March brings the end of normality and the beginning of Covid Theater


Bottle Rocket (1996)

I like this movie a lot, but to my mind, it's not stylized enough to match my favorite Wes Anderson films, movies like Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr Fox. The more Wes Andersony the Wes Anderson, the more I like it.

But, as I said, I like this one as well. It's not hard to see Wes Anderson in it and it has the full complement of Wilson brothers.

And it is the big, bang after all.* People said the Italian short was preparation for the dual languages in Isle of Dogs, but you can see even that way back here.

If you don't like Wes Anderson, try this one. If you do like Wes Anderson, you'll like this too. Just maybe not quite as much?

It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

I've been over four years since I last saw it and the final chapter I had utterly forgot. (The film started life as three shorts, and the first two I've seen more times, yes, but still.)

It's hilarious. It's upsetting. It's deliriously sad. It it utterly beautiful.

It's Don Hertzfeldt.

And I now I must (must!) get his latest film.

Bambi (1942) ×∞

It's Friday the 13th and Bambi's only the third movie I've watched, well behind recent pace. (Really, only 1.5 movies preceded Bambi, given I started Bottle Rocket in February.)

But today was also the last day of on-campus school this month, so I suspect the pace will pick up.

Lady Steed picked me up after school and she wanted to try and open a movie drawer that was stuck. She managed to open it and took out a few dvds she wanted, but then she couldn't get it locked again. So we took them ALL home. Which was Bambi plus →

Not all those movies, for the record, were on campus for the same reasons.

Anyway, we got home and piled them on the table and the baby found Bambi and insisted on watching it. And who am I to deny her one of life's great pleasures?

I can't watch Bambi these days without admiring the colors and compositions and other visual aspects of the film. I'm not convinced there's been a more beautiful film made. It's in the top eschelon---the celestial kingdom of movies, where all are different yet all are equal.

She loved the slapstick, but found some aspects quite scary---notable the first appearance of man and the fire.

She had a difficult time with these aspects: (what happened to Bambi's mom) and (growing up to look like your parents yet not being your parents). I tried to explain both, but with very, very limited success.

After a lengthy discussion of the film (for a three-year-old), we have started it again.

(Also, don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but the kid who plays young Thumper is just the best.)

A League of Their Own (1992)

It's taken awhile to the the Covid Movie Festival started, but here we go!

I haven't seen this since shortly after it was first released on VHS and I really didn't remember it that well. I never knew what was happening next. And I'm so glad. It loved not knowing how that final moment would end. And I love that that final moment is ambiguous.

You'll notice, if you know the movie well, that that "final moment" is not at the end of the movie. No, there is a long epilogue which makes the movie less excellent as a movie, imho, but which, frankly, the subjects of the film deserve. I can't begrudge the choice.

The film proper (which is to say, the extended flashback) is terrific and I get why it's still a big part of our culture---beloved, rewatched, quoted.

I'd watch it again.

Whale Rider (2002)

The baby said she wanted to watch something that sounded like whale, so I pulled Whale Rider and Finding Nemo and she chose Whale Rider.

I would like to say that's just because that's the type of babies we have around here, but maybe she was Pixared out after watching Cars this morning?

I haven't seen this since way back when in early 2004 and I think I had a similar experience this time. The movie is honest and I was deeply moved, yet somehow it doesn't feel "great" to me. I'm not sure why. Maybe watching it twice in the same decade would help me decode it? Or maybe it is missing something. I don't know.

But it did move me. And that counts for plenty more than whatever intellectual trappings are getting in my way.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

I still love this movie. It's peak Michael Cera, the editing is brilliant, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is just the best, and the sharpness of the writing---

Okay. I've spent the last week rewriting Just Julie's Fine and when it's sharp, it's so sharp. And I feel kinship with the writing in Scott Pilgrim.

I wish I could figure out how to be that sharp for the screen.

Finding Nemo (2003)

First, I can't remember ever noticing before how similar the vocal stylings of Albert Brooks are to those of Tom Hanks in another Pixar role. How is that possible?

Anyway, it's still great. Apparently I haven't seen it since at least 2013 when I started this series of posts. I have stated that "Months pass and you start to think it couldn't possibly be as good as you remember. So you watch it again. And it is."

That still seems pretty relevant.

I'm glad to watch it again now, later, that my oldest---who was in utero when I saw Nemo in theaters---is not far from a new stage in life.

Good art grows with you.

UHF (1989)

This isn't just a pastiche of parodies. It's also one of the greatest cheesy 80s movies because it's self-aware enough to know that's just what it is. And, if you know your major ingredient is cheese, you can be sure to choose the right cheese. And then, when, at the emotional climax, a bunch of pickups with monster tires show up, it's earned.

It's earned.

(Incidentally, the #1 biggest laugh from the kids? Flying poodles.)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The boys compromised on this while I was putting the baby to bed and so okay, whatever. It's still a very fun movie and we had a great time, but

Now they want to binge ALL the Marvel movies while on lockdown.

I, on the other hand, thought to myself, Huh. Well. I think I'm done with Marvel movies. I never need to watch another of these ever again.

Who wants to bet I lose?

Patema Inverted (2013)

I remember the trailer for this movie intrigued me and was one of the first movies I saw promoted in ways that have been reproduced with other films like Your Name. and Okko's Inn. But I never did see it.

Here's the skinny: a boy and a girl from worlds that border but which have opposing gravities---she falls up and he falls down (or, if you prefer, vice versa). Drama and action pour forth.

Something I did not expect was the fullscale vertigo the film would make me feel, even on my laptop screen. Who knew looking at the stars could make you grab the edge of your mattress in a lack of equilibrium?

The story itself doesn't bring much new. But the vivid visualizations and innovative world never stop impressing.

Phase IV (1974)

I just heard of this film today and was intrigued. And it was only to be on Prime for a few more days and---since it was directed by Saul Bass and is only just over 90 minutes---Lady Steed signed on as well.

First question: The heck?


A couple moments I thought I might have seen some stop-motion, but I don't think so. I think those were all real ants. And some of the footage you couldn't get just by letting ants roam around being recorded for hours.

This is a movie about ants who want ants ruined for them the way Scott Smith ruined plants for them. Or, it's a weirder and less stupid ant story than the unfinishable Invasion.

And, when you've seen it, check out this alternate ending that makes the rest of the movie look like standard Hollywoodery.

It comes out five years after 2001 which it referenced quite deliberately at the top but is not really beholden to at all. And it's not hard to imagine it being a source for future works including, perhaps most notable, Ender's Game.

Anyway. Cool watch. If you're into ambitious '70s scifi, I guess it's the Arrival of that era?

Heart of Africa (2020)

This film is unlike any missionary thing I've ever seen before. It feels very honest and lived in. And it did not feel like a director's first movie. Let alone one with as little previous experiene as this director had.

I particularly liked how it was, yes, a missionary movie, but it wasn't so much about "being a missionary" as how missionaries are just one piece of a much larger world. (And, given this film was almost entirely crafted by Congolese artists, it made me feel the Black Panther people really did their research. This is the AfroNOWism version of that film, in many ways. And, although it recognizes the reality of violence and its reciprical nature, it has much more hopeful things to say than a Marvel movie setting up its next sequel.

Anyway, I highly recommend it. But I can't recommend buying it through Living Scriptures. Rent it, okay, sure---why wait?---but don't think they'll be straight with you and give you what you've paid for.

WALL·E (2008)

Even missing the second act, this is a great movie. An excellent, silent-clown brilliant first act. A moving conclusion. (A Peter Gabriel song that's just never worked for me, though I get why Peter Gabriel fans would like it.)

Even the first time we saw it, I found the ending depressing in the way Lady Steed found depressing the end of I Lost My Body, but I still think the conquering of human (and humanlike) agents is heroic and beautiful and worthy of our enjoyment.

But let's all be glad it was never the toy juggernaut of Cars because that irony would have killed us all.

Miniscule: Valley of the Lost Ants (2013)

Take supercartoony cg bugs and place them against real natural settings. Add one part Mad Max to one part Alamo to one part Bug's Life to one part Psycho to one part Sandlot to one part Bambi to one part Two Towers to one part Star Wars to one part Indiana Jones and a bunch of other pieces and you get this fun little romp about a ladybug who loses his family and a wing and makes friends with a cosmopolitan colony of ants who find themselves under siege by the Evil Empire of ants.

The baby and I watched it at doublespeed which messed up the sound but still felt reasonably paced (don't tell any purists).

Fun and exciting film!

The Avengers (2012)

Well, they picked another movie while I was putting baby to bed.

The great thing about Marvel movies is how competent they are. Hypercompetent! Nothing is more competent than a Marvel movie. But this one's another cat movie with sufficient music. This one in particular has some awesome crowdpleasing moments with perfectly placed emotional beats.

But after you've spent weeks watching these movies, what else is there to care about?

This chart lists all the Marvel movies released to date. Those with a single slash I've seen once. Those with crossed slashes I've seen more than once. I can no longer keep track of more than that.


Previous films watched


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









Covid Comics Continued (with other books)


023) Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive by an Allred-led team, finished March 20

I purchased this books months and months before it was even released...and then it's sat unread on my shelf since then.

But why?

The team is a mix of people I admire and/or count as a friend (and Rich Tommaso, who seems great, but is new to me), but they're doing DIck Tracy, who I've never managed to care about. I read him in newspapers daily for years and never managed to care. The movie came out when I was at an age to love it and I still haven't bothered to watch it. I just...don't care about Dick Tracy.

But now! thanks to the Covid Comics Extravaganza! I have read Dead or Alive and I can tell you: it is an absolute blast. One of the most fun comics I've read in a while. It's a mash of 30s sense and style with bits of modernity and it's terrific.

That said, it also dives right into everything that's problematic about American policing. Tracy's a hero, sure, but he's also a remorseless monster. And in this candy-colored world of deformed villains, okay. But some recent reading in this household leaves us disquieted.

But we wouldn't want our comics to be simple, now would we?
one day for story, one day for backmatter


024) Homespun and Angel Feathers by Darlene Young, finished March 25

I had a copy of this collection to give my mother for Christmas, but I forgot to bring it to her. So instead, I just bought a new copy and had it shipped straight to her for covid reading material. I don't know if she'll read it (my dad is loving his covid book), but I hope she will. No one has captured the reality of modern, lived Mormon experience as well or as honestly as Darlene. It's a book that rewards rereading---although my rereading rewarded a little bit less, because covid-reading in the Thteed household is loud and chaotic and comprehension is not quite so high as one might wish....
maybe half a week


025) Jinchalo by Matthew Forsythe, finished March 28

I bought this on Jake Parker's recommendation over eight years ago and it's been sitting on the shelf next to my bed since then.

Which is EXACTLY why a covid comics extravaganza is necessary.

(I don't know what's wrong with me.)

The book is beautifully drawn and wonderful-strange. It even dips into the metafictional at one point for reasons I cannot fathom. Most of the words and SFX are in hangul, but the roman alphabet also makes appearances, the reasons for which I am unsure of. Characters change shape and age and---I'm not sure I ever realized that fairy tales about metamorphosis might be metaphors for again.

It's a solid and mysterious book, makes great use of traditional Korean images---it's a true both-side-of-the-Pacific hybrid---and I really loved it. Worthy the wait. I mean. I guess? I don't even know what that means....



026) Lost Dogs by AUTHOR, finished March 28

Lost Dogs came out the same year I bought Jinchalo (or, rather, this rerelease did), but I really don't remember when or where I picked it up. Why is much easier: it's Jeff Lemire. And it's after I read Essex County.

(Incidentally, it's great that Jeff Lemire is doing lots of good writing for DC, but I personally would prefer more written-and-drawn-by-Lemire comics, myself.)

Lost Dogs was the first comic Lemire finished and his style is already mature and individual. The story's a bit half-done, but the pathos of the art makes that matter much much less than it might have out of another's inkwell. It is a tale of a giant forced into unwanted violence, which is not exactly original, but this giant ties into other traditions (note the occasional efforts to make him echo Frankenstein's creature) and the simplicity slowly lends itself to something that tastes a bit more like allegory.

Lemire does get better, but he should never be ashamed of the book that came first. It's still good.


027) The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism's Most Controversial Scripture by Terryl Givens with Brian M. Hauglid, finished March 29

I picked this up at first to read the second on Joseph Smith—History for a project I'm working on. But that was so great, I kept reading through the end of the book, then back to the beginning to read about Moses and Abraham. The Abraham part was looooong and took what at least felt like the bulk of the time spent reading, but it was still insightful and scholarly and insightful.

I wish I'd read this book before recording Face in Hat's translation episode.

In short, this book comes from me highly recommended if you like engaging with the Church in an intellectual way. I guarantee you will bump into points and arguments that are new to you. It's a bounty, to be sure.
coupla months




I read some comics (and Jane Austen) and then started the Covid Comics Extravaganza because what else am I supposed to do?


017) Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks, finished February 29

Terrific little comic for, oh, ages six to death, about the three great women of primate observation (1, 2, 3). I don't have much to say about it other than, even though it was slight, it has heft and I learned more than I knew and someone who knew nothing might be amazed. I can easily imagine this being a book that sends someone on this sort of lifepath.
two days


018) Calexit by Matteo Pizzolo | Amancay Nahuelpan | Tyler Boss, finished March 7

Can't remember how I first heard of this comic, but it was the same time I heard about balancing right-wing products.

I wasn't going to buy any of these, but I was curious. The libraries didn't carry any of them at that time either, but three weeks ago, I bumped into this at a local branch and checked it out.

The storytelling is pretty solid. I expected it to be more side-taking political (and there's not mistaking its spin), but everything is more complex than I expected. This is recognizably L.A.---these are recognizable Angelinos.

This is also wildly violent and sexual---do not give to your kids.

I'm mostly irritated this is just a volume one. Come on. I want a movie, not a tv show.


Almost half the book is interviews by the writer, Pizzolo, with a wide variety of white liberals.

A wild fact about this book is that it was well underway before Trump became president. Naturally, that played into the development and the finished product, but hey. Way to go, Cassandra.

three weeks


019) Emma by Jane Austen, finished March 8

I first started Emma nine years ago, but laid it down and never got back to it. Then a few months ago I picked up a paperback from a Little Free Library, and then I saw a compelling poster for the new film and made an attempt to read it by the release date (didn't quite make it, but it's still in theaters).

I liked it.

I was also intensely irritated by it through out. Even when Emma finally starts to actually learn some lessons and grow up (post-Box Hill, that is, right near the end), she's still largely clueless and obnoxious.

The version I read includes an intro by one Margaret Drabble which I read afterwards. She's not totally enthralled by the novel, but she read it quite differently than I did. I'm pretty convinced Jane wasn't eager to have us like hardly anyone in this book. Some of the characters seem like, had they been the protagonist, would have made much more delightful novels---but she didn't make them protagonists, did she?

The number of characters I desired to throttle at one point or another during the course of this book is enormous. At times, say with the introduction of Mrs Elton, I though Emma's dislike of her was a hint I would like her. Nope. She was awful too.

The endless series of happy endings that prevents the novel from ending when I would have liked it to is also very strange. Do these people deserve happy endings? Are these endings happy? Will they still be happy endings as the years pass? I genuinely do not know.

The best humans in the book are Mrs Weston and Mr Knightley, but even they are suspect. This may be my modern eye, but Mr Knightley for instance fell in love with Emma when she was just thirteen.

I'm not convinced Austen is selling that to us as a meet-cute. It feels like it should really make us rethink the best person in the book as slightly suspect.

Anyway, it was good but I can't imagine rereading it, which puts it in a bucket with Northanger Abbey.
two months


020) Animal Man by Grant Morrison, Book One, by Morrison and team, finished March 14

I love when you finally pick up a Seminal Event that Changed Everything and it really is (even still) that good.

Sadly, we're on covid19 lockdown now and I may not be able to get volume two where the most famous moment---the moment I've been reading about for years---must occur, but volume one really was great. Intelligent, witty, fun. So much more friendly and charming than some of Morrison's later work.
maybe a week


021) The Chuckling Whatsit by Richard Sala, finished March 16

I think I may spend part of the covid19-inspired weeks-long shelter-in-place reading some of the many comics I've long owned but never read. This is the first. Bought it at Half-Price Books (they made many, brandnew) some long time ago. Put it on a shelf. Now I've read it!

And it was great.

The black-and-white art reminds me of Cypher; it also has a similar surreal touch, but Chuckling Whatsit maintains a grasp on reality, nightmarish though it may be.

It's sort of Scooby-Doo-level madness, but it's gruesome and horrific---the violence and madness do nothing but grow bleaker and wilder as the book continues. The ending is slightly ambivalent and certainly unresolved, but satisfying. Sort of like a Series of Unfortunate Events for grownups.

The art is rich and evocative with chiaroscuro up the wazoo, but I do have one complaint. The male characters come in many shapes and varieties. The women have near-identical bodyshapes and similarly clingy clothing. And they are a marvel to see, to be sure, but ... I mean ... come on. Put as much thought into how female bodyshape can evoke character as you did with the male characters.

Even so, if this sounds good to you, it will be.
one evening


022) Gloriana by Kevin Huizenga, finished March 18

Book two of the Covid Comics Extravaganza!

I saw Huizenga on a panel at San Diego Comic-Con last summer with luminaries such as Seth and Chris Ware and Mary Fleener, and I was like---who's this guy? He was much younger and ... but I did recognize his name, didn't I?

Later, at the Drawn and Quarterly table, I saw his books and I was like, oh yeah.... this guy. I had read Curses and loved it so much. The next time we walked past he was signing, so I had to decide: book I loved or a different one. I went different and picked up this reissue of an earlier book.

Then immediately got afraid to read it. Like picking up a band's first album, sometimes #1 is not ... their best work. But also Gloriana isn't quite the punch Curses is, it's still terrific. I've no regret paying full sticker price for it.

Huizenga's style seems very straightforward but you never know when it might devolve into pages of abstraction or pages of scientific explanation---and yet, those pages still build emotionally. Glenn Ganges is one of the great creations in comics and I'd better start reading more of him.
two sittings



Reading balance


It was recently suggested that I am neglectful of women writers and so I have done a self-audit of the books I have read over the last two years (that is, last year and this year so far) to see if I meet the standards I hold out for radio stations.

m = male / f = female / o = an oversimplification of all possibilities "other" (multiple authors, genderqueer, etc)
f: 1 m: 1 o: 0

f:0 | m:2 | o:0

f:0 | m:1 | o:0

f:0 | m:1 | o:0

f:0 | m:3 | o:0

f:3 | m:5 | o:0

f:6 | m:16 | o:0

f:2 | m:1 | o:0

f:8 | m:5 | o:1

f:5 | m:26 | o:0

f:6 | m:7 | o:2

f:2 | m:5 | o:

f:0 | m:2 | o:0
Although it's unfair to say I neglect female writers, it is fair to see a distinct bias in my reading choices.