Film so august


our dvd library
Spirited Away (2001)

Sadly, we were interrupted and so just as my two favorite moments were about to happen (the soot sprites recreating breaking the curse, the train trip) I was forced to abandon the film, but I want to write about it anyway because I was thinking about something new as the film was rolling.

Usually I'm overwhelmed with the generosity of the visuals. This time I was struck by the elegance of the sound design. Really, it's just a beautiful movie from start to finish.

Even the three-year-old likes the music.

(Incidentally, we watched it today because she wanted to see the one where her parents turn into pigs and she goes down the stairs. An excellent description, frankly.)

Eleanor's Secret (2009)

This movie is garbage. It always relies on character's exposition rather than setting things up before. The magic rules are bonkers. The voice acting (in the English dub) range from adequate to terrible---why does the sister have a completely different accent from the rest of the family? The animation styles don't meld well. Alice in Wonderland is weirdly sexualized.

The upsides are the backgrounds and the first kite-flying scene and ... um ... I guess that's it. Maybe it's better in the original French.

But it won't be much better.

Frozen II (2019)

It's a little unfair to say I "watched" this. The ballgame was on, I was working on a project and socialmediaing, etc. So it was a different experience from time #1 but not in a way that really allowed me to reevaluate it. I did not see a single troll, for instance.

That said, I was reasonably charmed and did enjoy the moments I checked in with.

I shall say no more.

Amazon Prime
Bug (1975)

So it comes out the same year as Jaws and a year after Phase IV. Honestly, I have to believe it was influenced by Phase IV because it's so similar in topic, sound, and even lighting effects. It's like, the really dumb version of Phase IV. Dumb not because the bugs are smart but because the movie can't decide what the bugs are. There's earthquakes, there's fire, there's awful biology that no one who teaches "Biology 7" should engage in, then suddenly the bugs are psychic, then they're using English and glowing in the dark. Scaling back to a couple things would have been way better.

Also, quick hint on human behavior, if you have a bug on your face, you don't run around not trying to knock the bug off your face. I feel pretty confident about that.

Anyway, it tried to be interesting, but Phase IV must've been the peak of that kind of highbrow B-movie and Jaws would be the new path forward. This got caught inbetween.

Props to the actors portraying the two scientists though. They had very different jobs and both did very well. Props, guys!

Amazon Prime
Knives Out (2019)

Do I like it more the second time? I'm not sure. I didn't leave much evidence. I certainly didn't like it any less, and my money is on liking it more.

Something that startled me first viewing is how Johnson gave away the entire twist up front. Yes, it did give us all the pleasures of dramatic irony, but it was still startling. That there were more twists to be had felt like gravy.

Second viewing, knowing all the turns we'd take, the dramatic-irony levels were all the higher and all the more pleasurable. Plus the multiple presentations of the same thing in different ways, the excellent music, the old house---this is how you start a mystery-movie franchise. Bring it on.

Amazon Prime
Rango (2011)

I liked this last time, but the details had faded in my memory. This is not just a "western for kids"---it's also an "art film for kids" and "Chinatown for kids" and "beautiful but hella weird European film for kids." It's a wild film. And the animation looks as good and fresh today as it did a decade ago. After the second line in the film, Johnny Depp stops being distracting and the rest of the cast is great from start to finish.

Plus, it's straight-up entertaining while so being so so weird!

Show it to YOUR kids today!

Internet Archive
Country Gentlemen (1936)

I read about these guys somehow earlier this week. They're among the most popular comedy acts to transition from vaudeville to the panoply of modern media but I'd never seen them before. (I think Hellzapoppin's about the only thing they're remembered for today, and I haven't even seen that.)

Here are some details. It's short (just shy of an hour). The leads star as lovable conartists for whom things work out just in the knick of time. It's the sort of movie where that kind of detail isn't a spoiler. One of the costars is a ditzy dame who is like a less well written Gracie Allen. Ole's trademark bit seems to be his giggle? They're like other comedy routines from the era (eg, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello) and possibly they're not as funny because I don't already know the gimmick. But I think a better comparison to Country Gentlemen might be the Burns and Allen movies which are terrible even though THEY STAR BURNS AND ALLEN.

In short, a nice historical document with one line that made me laugh.

Firebird (1982)

We've had a lot of Firebird on lately because the baby took a huge shine to Rachel Isadora's retelling and likes to watch a couple minutes here and there or to have the music playing as she dances through the room (which is fine; I did Stravinsky). So I've seen bits of many productions, but this is the first I've watched through.

I was immediately compelled because the story does not match the story (it really doesn't) and so I was trying to figure out what was going on. Although parts did track, it diverges twice as much as it follows.

Plus, the choreography was compelling and the firebird was essentially naked. Ask me any details about her body and I know them now. I realized about forty-five minutes in that I must be straight because I had not picked up any similar details about the male dancers, even though the tall guy was compelling and the silver guys were just as exposed as the firebird. Hashtag self-discovery.

Anyway. As Firebirds go, it's great!

Tangled (2010)

Although I enjoy this film mightily, every time I see it I'm a little more disturbed by how the violent policestate Rapunzel's parents run is never questions because they miss their daughter mightily and the capital city is is a charmer. Even Eugene says they ran the place with "grace and wisdom" even though he was darn near executed without so much as an opportunity to say one word in his defense.

Grace and wisdom, indeed.

library dvd
Minority Report (2002)

It's been a long time since I've seen this. 2004, maybe? I think we saw it in theaters, but I'm fuzzy on that. And yet I remember it very well. When we had to skip minutes at a time because of the old library dvd, I could say what we'd missed. How is that possible? And yet the movie has so many astonishing moments. And as fuurism, it holds up dandy. Some things that eighteen years later feel like misses (how phones will work, trackers in cars) can't overwhelm the fact that new stuff is still stealing from this movie.

It also feels timely today as we're thinking about the role of police. Although on the one hand, our protagonist is a celebrated cop*, his imperfections and bald failures of other people in the system and the eventual dismantling of pre-crime all feel appropriate for a movie in preproduction right now.

In short, yes, it holds up.

(But Jurassic Park is still better.)

Oh! One more thing: I want to know more about the brown contacts Tom Cruise wears after swapping out his eyes. They are eerie and uncanny, huge and alien most of the time, but they calm down the final time we see him. I suspect some games were being played here.

library dvd
The Dead Don't Die (2019)

I can see why this got a rotten tomato---the meta stuff can hit you right or wrong and the end suggests a certain ridiculous embrace of not knowing what to do next---but I liked it just as much as the trailer led me to expect. The deadpan humor, the cast. I was watching it because I showed the kids the trailer and now they all want to see it so this Saturday morning I've watched it on my own and I think they can watch it. The most gruesome moment comes a half hour in. The zombies themselves are filled with dust. If they self-regulate and remove themselves as needed, they can handle it.

Crazily, this is my first Jarmusch film. It was a fin introduction. I've been meaning to watch Paterson since it came out. It was the top film on my list when it hit Prime but it fits in the category Lady Steed Will Be Mad If I Watch It Without Her But She Never Wants to Watch It NOW (a very large category of film) but I think enough time has passed now it doesn't matter.

Anyway. If you like the trailer, you're apt to like the movie. Maybe the end's a copout, but at least it's an interesting copout.

library dvd
Table 19 (2016)

This movie is almost half a decade old and somehow I only heard of it maybe last month. I think the trailer played after some other thing I was watching on IMDb? And I said to myself, This cast! and, How have I never heard of this? and Where is this streaming? and Oh good, the library has the dvd. Things like that.

Anyway, it gave me everything the trailer promised and more. It's no masterpiece but it is truly satisfying and it's not ashamed to pull back the occasional joke for an emotional resonance, but it always returns for another pleasant joke. And it never lets the characters be as simple as the dumber version of this movie would have let them be.

Also, regarding that poster? I enjoyed it more than Dinner with Andre.

our dvd library
Alice in Wonderland (1951)

I do like this movie. But it's moments of bizarre brilliance just make me wish there were more of them. Considering all the Alice films that have been made, this one's so tame. Which I guess makes it a fine introduction, but...just an introduction.

library dvd
The Dead Don't Die (2019)

So most of the kids changed their mind, leaving boy #3 and wife to start this while I was putting the baby down. (Not like THAT.)

Watching it this time, knowing how deliberately metafictional it would get, I was more aware of the fictional signposts it was throwing up all the way. Although it seems to be making some of the most obvious zombie-movie points of all time it's also undermining that earnestness throughout.

So I'm still not sure what to make of it, but no doubt it is entertaining.

Previous films watched


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









Dolphins, serial killers, Martians
Survivors, brothers, superheroes


Historical note: I'm trying out doing one of my regular posts without using my code. Instead, I'm just using Blogger's new visual composer. Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy....


063) Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, finished August 21

I'm quite certain I read this back in elementary school. Or perhaps a teacher read it to my class. I don't remember exactly. I just remember being left a little off-kilter by it and never wanting to return to it even though it's among so many people's favorite books, including my wife's. But we have half a dozen copies at the house and it's the county library's summer read, so to support my wife in getting the kids to read it, I read it too.

Youngest son read it and didn't like "the grammar" so that was something I was on the lookout for. I see what he means. No contractions, that sort of thing. It does have a specific voice and I can understand why one might be put off.

Also, I'm fairly certain it spun between two seasons several times without getting to the rest of the year. And then the years started flying by and I quickly lost track of how much time had passed.

The story's based on four or five known facts about an actual girl-cum-woman and her years alone on one of the Channel Islands (which I wish I had known---the presence of the Aleuts early on made me put her geography much further north which made winters harder to understand) and her story as told by O'Dell is wonderful and amazing and heroic.

 Sadly, if you clicked on that link above, she was dead seven weeks after finally making it to Santa Barbara. Dysentery. And the rest of her tribe had died long ago following their "rescue." And there weren't many to rescue, the bulk of them having already been killed by Russians and Aleuts.

That massacre we see, though perhaps it's not immediately clear how devastating it was. And the book does not pull punches; terrible things do happen. But it gives Karana a happy ending. And that is what she deserved.*

a few weeks of irregular reading 

064) Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, finished August 24

I don't know if this is a wise thing to mention on the very public internet, but I am quite fond of serial killers. I read this encyclopedia, Bloodletters and Badmen, in my spare time both in high school and my first year at Bakersfield College. I read most of the entries, but I was drawn to the serial killers. Earlier, watching Psycho had changed the way I watch movies forever.

I'm not sure why this drive but I'm clearly not alone in American culture---we have serial killers out the wazoo. Mostly fictional, but still.

The experience of experiencing their experiences varies of course. Zombie was genuinely terrifying. My Friend Dahmer made me sad for the poor kid. I could not get through Alias Grace (arguable entry to killers, serial). And although it's just one thing among many that makes it excellent, my current great joy in reading East of Eden isn't hindered by such-a-one's presence.

In 2008, during the writers strike, CBS played reruns of Dexter---bowdlerized, of course. Lady Steed and I watched and enjoyed them, but she was never willing to take it up with the full-yuck dvds. Years passed. At some point I got a free copy of this, the first novel. Years passed. And now: I have read it.

I loved it. I haven't rushed this quickly through a book I didn't even intend to start reading in ages. The voice is snappy, the unfolding is thrilling. It's overthetop and constrained simultaneously. Reading Wikipedia, it looks like, by book three, it will descend into straightup supernaturalism, so maybe I won't read more but...you know what else I ran into for free some years ago?

Dexter season four---the one, I am told, which is the best of all thanks to a terrifying performance from John Lithgow.

Don't mind if I do.

five of eight days


065) Martian Manhunter Vol. 1: The Epiphany by William, Barrows, et al., finished August 28
066) Martian Manhunter Vol. 2: The Red Rising by William, Barrows, et al.,
finished August 28

A lot of interesting things going on in this two-volume story. I wouldn't say I loved it, but I certainly don't feel like a wasted my time, even if they think Death Valley is in Nevada. Dummies.

If I were writing an essay about this story though, I know for certain what I would be writing about. And it's not the connections to Darwyn Cooke's great book featuring J'onn because I know little enough about the character I'm sure I'ld just make a fool of myself.

Although he barely appears in the story, the story does take time up front to connect J'onn to Superman. The connection is telling. Superman, Clark Kent, as we all know from a million people being smart, is an immigrant, probably a Jew, who comes to America and fulfills the American dream, passing as human.

Or, let's be more specific, passing as white.

J'onn can do similarly (cf Cooke), but that's not what we see here. Clark passes as part of the majority people; J'onn in contrast becomes a metaphor for immigrants (or conscripts) who can't pass as white. And detail after detail backs this reading up. The Black girl who befriends Mr Biscuits and can see him as good, for one.

Mr Biscuits is J'onn's subconscious, after he splits himself into pieces (it's complicated). The other pieces are a Black FBI agent, and Arab woman, and an old (American?) white man in a cheap, vaguely superhero costume who represents J'onn's intelligence. And who is so confident of himself that he stands in front of a runaway tank and gets completely demolished.

Anyway, there's a lot you could do, staking your claim and doing some mining here.

Quite possibly, someone already had.

But, you know, I really didn't love it enough to go googling.

But, man. If only there were an essay to write....

under a week


Remember Five Card Flickr?


Five Card Story: Desperate times for Doggo

a Five Card Flickr story created by Th.

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by Serenae

flickr photo by Rachel Smith

The park closes at Sunset. It is sunset. But doggo must pee! Wait---are those human bathrooms available? Ahhhhh.....

(Formatting left alone.)


(cuz blogger's new coding system doesn't like me)


057) Alive: New and Selected Poems by Elizabeth Willis, finished August 4

I learned of Elizabeth Willis from a forthcoming analysis in Dialogue and immediately put this book on hold. It was an excellent analysis: scholarly, insightful, provocative. And I'm glad I read it because I'm not sure I liked this collection enough to finish it if I had selected it at random.

Willis has a pretty unique way of poeming. Her poems lack much connective tissue which gives them a surreal quality even when all the images are grounded or even plain. She brings the poetry to words and phrases that ought to be pedestrian but somehow are not. She speaks of things without giving us any context or any way to uncover the context---at least, not through a casual read. To appreciate these poems, they need to be lived in for some time. (And frankly, that's time time I have for a library book.)

She also frequently makes found poems---or poems that feel like found poems---or poems that are partially found. My favorite example of this type is probably "The Witch" or "Classified"; these poems capture well both what she does well and what is frustrating about her---but are enjoyable no matter which way you lean.
two weeks or so


058) Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, finished ~ August 7

Something weird going on with the new Blogger interface. I'm certain I'd written about Roller Girl already, but . . . where is it? Dunno.

Anyway, after finishing Castle Waiting we went for this excellent book which I loved the last time I read it and loved it this time as well. It also let us talk about crying.

I love this book.
under a week


059) Beyond Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulllch, finished August 9

I checked this book out from the library shortly before we went into lockdown, but it got lost under my bed and I forgot about it. I found it just as the library was allowing returns to start back up, but I did not immediately return it, though it seemed hard to imagine I would fit in a reading just then.

But then Arwen recommended it so I decided to jump in and get it done. I'm so glad I did. (And she's right---it would be great to teach. Though I don't see how I'm getting copies purchased / to students just now.

I especially found the chapter on emoji useful. Although all were interesting and deepened my understanding significantly, the emoji chapter took a subject I genuinely do not understand, at all, and provided a scaffold for me to start building understanding. So thank you, Gretchen.

Plus, the book is a charming and erudite companion---a fun read.
one day in March and one week in August


060) Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, finished August 11

I've only read Drama of Raina's ouevre, which means I do not know the work she is best known for---her autobiographical comics. But after finishing Roller Girl , this was sitting out and it seemed like an obvious followup.

The 3yrold enjoyed it but not nearly so much as Roller Girl, nor did she find anything in particular to take away from it. (That I know of. Maybe something will appear in the next few days.) I liked it fine too, but I don't get why Raina owns the entirety of YA comics. She was, in a real way, first, but I don't see how she's better and there is so much competition now, I'm not sure what the explanation for her continued dominance is.

Again, not a knock. Just confusion. (If we can find it, we'll probably read Smile next.)
three of four days


061) Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez, finished August 15

I picked up a signed copy of this book, signed, from a Comic-Con trip at the CBLDF booth, with the intention to give it to my kids. Then I didn't. Years passed and it remained in the present stash. Until finally we did roll it our one Christmas. And eveyone read it and no one thought much about it. Or, at least, they didn't have much to say about it.

Then we couldn't find Smile on the shelf and bedtime was NOW and there was Marble Season so... the youngest and I gave it a shot.

Weirldly, I don't think I myself had ever read it outside excerpts, as in BAC2014. I suppose it was largely what I expected---I know Beto and I have a sense of how he would do a kids story. And at first, it didn't do much for me. No real plot. Just a meandering through a few months of life. But then I discovered the 3yrold was retelling these plotless vignettes to my wife. And then I realized it was getting to me as well.

And this is where I became, unusually, genuinely grateful for a scholarly postscript, this one by Corey K. Creekmur, as he explained to me that Marble Season is "a version of what ... Raymond Williams ... called a 'structure of feeling,' a representation of the way life is lived, even or especially in the moments we might disregard.... The focus here is ... less on what childhood means that on what it feels like."

And that is exactly right. Childhood is a smear of moments scattered about like the toys and pretendings and people who fill it. Like Peanuts, Marble Season's adults are shunted to the side, but unlike Peanuts, these kids we know will grow up. We can almost see their trajectory. Maybe part of that is having seen some of them before, but no, not really. This is a true childhood in the sense that it is the fuzzy beginnings of people who will one day be adults. This story is complete in its uncompleteness, in its sense that it is childhood and not an end of itself.

Plus, it suggested a couple movies I should find and watch with Son #3: >Mr. Sardonicus and The Hideous Sun Demon.
three or four days


062) Frogcatchers by Jeff Lemire, finished August 17

I love Lemire's drawing and would not mind if he ditched all the Marvel and DC writing to just do his own books. This one is as lovely as any other. But I wouldn't call it his best. It's a meditation on death that leans so hard into its metaphor that it ends up feeling literal. Whereas works like Lost Dogs or Essex County, by virtue of their greater realism, end up carrying greater symbolic weight.

It's a funny thing.
after school




Melissa Leilani Larson's Mountain Law


(Historical note: This is my first time trying out Blogger's new visual composer rather than staring at code. The new code-based composer has also been modernized, but all the colors and noise have come to feel cluttered and exhausting, ergo this historical note. In order to get things to work properly, I had to switch over to the code || times.)


Putting on remote plays during pandemic is something I keep hearing about, but when, arguably, the major value plays have over, say, movies, is that the audience engages quite literally with the performers, each party effecting changes to the other's experience, as it is unfolding, for a total of nine commas.

The play feels more like it makes a trilogy with the contemporary plays collected in Third Wheel than her other historical plays---not just because of the Mormon setting but also because of its direct grappling with sexual politics through a protagonist that, by virtue of dominoes set up by others, is only offered options subideal.

The primary setting is a (I believe) fictional location in Utah (if it is real, it doesn't have a Wikipedia page, so QED) where Tamson has been abandoned by her husband, a confidant of Brigham Young's. He has been sent to California to help the Brooklyn and Battalion saints laboring in the goldfields come to Utah. He is gone three years and in that time, Tamson and her children, all young, nearly starve. They only survive thanks to the miraculous arrival of an old lover. Which gets us to the secondary setting, Nauvoo, where we experience and reexperience Tamson and her secondary man's original meetings facet by facet.

Her loneliness makes the Zoom setting of the play here in 2020 wholly appropriate. All the characters are trapped in individual boxes: no matter how intimate, never touching.

That said, Mountain Law will be even better on stage, with the audience present and the characters moving rather than having their actions narrated as they glance to difference corners of the screen. (This is not a knock---the cast did great work---just recognition.)

Anyway. Happy isolation, everybody!


Some books are good books.
Some books are better books.
Some books are best books.


052) Remember the Revolution! by James Goldberg, finished July 14

Most of what's in this book I've read before (and it irked me every single time those previously-published credits weren't accessible, James) which is exactly why I bought it. Some of the essays in here are the reasons it might seem like I'm always talking about James. "Wrestling with God" I've discussed as often as any essay this past ten years, in LDS settings, in English-class settings, you name it. For a while, "Four Faces of a Rhetorical Triangle" made its way into my schoolteaching as well. And I'd forgotten about "Remember the Revolution" even though it might be the most deserving of constant quotation.

Some of the short stories (notably "Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenberg") remind me of some of Ted Chiang's fiction.

The fiction is as provocative with possibility and insight as are the essays. Take this excerpt from "Teancum" which imagines a people equal parts Mormon and Jewish and Sikh, with some Hindu and Muslim tossed in for flavor:
Rabbi Eliezer said “Only when two or more prophets speak the same truth can it be considered equal to a word of the Lord. As it is written, ‘whether by mine own voice or the voice of my ser-vants, it is the same.’ ‘Servants,’ not ‘servant.’ When a prophet speaks alone, he may speak as a man, but when he speaks with the intent and witness of another prophet, their words are surely Ha-Shem’s.”

Rabbi Tarphon, however, said “It is also writ-ten, ‘whatsoever they shall speak when moved by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture.’ That is, even the words of a prophet speaking alone are surely of the Lord when he is moved.”

Rabbi Ben Azaryah said, “I am like a man of seventy years old, and yet I could not succeed in interpreting this scripture until Ben Zoma ex-plained it to me. ‘Moved by the Holy Ghost’ means the Prophet cannot remain the same, he must be moved to speak against his natural prejudice and inclinations. Only then are his words surely also the Lord’s words. Otherwise, the counsel is binding but the perfection uncertain.”

Rabbi Akiva then said, “What does the saying mean, that the Prophet will never lead the people astray? Is it not written, ‘all we like sheep have gone astray.’? ‘We’ is the people, ‘All we’—this includes the prophets. And it is also written, ‘The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!’ It is possible, then, for a Prophet, also, to break faith, for a Prophet, also, to fall.”

Teancum Singh answered, and said, “The Prophet can never lead the church away from the Lord because a Prophet can never escape the Lord. As it was in the days of Jonah, so it is in the last days: even a disobedient Prophet does not cease to be a Prophet, and even his rebellion is swallowed up into the purpose of Ha-Shem. A prophet is bound to the Lord, even cursed with Him: as it is written, ‘the burden of the word of the Lord.’

“God will forge every prophet into his Story.”
This exchange inspired by the Haggadah makes a terrific model for Mormon Sunday School, don't you think?

Also, it moves Razia Shah up my wish list.

I do want to complain about the no-prevpubbed one more time on my way out though. It's helpful to know provenance, just like with papyrus. To pick the first piece as an example, "Toward a Mormon Renaissance" was, I believe, first read aloud at a New Play Project event. Then, next, as an introduction to a book. I want to say it's appeared elsewhere since then, but memory fails. It seems to me that one purpose of a book like this is to mark the past clearly---a shortcut for potential readers, students, scholars, researchers, who may walk this way.

Anyway, rightly or not, it really got on my nerves.
a few weeks


053) Future Day Saints by Matt Page, finished July 19

I had imagined a straightforward comicbook story, but that's not what I got at all. Instead, I got a mix of 80s comics and advertisements for 80s toys and a story from The Friend (heeey!) and bits from an activity book for long car rides and something like those old Parker Brother books from the 80s and a retelling of a classic hymn and---

It's so much more than a straightforward story.

I highly recommend you pick up your own.



054) Animal Man: The Hunt by Jeff Lemire & Travel Foreman, finished July 22

After reading Morrison's Animal Man, I decided to see what Lemire did with the same paints and, deep into it, started to realize I had heard of the red and the green before...somewhere. Had I read the New 52's Swamp Thing? Maybe. But looking around, it appears I had already read volume four (this is volume one).

I think it's safe to say my reaction to volume one is much like my reaction to volume four.


055) Superman: Before Truth by Gene Luen Yank & John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson & Dean White, finished July 27

This book was put on hold by someone with a name similar to mine and so it was in the pickup pile the librarian delivered to me via covid protocols. I feel bad.

But if I'd known Gene Luen Yang was writing Superman, I probably would have picked it up intentionally. So there is that.

Although, under those circumstances, I probably would have been even more disappointed.

Not that this is bad. It's not. It's fine. But...that's all. And the volume ends such that the story never really gets started.

In this iteration, Jimmy's the only civilian to know Clark's secret identity, though Lois figures it out before the book is out---as does the rest of the world.

I think I might be a bit soured on superheros at the moment, to be honest. I keep thinking about systemic issues in our society and I can't see how superheros can be part of the solution. I'm ready for a radical recreation.

Can you think of a more likely candidate that Gene Luen Yang to write such a thing?


056) Castle Waiting: The Lucky Road by Linda Medley, finished August 1

Although I don't like reading comics aloud, there is one exception: excellent comics read to a child I want to get interested in longer narratives because I want a change from the nightly stack of picture books. Such is the case here. I saw Castle Waiting on the shelf and thought this might be the moment.

I've written about Castle Waiting before (this book, the next book---pictures at both links).

All my love holds true.

I really can't recommend these books enough. I'm so glad I was able to read this one to my three-year-old. Now I have to decide whether she gets Roller Girl or Bone next....
a week or more


July's movies (coming in hot and then stalling out)


After last month's one-a-day pace, July looked like it might double that. And then...I started spending ten-hour days working on my First Vision lecture and that was that.

Anyway, let's get started, shall we?

our dvd library
Beginners (2010)

It's been long enough since this came out that perhaps what I expected from it today is not what I would have expected from it then. Who can say.

So I was expecting a light-hearted sex comedy, father and son on parallel pursuits.

What I got was chronologically shuffled and infused with sadness---the trauma of layered emotional errors over generations.

Yet, this is a comedy. This is a story of sticking with love and hoping for more and pushing through.

Plus, they had the genius idea of giving the dog subtitles. Ends up that you can do that with subtlety and nuance, and pull in rewards.

In short, I think I might love this movie. Though I don't want to rush into anything.

The Zone (2011)

Ah. So this is why so many people hate mumblecore. This movie, perhaps, was supposed to be a movie-movie at some point (perhaps), but then it turns into a making-of a making-of masquerading as a movie. The plot itself I don't think I would have picked up on without the brief description I read. I thought the meta-elements would be interesting---The New Yorker promised!---but no. They were not.

And apparently this is the same gag the filmmaker has relied on time and time again. He just added another layer of meta this time in order for it to count as something new.

Not impressed.

Doesn't help that Kentucker Adler (whom I like from Sylvio and is part of why I clicked on this) looks so much like the other male lead that, at certain angles, they really can't be told apart.



I thought I was done, but I'm not. My irritation is not yet spent.

You can't tell in this film if the behind-the-scenes stuff is also scripted or if it is actually behind the scenes. Were it a good, interesting, challenging film, I would probably cry out, It's doesn't matter! That's not the point! But it's not, so all I can say is, Who cares?

In short, it's the kind of art most of us made in our teens and twenties when we confused easier with better and clever for intelligent and naked for daring and artistic. In this case, as in most such cases, they are not.

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Shaun of the Dead (2004)

We've now seen all of Edgar Wright's features! Time well spent, each of them.

I love how he uses the camera and sound and editing to tell a joke. I know this isn't breaking news, but I appreciate it so much. And he had it right from the start.

I should admit I lessened the pleasure of the watch for my beloved because, alas, I am a screamer. And I tend to scream more often at joke jumpscares than horror jumpscares. But it didn't lessen my enjoyment any! Why should I be embarrassed for leting a movie win? It's not a contest.

Amazon Prime
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)

I kind of hoped this would make me want to run. It did not. In fact, when she shows up at marathon's beginning my stomach turned with the idea of ever showing up at such a place. But then I was surprised to find tears pouring down my face those last four miles.

Still don't want to run though.

But the movie did more and tried hard than I expected, and I fully anticipated to like it. Even if it was about running. So. Nice job, Brittany.

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Hot Rod (2007)

I liked it better than viewing #1 and I'm better prepared to say why this time.

First, Hot Rod comes out in the wake of Napoleon Dynamite and it makes a handful of very deliberate nods to that film. Without Napoleon, hard to say if Rod makes it to the screen. That said, they are fundamentally different movies.

Hot Rod isn't just about smalltown weirdos in a timewarp. Hot Rod is fundamentally, itself, a time warp. It's riddled with references and pastiches and commentary on multiple genres of '80s film. And while it has more emotional beats than, say, Airplane!, it is still diconnected from reality. It is, in other words, a movie about movies. While Napoleon Dynamite is a movie about people. And when it swings through a cliche, it's not mocking it, it's exploring the heart of that cliche---discovering why that moment became a cliche in the first place. Or, in other words, Napoleon Dynamite is a work a realism and Hot Rod is not.

Another distinction is Hot Rod is about adults and Napoleon is about kids. So while Napoleon celebrates innocence, Hot Rod nods at innocence, mocking it while innocence isn't looking.

In short, Hot Rod starts by claiming the mantle of Napoleon Dynamite, then goes on to do entirely different things. As someone who thinks Napoleon Dynamite is one of the great accomplishments in film of this century, that comparison made it hard for me to see Hot Rod for itself first go-round.

And what is it? It's a mess of jokes of all flavors and it's anxious to let you know it knows it's telling jokes. It is not, again, realism, any more than a knock-knock joke is realism. But beneath all the stupidity and bluster, Hot Rod has something worth saying and has found a medium to tell it in.

Now I need a BW/DR subscription so I can see what someone who's thought about it has to say.

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Jerry Maguire (1996)

Although it didn't take the path I expected it to get there (BECAUSE it didn't take that path?) I really liked this. I knew the famous lines of course (the only one I regret knowing ahead of time was "You had me at hello"), but I was crying through their reuniting.

It's almost 25 years old. It's an acknowledged classic. It's in conversation with films just before and just after it (A Few Good Men and About a Boy, respectively, are the two I'm thinking of) and it holds up. I'm glad to finally watch it and I look forward to someday watching it again.

A Ghost Story (2017)

I was led to believe I could not watch the pie scene with my children in the house. It was not that kind of scene at all. I understand why people were talking about it, thought, and why the way they were. It was ... a lot.

But trim the pie scene and trim the guy-pontificating scene and I think I really liked it. I'm not sure---it diverged from my expectations and so that's my first-viewing experience.

It's slow like Amour or Tree of Life (and doesn't care much about what the actors say, like that latter film), and it has interesting things to say about love and the dead like The Sixth Sense. It has a frame shaped like an old photograph and it does new things with time and ... I liked it. I did. It just was not the movie I expected.

I hope I watch it again.

borrowed screener dvd
A Hidden life (2019)

The movie ended a while ago. I have been reading about the aftermath of this great man's life. I've read about his wife and daughters. I've read of his hometown's rejection and embrace. And little things bring me to the verge of tears.

When I noticed that Terrence Malick had dedicated the film to his wife, I said to mine, it is a love story, and I choked up.

I tried to read the quotation from Middlemarch that ends the film aloud and I could barely get through it.

I'm typing now and soon I will not be able to see the screen.

A Hidden Life is much a cross between two of the best films I've seen, A Tree of Life and Silence. It asks many of the same questions as the latter, but implicitly, while utterly different, it is the same film as the former. I hadn't noticed how adjoined they are. With both films, it shares a sense of voiceover. Most of the words in this film are voiceover---second place would be that that is inaudible or in German. It's almost a silent film, the way the words matter less.

Every shot has the potential to become everlastingly iconic.

And this is a film both about words' power and lack of power. Their worth and their lack of worth. It connects to Nineteen Eighty-Four, in that way. And Franz is the most dangerous man. The man who must be killed. Because he reveals that evil prospers in the swamp of cowardice and cruelty and everyone who sees his quiet conviction is convicted by it.

Who can do the right thing?

Can any of us do it alone?

Will we?


This article was excellent and brought some more questions to mind.

Is there a video of Scorsese and Malick interviewing each other? There should be.

In Seventh Seal also there is a conversation with a fresco painter. How are these scenes connected?

How is a marriage more than a life? I felt that as I was watching the film, but this article forced me to think about it more deliberately.

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House of Dracula (1945)

This one's only an hour seven long, so I expected it to feel short and sillier. It didn't feel particularly short and it was less silly than its immediate predecessors. It's starts off suggesting Dracula will star in a Wolfman movie, but Dracula's real goals are...let's say murky. Then the Wolfman shows up (and Larry finally gets a happy ending!) and the Wolfman gets to be in a Wolfman movie, then there is a great twist and SOMEONE ELSE GETS TO STAR IN A WOLFMAN MOVIE!!!

So exciting.

Other bits of merit to this movie:
The violence in the final scene is probably the best violence in any of the movies in this set (which we have now seen all of), by which I mean it shocks, what matters to whom matters, it is effective storytelling (well, most of it) and it has thematic resonance.

Some of the villagers (notably the one who gets lines) have striking of the most striking visages in the series.

Another nice twist this film takes is swapping the sex and the ethics of its hunchback.

Larry Tabot isn't just released from his curse, he gets to be the hero. And the way he does is never underlined by an overexpository character.

The doctor/scientist character is something new in the series. You can see pieces of him in previous movies, but this might be the best execution (outside the first two films').
A demerit:
For a Frankenstein movie, the creature basically just makes cameos.
Random alsos:
I can't help but to wonder if some of the bits here helped inspire Twin Peak's Bob and the final scene of An American Werewolf in London.

The piano scene was funny, right? I mean---wasn't it?

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

I first saw this a decade or so ago at the insistence of the same brother who loves Brother Bear and I don't remember exactly what I thought but I do remember feeling bad that I couldn't be as enthused as he was. I don't know if the story is transparent of if I just remember it better than I would have guessed, but the identity reveals were all pretty obvious to me early on. And their obviousness meant that other character's inability to see them was a bit absurd. Plus, the time travel is incoherent. And it has some mildly sexist and homophobic jokes that must have expired by 2007.

That said, I do like the villain. The worldbuilding's pretty fun (though, unless I missed someone, there is exactly one person of color in the present and one in the future) and the chaos of the Robinson household is where the film really sings. And, weirdly, the final emotional payoff worked for me. I'm not sure how, but it did.

So maybe Meet the Robinsons is a qualfied good?

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New York Doll (2005)

I haven't seen this in a long, long time and it was great to break it out of the case and watch it again. The film forces me into so many contradictory roles as I evaluate Arthur here and Arthur there and Arthur there---not to mention the people in his different worlds crashing through his space in their many different ways.

I'm listening to the album New York Dolls as I write this and I still don't like it much. I mean---I guess I get it, but that's all I can say. And so every time I'm reminded how important and influential the Dolls were it's surprising. And impressive. And makes me realize, once again, how wrong I am about everything.

Unlike Arthur. He, at the time the film was made, had no need to be right. He's found the tao. I admire that.

Amazon Prime
The Hate U Give (2018)

I started the novel a few years ago but didn't get very far because it was in the same first-person YA-novel voice that John Green and Rainbow Rowell and 90% of all YA writers seem to be using now and I just couldn't take it. And I guess my experience with the movie, though better, was similar? It was a bit lazy at times (eg, when cellphones choose to go off, its hamfisted colorblindness dialogue) and stumbles at times into the bothsidesism it's railing against, but, over all, I think it's a great film for its target audience. This is the film to introduce kids to these issues.

Which is why we watched it.

The Young Men assigned it as homework (the ward will reimburse us our $3.99) and Friday they're sending pizza to all the boys and talking about the film and issues of systemic racism over Zoom. This is solid church work, I must say. And a film that makes its points pretty clearly and has young protagonists is obviously the way to go.

I'm glad they talked us into it. Blindspotting is harder to show to the two younger boys (that's a hard no from Lady Steed) and its times of levity may not work right with their inexperience.

I have other thoughts about actors it was nice to see again and about how a movie so young can seem both timely and already dated, but I think what matters here is this: be bold and show it to your kids as well, fellow white families.

Amazon Prime
Galaxy Quest (1999)

I've seen this once, maybe twice before, with my to-be father-in-law, the summer he became as much, twenty years ago. The exploding pig nearly killed me with hilarity. We rewinded it and watched it multiple times.

Since then, it's gone on to become a modern comedy classic and "one of the best" Trek films even though it isn't one, technically.

And how does it hold up, in lil ol me's opinion?

Well, I'm sorry to say I did not nearly die of hilarity this time, but the acting is stellar (I mean: this cast---Alan Rickman! Sigourney Weaver! Tony Shalhoub! Sam Rockwell!) and the effects have aged into pleasantly cheesy (rather than simply bad, which is always a possiblity); it nailed every cliche making them fresh again; it hits actual emotional highs and it provides honest and consistent laughs.

What more would anyone want from a modern comedy classic?

Fitzwilly (1967)

Preface for these remarks: I missed big chunks of the first half putting baby to bed.

I think I'm over fun and charming crime movies starring criminals who are good inside and so I'm supposed to hope they get away with everything? I think I am. I mean---Dick Van Dyke and Barbara Feldon are the leads and still, you know? I mean, the romance is not that much bigger a stretch than, say An Affair to Remember, but this happy-go-lucky criminality? I'm just over it. In part because the racket had been going on So Long. Detectives suck in New York City, I guess.

Which isn't to say the movie doesn't have merit. I like the retired priest, still devout and planning on hell, for instance.

If you like midcentury family-friendly nonsense, you could do worse.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

Me and the three-year-old sat down to watch this together and I laughed and laughed and each time I laughed she laughed and then asked me what is funny? I remembered it being very kid-friendly, but clearly there are waaay more jokes for people who can read and have a sense of comedy history and film literacy than for three-year-olds.

Every one else in the household was Too Good For It and didn't watch it with us. Not at first, anyway. More and more of them joined us. And now everyone wants to see it. You may see this movie on this list once more.

Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

I was not planning on watching this movie. I was looking up some other movie on JustWatch and it sent me to Tubi. But it wasn't on Tubi. It recommended this instead. And, for reasons unknown, I clicked on it. And then, hey, why not, watched it.

The youngest boy (with whomI've been watching the old Universal monster movies) watched the beginning and end with me and found it hilarious. And it is hilarious. It is dumb and it is silly but it succeeds at being funny, as it reels from one joke to the next with minimal regard for plot or logic.

The filming looks like video, it's way too bright, and the sound effects, though funny, are a lot.

The cast is great: Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley Jr., Carol Kane, Jeffre Jones, Geena Davis, Michael Richards---

I finally see why people think Jeff Goldblum is so sexy and Geena Davis---who has always been so beautiful---must have been early in her career because I've never seen so much of her breasts. I don't know how that outfit stayed on. A lot of tape?

Anyway, it's like one of the later Universal films because it's Transylvania it's mad doctor it's Larry [M]albot it's Frankenstein it's foreigners coming to town seeking truth it's hunchbacks it's a new vampire it's wine festival---but it doesn't take that heritage as seriously as, say, Young Frankenstein; it's just nutty, fullstop.

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