shares much of the same wit (in several senses) and I enjoyed it. It did feel as much like a stepping stone to a Wes Anderson movie as its own thing, however.

Moments made me laugh out loud.

Not all the underhanded wisdom lands.

Unbreakable (2000)

Lady Steed and I saw this in theaters back in 2000 and I loved it. I've used it as an example, ever since, of the kind of superhero movie I want to see.

I bought the dvd while I was working at Video II (RIP) but have never watched it.* Not until tonight, almost twenty years later.

* (Largely because the killer in orange terrified me. This was the same time, roughly, that we watched Brigham City in theaters. That killer also terrified me, though for slightly different reasons. Although I've owned that dvd just as long, I still have not rewatched it. Largely for the same reasons. There's an essay in this.)

I pulled four dvds off the shelf that son #1 hasn't seen and he picked this one.

As we watched it, a couple bits of directorial posturing got me worried that the movie would not be as good as I remembered---that it was, in fact, an early suggestion of the bad reputation Shyamalan would later develop---but it did suck me in eventually. And the Big O loved it. Thought it was great. Blown away by the twist. Wants more movies like it. So I feel justified in suggesting it. And justified in my original opinion.

I'm also glad that the film is, to pick a negative-sounding phrase, weighed down with a dying marriage. It gets in the way, sure, but that's exactly what it ought to do.

HOWEVER. They were in college twelve years ago? So Bruce Willis is in his early thirties? That was a lot more believable when I was twenty-four.

A Fool There Was (1915)

The Kanopy description reads: "... Theda Bara stars as an exotic temptress who lures a once faithful man away from his wife. ... The film shocked audiences and brought something unexpected to the silent screen: an unrepentant woman with a voracious sexual appetite."

Which is accurate enough, I suppose, but if it shocked audiences, it must have shocked the filmmakers as well, because that's not really exactly what she is. She's not merely sexually voracious---she's a true psychopath. One lover commits suicide in front of her, and she has her deckchair, where she will seduce her next victim, placed on the bloodstain. The film calls her a vampire and I think we have to accept that---and not just because she wears lots of eyeliner. Her victims become shaky hollowed shells of men. Instead of sucking red fluid from them, however, she put it into them---dark wines and liqueurs.

I suppose it's some sort of morality tale (aren't all vampire stories?), and I suppose it is more obvious than most, but ultimately, whatever subtext you find (the liberated woman, a four-letter drug that starts with c), it is first a monster movie.

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

I think I liked it better this time. Time one was entertaining and said big things. This time ... I just really enjoyed it.

I would like to comment on two things I hinted at last time:

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?

a. Nick Fury never felt right. I'm glad that was intentional. And I'm impressed that nuance was pulled off. Props to the writers and Samuel L. Jackson (and director and editors).

b. It really, really does. Have you seen Valerian? I'm not crazy, right? But why??

1917 (2019)

First thing, the one-shot does not feel like a gimmick here like it does in, say, Birdman or Rope (admire Rope as I do, rewatch Birdman as I ought to). It feels necessary and natural, and although there are a couple moments it becomes a bit obvious, largely it's invisible. As every good gimmick should be.

Spiritually, 1917's clearly the next step from Dunkirk which is similarly beautiful, similarly entwines sounds, similarly awful and oppressive, similarly both anonymous and personal, and similar relies on manipulating time in unusual ways.

Storywise, I suspect this is much like Gallipoli---coupla guys trying to stop a battle with a message---but it's been so long since I've seen Gallipoli (and then under such unideal conditions) that I'm not really certain.

Anyway. It was quite good. And it made Wonder Woman seems a bit silly.

(How does one clean up after a war like this?)

Parasite (2019)

I know I've only seen two of the Best Picture nominees, but this is my favorite. (And 1917 was great!) This movie is so unpredictable and perplexing and can be read so many different ways---

I think it's Boon's best movie so far (I've seen one other writter/directed and two other just written).

He's some kind of talent.

Give me something I've never seen before any day of the week.

Joker (2019)

It looks like the Joker is a character now---like Hamlet or Gypsy---that great actors hand down, decade to decade, in conversation with each other. It no longer feels meaningful to rank them or any other such nonsense---better to think of them a a continuum.

I'm on record of being anti Joker origin stories. Killing Joke is a good example why. A Joker born of chaos with no discernible past is the better choice. I remember first seeing Dark Knight. When the Joker first explained his origin, I braced myself for an irritating film. Then the film flipped that expectation, which made that Joker all the greater.

While I am staying on record of anti-origin for the Joker, Joker proves that even the best rules accept worthy exceptions.

Although the trailer looked incredible, it also was clearly an origin story. Then the stories of Another Film Glorifying Male Violence came out. Then I read this tweet from Camilla and rethought my interest all over again.

And now I have seen it.

And I think it's an important movie.

Although Thomas Wayne isn't treated with much subtly, he's really just a fact with out the pretty makeup of your average billionaire. Even the most well meaning billionaires have money that would be better distributed by democratically elected officials.

In this way, it's much what Parasite was saying, if a bit less subtle. Society falls apart when society prefers the rich to the poor.

And we're doing kind of a crap job.

(Also: Joaquin Phoenix: what a physical talent.)
(Also: That score: what a use of percussion.)

The Aeronauts (2019)

The primary thought that niggled along as I was watching this film was---how accurate is it? James Glaisher---that name sounds familiar. How have I never heard of Amelia Wren?

Well, as it ends up, (did you click that link?), she's an amalgamation of several characters, male and female. So, beware believing in this story too much.


Even though he film promotes a world where Amelia Wren exists, it's still largely bout sexism. Even though this England is notably less racist. (Without comment.)

It's looseness with period may be it's most defining quality. It's clearly period---and it clearly is not.

Let's just call it a fantasy and move on.

I wish I could see this on IMAX. The balloon scenes are often truly great and would be awesome done huge.

In fact, another big wish I have, is that the film had been bold enough to stay constrained in the basket. The constant flashbacks get in the way of the building tension. That said, even in less than ideal circumstances, broke up over four lunches, the teenagers I watched it with were completely wrapped up with the tension of 25,000 in the air.

Are there other great balloon movies out there?

The In-Laws (1979)

I'm not sure how I heard about this---possibly Criterion's twitter feed, because I know I ended up here, somehow, before putting it on hold at the library---but I'm sure glad I did. It's in the genre of late-mid madcap heisty films like Help! and makes me even more annoyed at the Disney brand because what if I had found this earlier if this need weren't being bet by the Shaggy D.A. and North Avenue Irregulars?

Granted, between a few fourletterers and the general's art collection, it's not a movie my parents would ever have allowed, but I laughed so much during this film.

It's hilarious.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Although I like this movie and although it made many, many best-of lists, it didn't occur to me to add it to my own best-of-the-decade.

But why? Even missing the entire opening act, and walking in and out several times during the remaining two thirds, when I gave the movie my attention, it immediately filled me emotionally. Really. Even though there was very little obvious reason for it, I felt like I might cry.

Oh, look! Three more spider-people. Why do I want to cry?

Oh, look! He's writing a note! Why do I want to cry?

I don't know. But it's clear Lord and Miller are unusually good at what they do.

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

First, the DNA of this film is already infinitely familiar. It's The Bourne Identity. It's Mission: Impossible. And yes, I do mean the two Nineties, franchise-launching movies specifically, for a reason I'll get to later. But before that reason, I'm convinced one shot in Mission: Impossible was lifted directly in homage from Three Days of the Condor. They're both of a couple on a bridge. You'll see it.

ANYWAY. M:I is the more obvious connection. One man in a crew survives an attack and thus becomes the assumed traitor. Except Ethan Hunt is a superspy and Joseph Turner is a researcher thrown into a totally new world. Which is great. I do feel---and this may be a generational opinion---that the formula refined in the twenty years between Condor and M:I. Yes the suspense built, but not to the greatest heights I anticipated given this movie's reputation.

One big error I feel 1975 made was inserting a mid-film sex scene. It doesn't really make sense with the characters (I know, I know: it was the Seventies) and even though it was ... weird (the sudden sex was accompanied by sudden sex and sudden softcore lighting) and did not work for me, it still constitutes a kind of release.

The romantic angles in Mission: Impossible and Bourne are never consumated. That's another heightened level of interest that continues through the film. The sexiest moment shared by the potential romantics in M:I thus leads to a devastating reveals. Even better evidence of the point:

On the Bourne dvd you can watch an alternate ending with Matt Damon and Franka Potente sharing a heavy golen-hour makeout session. It's just so wrong.

In the final cut, they share a tight and lasting hug. Because they are friends. Because that just makes more sense. Because it's more honest. And the emotional impact of that hug is how I've judged all getting-back-together-at-the-end reunions since. That's the gold standard. Sometimes kissing is imporant, but you don't have to kiss just because that's what movies do. No. Sometimes it's the wrong choice. Even the dishonest choice.

The ambiguous ending was nice. The spotlight on fungible morality was nice. Those are also Seventies traits, aren't they?

(Oh, and: I loved all the 1975 high-tech stuff! It was awesome.)

Long Shot (2019)

I think I decided to watch this because of Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment but it might have been Terri Gross's Fresh Air.

Regardless, I watched this because of NPR. Think on that.

(Sidenote: the dvd is like one from fifteen years ago in terms of special features.)

Both the comedy and the romance work. Although I'm not that into the elements that make R-rated comedies R-rated, what ultimately matters most is character and relationship, and these guys understand people. They make good movies. And they cast them well, from the big roles to the bit parts.

Most impressive perhaps is that the film gives us a relationship where the woman is more powerful yet she is not masculated and he is not emasculated even though they push this dynamic hard. They are equals even though they are not. This is a balance "feminist" filmmaking has been pushing in romance for a while, but the swap and the strength of opposite signaling in the final sequence (I'm being vague because spoilers or whatever) without mocking the characters succeeds in ways few films have.

It's hard to believe the screenplay originated ten years ago. Sure, yes, they rewrote it, but it's so Now. It's so very Now.

How Rare a Possession: The Book of Mormon (1987)

I guessed, this morning, that How Rare a Possession came out in 1993. I was off. Before Prodigal Son. The church-produced renaissance started earlier than I realized!!

The Parley part holds up pretty good and the Vincenzo part really well, but the trappings are pretty proselytory and keep it from being that good as a movie.

Still. I would recommend it. Feel free to fast forward through the trappings, if you want.

After Hours (1985)

What a wild movie.

I put the dvd on hold at the library ago late last year---but delayed its arrival because I knew I would be busy. Result: it arrives long after I've forgotten why I decided I needed to see it.

The movie is a comedy, but it's structured like a nightmare, a horror film. That's not apparent, at first. The taxi ride is the first real break from reality, but even then the world isn't yet off the rails.

I also love how constrained it is, like a Greek tragedy, all within twenty-four hours. He's at work. The work day begins again. In the meantime, chaos.

I realized as I watched it that this is a genre of comedy. Adventures in Babysitting is very similar, really, and although my memory is fuzzy, isn't It Happened One Night similarly structured? Maybe not adventure-turns-into-desperation-to-get-home thing, but the chaos-over-one-night bit.

Anyway. It's Scorsese---only his fourth movie I've watched and the first comedy. The cast is first rate---small parts for plenty of people you know: Rosanna Arquette, Cheech and Chong, Teri Garr, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara, Bronson Pinchot, and the lead whose voice I recognized but could not otherwise place (he was in American Werewolf---and he's great), and Dick Miller (RIP).

Dick Miller was a nice touch. One of the first characters we meet is a woman making paper maches like those Dick made in Bucket of Blood---a favorite of mine.

If you want to experience true madness and laugh outloud along the way---a single mad night without the terror of mother! or Cabin in the Woods---why not visit Manhattan, 1985.

Wag the Dog (1997)

Can you believe this movie was released BEFORE the Monica Lewinski story broke? Weeks before! In my memory, the movie is a response to Clinton attempting to bomb bin Laden, but no! Art came first.

We watched the movie, of course, because Trump bombed Suleimani, just as impeachment was becoming the only thing in the news.

Lady Steed and I first watched this movie c. 2003, shortly after we opened the doors to R-rated movies---it was a modern classic that I had wanted to see since its release. It was good then, it's good now.

Although much of what happens in the film couldn't work because the internet makes it impossible (which is why so much conspiracy theory these days is embarrassing) (but those conspiracies still exist so ... maybe I'm being optimistic here?) but overall it's painfully plausible. The movie has aged very, very well. Even if their cellphones have collapsible antennaes.

And this cast! Dustin Hoffman! Robert De Niro! Anne Heche! Denis Leary! Willie Nelson! And even the bit roles have firepower with the likes of Woody Harrelson, John Michael Higgins (of Christopher Guest fame), William H. Macy, and Kirsten Dunst in the only moment I clearly remembered from our previous watch, as well as people like Merle Haggard and Jim Belushi as themselves.

The movie is very, very funny and very, very terrifying. It won't exactly leave you feeling better about the world.

But maybe it'll leave you more vigilant?

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

I mean: it's entertaining, I guess. It had five minutes of every genre known to film. But the Star Wars movies are getting so steeped in fan service there's not much time for else. Solo had great moments and bits of design, to be sure, and everyone else in the family seemed to love it. The three-year-old immediately as the credits began, picked up her artistic medium of choice and drew her first rocket ship:

It really seems like this was supposed to be more than one movie that would glue the prequels to the original trilogy, but ultimately its just evidence that was Star Wars really needs to do, post-Skywalker nine, is live a little less connected to Every Single Character and cliche of Star Wars so far. It's time for freshness and newness. And that means more than just a cool train.

Previous films watched


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









Svithe: Pronouns


Royal Skousen has decided the Book of Mormon was written in Middle English and no one's really prepared to argue with him, so let's let it stand.

That raises the question: Why NOT translate to modern English? It's helped in other languages!

Well, there's a lot of arguments on both sides, and I'm accidentally about to make one. Mostly, I just noticed something interesting last Sunday and wanted to share (1 Nephi 2:19, 20, 22):
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.

And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a bland of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.

And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.
If you need a quick reminder, thee/thou/thy are singular and ye/you are plural.

In other words, Nephi may have a great relationship with God, but there are some things that are only promised to the group. Ye had better keep those commandments if ye want to prosper in the land.

previous svithe


The prompt is, “The Book of Mormon
brings me closer to Christ because...”


I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting this week. As the previous speaker was going, I realized I had included no personal experiences. This is a major failing, in a sacrament-meeting talk. But, overall, I think it was a success. Anytime you sing, as part of a talk, people will pay attention. And that is some measure of success. (Son #3, seeing my notes just now, expressed shock my talk was seven pages long. It didn't feel that long!)


Æsop tells a story—you’ve probably heard it—about a fox who, one day, spied a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine trained along the branches of a tree. The grapes seemed ready to burst with juice, and the Fox’s mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them.
The grapes hung from a high branch, and the Fox had to jump for it. The first time he jumped he missed it by a long way. So he walked off a short distance and took a running leap at it, only to fall short once more. Again and again he tried, but in vain.
Now he sat down and looked at the grapes in disgust.
“What a fool I am,” he said. “Here I am wearing myself out to get a bunch of sour grapes that are not even worth looking.”
And off he walked scornfully.
There are many who despise and belittle that which is beyond their reach.
Pretty nice story. Comes packaged with a ready-made moral. A contemporary of Æsop’s said Æsop never worried about the way things actually are, because his stories were deliberately that: stories. “Let me,” he would say, “tell you a story.” A story simplified to one deliberate result.
Here is something similar:
From the wicked Laban inside the city gates.
Laman and Lemuel were both afraid to try.
Nephi was courageous. This was his reply:

“I will go; I will do the thing the Lord commands.
I know the Lord provides a way; he wants me to obey.
I will go; I will do the thing the Lord commands.
I know the Lord provides a way; he wants me to obey.”

[ it goes on ]

Nephi’s life story, condensed into something deliberate,
                                                                        something simple,
                                                                                    something with a tidy moral.
Nephi wrote the version of his story that we have in the Book of Mormon at the end of his life, and he often seems to be up to a similar simplification game himself. But, alas, he has lived his life. And it’s not “just a story”; it’s the life he lived and it can’t be easily reduced to one simple moral, however much that might make reading easier for us. Here’s a poem Nephi wrote, looking back:
Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
Do not—anger—again because of mine enemies.
Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say:
O Lord, I will praise thee forever;
yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul?
Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies?
Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?
May the gates of hell be shut continually before me,
because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite!
O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me,
that I may walk in the path of the low valley,
that I may be strict in the plain road!
O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!
I’ve heard many people, reading these lines, joke,
 ha!ha! Nephi! he’s so righteous! And if he thinks he’s wicked boy-oh-boy must I be in trouble, ha!ha!
I’m sorry. How many people have you killed? That little detail was let out of the Primary song, wasn’t it? Murder gets in the way of its simple morality tale. How often have you ridden into bloody battle against your brothers and your nephews? Which of us, here, have had to wash our hands of that blood before returning to the task of building a temple to our Lord? Nephi meant his desperation and hope and pain when he cried out,
O Lord, I will praise thee forever;
yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation. ||
|| O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul?
*    *    *    *    *
In our Latter-day Saint version of Christianity, we have this idea that while in the Garden of Gethsemane, the suffering of Jesus consisted of experiencing the infinite complexities of our pains and our sorrows. Each and every discomfort and unhappiness—reflected and exposed and salted and pierced and felt—as only a god could, his sweat—as if great drops of blood were falling to the ground.
Obviously, it depends on how you count, but we love to repeat the fun fact that our Redeemer is mentioned more times per word in the Book of Mormon than in the New Testament:
we talk ofChrist, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
That Bible is a book of genocide and exile and sorrow and loss and—hope for return.
While the Book of Mormon is a book of genocide and exile and sorrow and loss and—and, at the end—the people whose book it is—are no more
*    *    *    *    *
When I was in junior high, I remember my father hanging out after church, one Sunday talking to somebody about Alma and Amulek—specifically the moment where Alma says they cannot stretch forth their hands to save the good people being thrown into the fire because their deaths are necessary for God’s wrath to fall upon the wicked.
That is a hard idea. But also … a bit too simple. As Alma must have known.
That city was Amulek’s city. Those people thrown into the fire were Amulek’s own family. Or, if not, then they were killed not long after when the city was destroyed in a brutal, sudden invasion.
After these disasters, Alma does not repeat the moral of the story. He knows that’s not enough. He takes Amulek unto his own home, andministers unto him.
*    *    *    *    *
Sometimes we speak of the role of scriptures as comfort. I’m not sure that’s true. It’s certainly not the whole truth. Scripture is too honest for simple comfort. Even that great symbol of God’s love, the Tree of Life, is surrounded by confusing mists and deadly rivers and mocking strangers. We need the Tree of Life, the Author of All seems to be saying, because the world is void of simple solutions, easy answers, obvious morals. If the solutions and answers and morals were simple and easy and obvious, then—
But they’re not. They are not.
It’s not so hard to say
I will go I will do
   the things the Lord commands
but when you are at the end of a life filled with pain and exile and blood and loss, the complicated beauty of Isaiah may be what rings true.
*    *    *    *    *
Jesus comes to the children of Lehi after years of chaos and rage, after massive upheavals of society and the seas. Jesus comes to a people who are in pain and darkness. Jesus comes to a people who do not, at first, understand his Father’s voice. Jesus comes to a people who past has been demolished and whose future must feel lost. That is who Jesus comes to. And that is the promise the Book of Mormon makes. When you are lost, disconnected, in pain, uncertain, confused, darkened—the god who has felt infinite loss, disconnection, pain, uncertainty, confusion, darkness—that god will come.
And his name is Jesus.
And he is the messiah—your messiah—your savior, redeemer, christ.
And he will come.
*    *    *    *    *
That is not a simple moral. It is a perplexing and strange and wonderful thing. And if the Book of Mormon will get you closer to that Jesus than any other book? then we must seek him there.
And we’ll find him.
When we are young and believe the world is simple, he is there.
When we are in the midst of tragedy and desperate, he is there.
When we are looking back at our life, seeking its pattern, he is there.
This is what the Book of Mormon teaches us.
The Book of Mormon looks clearly at a world that will not hesitate to cause you pain. And then, the Book of Mormon says that there is someone greater than that pain. Someone who understands that pain. Someone who has comforted many, many people before. And will comfort you now.
That is the Book of Mormon.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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