March, movies, march!


library dvd
My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Whenever a lawyer is being "entertaining" on television, My Cousin Vinnie starts trending on Twitter. Cf, the recent impeachment.

Now, I've seen My Cousin Vinnie---Lady Steed and I watched it early in our marriage. It was one of those movies from the Nineties that it seemed like we ought to watch. Marisa Tomei won her controversial Oscar this way, remember. Controversial not because she wasn't great but because comedy roles for twenty-somethings aren't supposed to sneak out a plurality win against the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson. Because she was great.

Pesci's great too, even if what the heck he's twenty years older than his fiance.

The other two names on the box---Ralph Macchio and Fred Gwynne---do solid work in bit roles.

I had so, so, so much fun watching this movie. I'm bright enough to notice a couple pieces that don't quite hold up to too-close scrutiny (notably Vinnie knowing some things before Mona Lisa figures them out), but the construction of the movie is tight and fun whether you're looking at it as a comedy or a courtroom drama or a tale of detection. It's just a good movie.

The fish-out-of-water stuff with our Italian Brooklynites adrift in rural Alabama manages to be largely fair to both sides in terms of how the ribbing is spread around. But while that's background and a source of the humor, the real source of the humor is that These Very Particular People are engaging with each other in their naturally particular ways. I loved it.

I really, really loved it. I had so much fun.

Amazon Prime
Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I quite like this movie. I'm more certain now than I was then, but I do feel it doesn't quite slice like the greatest Coen comedies. In that previous review I compared the meeting with the religious figures to the board meeting in Hudsucker Proxy, but it's not willing to push as hard. So, yes, this may be a matter of my personal taste, but it's the only taste I have.

That said, I do like the mix here, unlike any other mix. You have mixes of high and low, as in Lebowski; sincere and ironic religiosity as in Sincere Man; loving and cynical looks at the arts ala Llewlyn Davis or Barton Fink; wild crime that's better educated than Raising Arizona but not as nihilistic as Fargo. The large number of stars and sets are delightful and never quite too much, but watching just a couple minutes of cowboy picture make you glad Buster Scruggs came around.

But this much I knew before I even saw it the first time.

Anyway, it's this month's film-group film and I'm in charge so I'll be reading a lot about it and hopefully watching it again in the next four days. Perhaps my next write-up will have a different flavor!

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I just purchased Hail, Caesar! from Amazon, but this is now boycott-Amazon week in support of unionization and I'm all for that. So instead I did the second watch on this Vietnamese site hosted in Panama of questionable legality and inferior video quality. Sometimes we do things that are hard because they are right?

I'm happy to say the movie is revealing itself watch by watch. The jokes multiply and get funnier. The connections multiply. Both the ironies and the sincerities deepen.

I should have taken notes this go-round. I noticed so many new things and I doubt I will remember them....

library dvd
Rififi (1955)

I kept hearing about this movie. It showed up in a Criterion Closet video I was watching. The same day I saw an excerpt somewhere else. That's how it goes sometime.

The only thing I remembered when I finally sat down to watch it was a) crime and b) 30-minute-plus silent sequence.

In fact, that longest silent sequence was not the only one. As it began I was sure this was a heist movie and that's the sequence I'm talking about, but it occurs in the first half of the movie. There's a lot of movie left once the jewels have been lifted.

Truffaut called this the greatest noir ever made (though he didn't like the musical sequence) and I don't know what he means by that but I will say the sex and violence were much more on the surface than I expected. Unfortunately, I had to watch the movie split up so I didn't get the full effect, but it is well made. Unlike some old films (the original Ocean's 11, for instance) the heist has aged well, and the grim march of death and violence reminds me of all the Tarantino movies I haven't seen. I'll bet he loves this one.

Inside Out (2015)

Not sure what sequence of events led to THIS being the night the 4yrold gets introduced to this film but I was blessed to have her sit next to me and then, as it got sadder, onto my lap.

Me, I cried more or less all the way through.

Although it may speak loudest to parents I think, ultimately, it is a film that takes place in childhood that captures so much about adolescent---or at least some of the deepest emotions from adolescence that I still carry.

Were we all sad?

library dvd
Downsizing (2017)

Although I loved the trailer when it arrived, everytime I remembered it was an Alexander Payne movie, I wondered. Not because I don't like his movies (of the ones he's directed, I've seen The Passion of Martin, Election, About Schmidt, and The Descendants)---I do, but people jumping suddenly into science fiction deserve the skepticism they will receive.

And I suppose, as hard-science-fiction standards go, the film's a bit light---but this isn't a 700-page novel and, frankly, I like the slow burn and the hints as to the details of the world, how it works, and what problems will arise. (Plus, it's kind of fun to realize ten minutes after the movie ended that we just say 8000 years' worth of WD-40.)

And so, although this is a very funny movie, it's also thought-provoking. It provides a lot of questions for consideration and only a handful of answers. (We couldn't wait to discuss. We talked during this movie, and paused it to talk, far more than we normally would. It was bringing up questions about consumerism and classism and the environment and capitalism and politics and you name it that were too compelling to ignore.

I'm not going to lose sleep over what timber mini-Matt Damon's voice should have actually had. But the human questions just might hang around.

Couple other thoughts: Hong Chau was excellent. It really was funny. Some of the production design could have been pushed a bit further but overall it was interesting to look at. This is a world that could host many more stories. It's okay, though, that it won't.

And Should We Die (1966)

You can read about Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales a number of places, but perhaps this news article from a few years before the film is the most relevant to this review.

The film conflates their story with a miracle that saved some American-Mexican Saints further north. Which results in some funky dynamics.

Such as: Does God love white people more than brown people? The movie is trying very hard NOT to say this, but the whims of God can be weird and when things line up this way, there will be a subtext no matter how hard the filmmakers try to make it not so.

That said, for a low-budget melodrama, it does its era proud. It may not be one of the Great Midcentury Westers but it most certainly aquits itself. And it does not have any actors in brownface, which we are all relieved by.

The film makes what I think are deliberate efforts to tie Rafael and Vicente to Joseph and Hyrum---not just the jail and the martyrdom and the multiple mentions, but also the casting of Rafael, who is shot and angles and lighting that give him a very Joseph-like vibe and profile.

Among other little prizes nestled in the story are two recurring Zapatistas who follow in the Hidden Fortress tradition that will later bring us C3PO and R2-D2. And lets not miss the simultaneously fully sincere and cuttingly ironic use of "Come, Come Ye Saints."

But melodrama or not, it did arrive at some real emotions. I didn't really expect that. I watched much of it sped up and still it got to me. Most of the Mexican characters were played by amatures (with the notable exception of the baddest bad guy) and as a whole they aquited themselves very well. Props to the director for being brave to trust the face of Rafael's wife for that long, penultimate shot.

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Having watched An Affair to Remember, obviously we need to crank out The Dirty Dozen now in the name of gender equity. (Perhaps, thus, appropriately, the missus cried at the end but not me.) I'm not sure why this month, but why not this month? Besides, the Big O studies WWII for fun and is now taking a class. So now.

So it was pretty good I guess, but it's not likely to become the film I want to gather m'buds together to watch. It was a nice opportunity for the stars but also for the unknowns like this guy Donald Sutherland (doing his best Daniel Stern).

You either know the story or you don't need to. Historically, it's a film that sent us on the direction to modern violence. Telly Savalas plays a straight up serial-killer-to-be who commits an act of violence that kind of soured the whole movie for me.

It was 2+ hours and a good enough watch but...I'm honestly sure I'll remember it. Sorry, Tom Hanks.

library dvdb>
Jojo Rabbit (2019)

I'm looking forward to watching this again, now that I have all the tonal discordances lying ready in my brain. At present, I must admit it is my least favorite Taika Waititi film, but I wager that could change.

It's fun to watch the references pile up (although that's one of the distractions on first viewing). It's kind of the Nazi Moonrise Kingdom (further evidence Wes Anderson needs to give Sam Rockwell a job); it's got the ludicrous version of Indiana Jones's Toht; it makes deliberate reference to the Richard Lester style (and that sounds just like The Beatles because it is The Beatles); and... I forget. I had a couple others. If they come back, I'll mention them.

The movie does do a good job turning war into a children's crusade. And it gives us tragedy while keeping the exact nature of that tragedy below the surface until it is too late.

(People are walking around conversing, making it hard for me to keep my thoughts on the track all the way to the station.)

I also enjoyed how additional, subtle critiques of the Nazis appear here and there. And sometimes in contradictory (ie complex) ways. I'm thinking of the Sam Rockwell character again for instance.

Oh! The Great Dictator! Taika's Hitler is clearly influenced by Hynkel. That's another reference I noticed.

Amazon Prime
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)

I did not see the first Borat film. It never really interested me. It seems likely painful and probably unfair. I saw the rodeo scene for instance and I was skeptical that anyone understood what he was saying. I got the sense he took advantage of American niceness.

My faith in "American niceness" has taken some beating this year. When I see the lady write "Jews will not replace us" I have to wonder if she's equally willing to make a cake for a gay wedding. And if not, why she thinks that would be worse. And if so, if capitalism is her only motivation.

Anyway, everyone is right. Maria Bakalova makes this movie work as well as it does. Sure it did make me laugh, but I also paused and watched sped up. It's painful stuff. But Maria Bakalova makes it worthwhile. She creates a marvelous character. So much so that this interview made me emotional.

I suppose I have to weigh in on the Rudy stuff. He is a bit creepy but the footage backs up his I-was-just-tucking-in-my-shirt excuse. That said, why did he go into that room with her in the first place. Maybe he was just tucking in his shirt, but everything ancillary still makes him look pretty dang bad.
That said, the movie is quality satire. It hits deserving targets plenty hard. But it also reveals to us some true American heroes. I'm thinking of Jeanise Jones. I'm thinking of Judith Dim Evans and her friend.

Previous films watched


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










Some books, almost half of which are invisible


023) Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of You by Rachel Brian, finished March 11

Not sure how I heard of this (someone on Twitter, maybe?) but I threw it on hold and read it to the 4yrold and she took away the basic concepts, no problem.

Next up: I'm assigning each of her three brothers to read it to her. It should be good for them too.

three or four days or something

024) Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint, finished March 12

I've owned this book probably over a decade but I finally read it in preparation for an essay I'll be writing for SFRA (I think: official notifications come Monday [which is before I'm writing this but after I'll post it] but I've been led to believe I'm in). UPDATE: Notwithstanding the editor's hints, the ultimate decision was a no. I still look forward to the issue, but dang. I'd done a lot of reading and rereading and thinking and notetaking in preparation. Anyone want an essay?

It shares some interesting traits with the main novel I'll be considering (The Invisible Saint, to be reread next) but it's the contrasts that are most striking. So striking I'm thinking about adjusting the thrust of my essay to be more about these two books specifically.

The main character is Nick Holloway which I feel certain is a reference to Nick Carroway---although this Nick is even more shallow and flighty. This Nick does get to be the main character of his own narration yet he still remains almost as unseen. (There are some interesting comparisons to be made about Jordan and Alice and their differing relationships to honesty, but that's not the essay I have in front of me.)

Saint has skill. The chapter-one sex scene ranks among the hottest I've read and he can drag things out without boring us. He's clearly not a proper science-fiction writer, however, and the book has mistakes that should have been disappeared during editing. (Nick's description of his evolving relationship with revolving doors, for instance). What apparently impressed some reviewers was its attention to detail regarding the difficulties of being invisible (and Saint offers some opportunities to his invisible that H.G. Wells did not), his willingness to just forget other details for convenience will throw off regular scifi readers. What happened to all that invisible dirt, Saint?

Anyway, I marked a lot of stuff. Hope it comes in handy!

a small number of weeks

025) Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh, finished March 20

I've been reading Allie Brosh since before she had a book deal, and the stuff that appears in her first book was largely written first for the blog. And it shows. The physical version of her stories her damaged by the page-based format. With very few exceptions, that is not true of Solutions. The stories seem imagined with the pages in mind. And while there are occasional moments where panels should really be swapped (and maybe are in the ebook? if it scrolls?), Brosh has basically figured out pages and uses them now to effect.

Her art is excellent at conveying emotion and being humorous. She's refined her comic voice to a sharp edge. Which is necessary if she's going to tackle the extremely painful stories she tackles---the suicide of her sister, her own depression---things like that.

So much pathos fuels the comedy. I hope these books are healing. As the librarian and I said to each other when I picked this book up, we're glad she's alive.


026) The Invisible Saint by Curtis Taylor, finished March 25

I got the proposal rejection just after I finished the first chapter of this book which I love and which I have not read since at least 2007, when I started listing all my books read. I considered just not continuing, but I didn't want to risk having it tainted by bitter feelings. I enjoyed chapter one; I would read on.

I'm glad I did. The book has its flaws but I genuinely enjoy it. It would have been fun to really pick it apart, and, I have to say, the potential comparisons with Memoirs could have been legion. And part of what makes Saint better is how much shorter is. It doesn't get lost in minutiae and it's lead character's redemptive relationship isn't borderline abusive.

It's a simple pleasure. And simple pleasures have value.

a couple weeks

027) Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, finished March 25

I recently read about this book which somehow had never quite caught my attention before. It's the first big DC collaboration between Gaiman and McKean and its success led directly to Sandman. Seems like an important thing to read.

And it is indeed super-protoSandman. The Orchid herself has 80s rockstar makeup. The story delves into DC lore while casting it anew. It's morally complex and its violence is of the worst sort.

It is quite good. It does suggest the paths comics would take more than be those things itself, but it's more than an academic read. I enjoyed reading it. But it does make me look forward to the fuller freedom they are about to enjoy.

four days

books from this year

001) The Sun Has Burned My Skin: a modest paraphrase of solomon's song of songs by Adam S. Miller, finished January 3
002) You're a Pal, Snoopy by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 4
004) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished January 9
005) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished January 17
006) Shem in Zarahemla by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 19
007) iPlates: Zerin's Sacrifice by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 21
008) iPlates: Alma in the Wilderness by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 24
009) Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, finished January 27
010) Served edited by Theric Jepson, finished February 4
011) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, finished February 4
003) Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, finished January 6

012) Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, finished February 5
013) My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, finished February 15
014) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, finished February 16
015) Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, finished February 18
016) A Desolating Sickness: Stories of Pandemic edited by D.J. Butler, finished February 21
017) Nothing Very Important and other stories by Béla Petsco, finished February 22

018) Muppets Present "The Great Gatsby" by Ben Crew, finished February 24
Uncanny Avengers: Counter-Evolutionary by Rick Remender and Daniel Acuna, finished February 28
Guts by Raina Telgemeier, finished March 2
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by D. Manus Pinkwater, finished March 4
022) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeieir, finished March 5

final posts in this series from
2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012
2013 = 2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020


* the most recent post in this series *


The Muppets vs the Avengers
(vs anxiety vs a giant chicken vs ghosts)


018) Muppets Present "The Great Gatsby" by Ben Crew, finished February 24

Curious  as to what might happen, I gave my AP students a choice: they could research what people say about Gatsby on JSTOR or Reddit, and bring back their newly gained wisdom to class. In conversation, it came up that someone had written a Muppets-starring version now that it was in the public domain. Curious I looked it up. And you know what? It's really good.

It does drag a bit (Nick's VO and the on-set sequence at the end) but it has jokes that made me 100% literally laugh out loud and it solves most of the problems you can imagine arising from this combination. Plus: this is the first draft. Cut the guy some slack, huh?

Besides, the mid-denouement on-set sequence I was talking about before? Made me cry.

So when one of the week spots is still strong enough to leave me in tears, I think we can agree it's time to greenlight. 

one day

019) Uncanny Avengers: Counter-Evolutionary by Rick Remender and Daniel Acuna, finished February 28

I saw this series mentioned in a thing about Agatha Harkness and picked up the first issue and it was kind of everything that I find tiresome in superhero comics. Which is maybe good because it reminded me I'm only reading things I already own this year?

two night-reads

020) Guts by Raina Telgemeier, finished March 2

We finally made it to the third (and, so far, latest) volume of Telgemeier's memoirs of her childhood. This one is about the anxiety she suffers and her adventures with vomiting and therapy and other such things. I'll be selling it short here because I don't really want to get into it, but let me just say that all three books are excellent and it's no wonder she is the behemoth she is. It's no wonder kids love her.

maybe a week

021) The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by D. Manus Pinkwater, finished March 4

This is a classic work of Pinkwater. As absurd premise (boy loves giant chicken, giant chicken gets loose in Hoboken, panic ensues) treated with simplicity and heart and highly graphic black-and-white marker drawings. It's absurd and charming and ultimately kind. The baby was very worried about Henrietta as we read.

Incidentally, in terms of family history, this is the last book I read at bedtime to the previous child. We read the first chapter or two and then he finished it on his own after I left. And that was that.

 about twenty days? can that be right?

022) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeieir, finished March 5

So Raina does not only memoir but also fiction, as you may recall, but unlike her other novels this one is less strictly realistic. It deals with similar themes and emotions as her other books but this one straight up has ghosts wandering around.

Sugar skulls were in the air in 2016. A couple animated features were around the corner. And ol' Telgemeier was introducing sisters and parents and good neighbors and new friends to my wife's hometown.

(Not an exaggerration. That's her beach. That's her cypress grove. That's her headlands. That's her middle school. That's her hill home. And, less you think you're going crazy, the endnotes affirm. We took wedding photos in these locations.)

What I really liked about this book is how the addition of ghosts didn't change the lived-in reality I expect from a Telgemeier novel. Everything felt just as real as it always has. Her style of art and writing have always taken us inside her character's anxieties and blisses and (etc) and so upping the health ante to cystic fibrosis is no more surprising than the sudden appearance of actual ghosts.

I do have some thoughts about how and when the book got explicit about little sister's drive to meet ghosts, but they're not the sort of reservations worth making after a first read.

In short, another winner. She's five for five.

three days