May We Movie? (yes we may)


Not very many movies this month, alas. But quality should count for something. Or at least average age?

library dvd
The Incredible Hulk (2008)

So I have now seen all extant Marvel movies at least once. I can see why this one was deliberately cut out of the family tree, but it's really not that terrible. It's kind of a mess with a handful of excellent pieces and some clunky pieces melded together with too-much music and some weird editing choices. But the cinematography and some of the directorial and editing choices were as lovely as anything in the MCU and, frankly, making more of an effort to be lovely.

It's kind of awful to watch this movie at this point, though, because it leaves so many interesting threads unresolved. Threads that, frankly, it's pretty bold for the MCU to ignore. Or would be if the MCU wasn't totally ignoring this movie.

Anyway, I liked the first Iron Man movie back in 2008 but when Hulk came out a month later I wasn't really interested. I never liked Hulk as a character. I made an exception to watch the Ang Lee movie and it was visually cool (until the illegible final fight), but Hulk and Thor (the next two characters to carry movies) were nonstarters for me. I darn near escaped getting brought back into the movies. But the The Avengers became the first movie that really became a big thing upon its release at the high school so, for cultural literacy, I made time for it. And now here we are. I've seen them all. And now I have to live with them just dropping a Tim Blake Nelson supervillain. Not cool, MCU. Not cool.

library dvd
Parasite (2019)

It couldn't leave me as speechless as last time, but last week I watched several analyses of the film and seeing the film constructed, scene by scene, rather than being amazed by it moment by moment was quite the different experience.

And it really just makes me want to watch more 봉준호 movies---whether ones I've seen before or the ones I've yet to see. Thank goodness for an era where fulfilling such a hope is possible. Ah, the future. So nice to live here.

our dvd
My Favorite Wife (1940)

So we picked this off the shelf as a movie we had long owned but never watched. Lady Steed stands by that but I'm convinced we watched it before. But it hardly mattered. Seen it before or not, we watched and we enjoyed.

The set-up: A woman has been drowned, lost at sea, for seven years. Her husband has her declared dead the same day he marries anew. The same day she arrives back on dry land. Hijinks ensue.

It's a flawed movie. The second wife needs to be awful for it to work as set up, but mostly we feel sorry for her. And Cary Grant goes from charming and sympathetic to awful (this is intentional) to Santa having sex (really!). It's the sort of movie that will fall apart with too much scrutiny, but is much fun to watch if you just watch it.

That said, and no offense, Irene Dunne, but Myrna Loy would have been ever better.

And special shoutout to Granville Bates as the judge. He was great.

So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

The internet's been bringing up this movie nonstop for months and tonight Lady Steed and I finally sat down to watch it, see if maybe it's kid-friendly.

(Probably not. Partially because sex, partially because not that funny.)

Weird thing about this movie: what makes it so great is the FINAL act. I know waaay many movies that fall apart in the final act---this one finally really comes to life then.

Now, it's possible the first two thirds (four fifths?) worked better in the Nineties because this movie is all kinds of Nineties. Mike Meyers schtick that no leading man should do (his bit role makes more sense) and bizarro-world young San Francisco ala Friends in New York.

Somehow, even though it's not that big of a surprise, I completely forgot about the twist. But whether I remembered or not, the end of the movie was so fun, why would it have mattered?

But maybe the film is best for the great performances in small roles. I really need to watch every Alan Arkin comedy, for instance. And in even smaller roles I enjoyed Stephen Wright and Charles Grodin. I had no idea any of these men were in the movie. And it was weirdly right to be surprised by Charles Grodin on the day he died. R.I.P.

our dvd
The Maltese Falcon (1941)

This is another movie I thought I hadn't seen before but almost definitely have. But, unlike My Favorite Wife, which is a lightweight, this is one of the Great Films, a True American Classic. And I suppose it's possible I just know the clips well enough that the whole film feels familiar. And that may be right. There were some significant characters that weren't familiar at all. But I don't know. I just don't know.

Anyway, Sam Spade is a great character. It's fun to watch Bogie and Lorre and Greenstreet shuffled and redealt from Casablanca, and the conlusion really is very satisfactory. And not just because one Humphrey Bogart namedrops my hometown.

The Big O felt obliged to study for Calculus and Lady Steed fell asleep and so I may get to watch this again real soon. I won't mind. In fact, I look forward to the pleasure of piecing the whole thing together.

High Noon (1952)

I picked out five or six movies on Prime for number-one son to choose from and he picked the oldest. And he did not regret it.

It's been so long since I'd seen it I didn't know how it ended. Oh, I remembered the basic shape of the path to the end, but I wasn't sure how it got there. And I know I really liked it last time I saw it, but I'm heartbroken for Grace Kelly. I think maybe I feel her sacrifice more this time.

That John Wayne both hated this movie and wished he was in it is about all you need to understand American masculinity, I think.

Perhaps because I was worried about whether or not the Big O would like it, I did find the beginning a bit slow and the music a bit too much, but neither opinion survived the movie. In fact, I'm mighty curious in hearing this.

our dvd
Idiocracy (2006)

It's been a long time since I've seen this. I'm guessing long enough that this'll be the first time it makes one of these lists, though I'm too lazy to check. Which may not bode well....

Anyway, the movie is still funny. Lady Steed and I debated whether it is funnier now or more painful now than it was in the beforetimes. Hard to say. She got caught up in some that-wouldn't-happens but this movie makes it easy for me to not think about such things.

In our aftertimes, some of the opening jokes that felt mean at last viewing feel more reasonable now. Aftertimes will do that to you, I suppose.

our dvd
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The Big O picked this out of a pile of suggestions (after we rejected his #1 and #2, Interstellar and Das Boot for potentially taking us past midnight) and, I'm very pleased to say, he loved it. Which is the only appropriate response to O Brother.

I will always love this movie but, I will admit, one of my biggest takeaways was how much I want to watch Sullivan's Travels again. That has to be one of my all-time favorite inter-film conversations.

The shape of the screenplay is a marvel. Whenever I see it, I think this—this—is the movie I want to write. The way characters are introduced and returned to never fails to impress.

Previous films watched


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










Three books with enough commentary for ten


049) A Book of Lamentations by James Goldberg, finished on May 23

James had a productive 2020. I haven't picked up everything he did yet, but I wanted to start with this one because the friendly-to-ecstatic reviews it was receiving online made it seem like the book of the moment, the book I needed now.

And I get why people love it. It is absolutely a book for right now. 2020 was a year of multitude pains seen with new clarity and these poems speak to that. I marked many poems as excellent and as speaking to the me of now.

I heard secondhand from a reviewer who read many more 2020 collections than I have that many of the books that came out last year didn't feel fully sculpted. Rather, they felt rushed---like the poets had a theme and a moment and rushed the books out. More than half of the 2020 collections I've read in whole or in part are deserving of this criticism, A Book of Lamentation included.

James told me a couple Octobers ago that he would rather write a poem for every idea he has than craft a perfect poem for only a few of them. I don't know that this strategy is incorrect. An author can't guess which works will still matter a generation later, so why not flood the space? Even with less quality control, this book is studded with gems and some of the lesser poems still contain brilliant insights. I'm not going to say his strategy is wrong. Could this book meant as much if it dropped just in time for Christmas 2025?

James speaks of the things that matter.

As an aside, let me note he does not speak alone. He has invited a handful of other poets and artists to participate in this volume. One of James's arts is community. It's a good one to pursue.

almost six months

050) How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, finished on May 25

Permit a digression?

Last summer, Lady Steed and I watched Hot Rod. I forget where the dvd came from, but she wanted to see it and I, knowing a BW/DR essay* was awaiting me, was up for it. I liked it much more and some months into my BW/DR subscription suddenly remembered I had a Hot Rod essay to read and got on it.

I liked that essay. It got me thinking about a lot of things and I instantly put this book on hold at the library as a must-read.

When the book arrived, I started reading it almost immediately---but it took me weeks to remember why I had put it on hold.

I suspect I am better at doing nothing than the average American but I by no means think I am nothinging enough. And Odell's book is an excellent couple hundred pages at exploring the whys and the hows and the whats of nothing, It has moments of utter transcendence. But it can also be a bit of a slog. Since I read the book without internet access, walking to work or taking my daughter to the park, some pieces I couldn't quite decipher. I hope as Odell continues to write, she leans more into the friendly aspect of her voice rather than the jargon pit she clearly has a second home in. I suspect this is a side effect of how wide read she is (a high percentage of this book is quotation) in this very specific niche of thought, but it, at times, did leave me behind.

That said, I highly recommend this book. You will feel wiser and ready to connect more with "life itself---nothing less and nothing more, as if there could be more" (204).

My big regret is in not owning the book. I wish I could have underlined and dogeared and revisited in ways only ownership allows. That said, I did do (don't tell) some minor dogearing. Here are some stuff I thought would be worth looking at once more before returning the book and that work well enough out of context (this is irony as you will know after you've read How to Do Nothing yourself):

. . . what passes for sustained attention is actually a series of successive efforts to bring attention back to the same thing, considering it again and again with unwavering consistency. (113)

We experience the externalities of the attention economy in little drips, so we tend to describe them with words of mild bemusement like "annoying" or "distracting." But this is a grave misreading of their nature. In the short term, distractions can keep us from doing the things we want to do. In the longer, term, however, they can accumulated and keep us from living the lives we want to live, or, even worse, undermine our capacities for reflection and self-regulation, making it harder, in the words of Harry Frankfurt, to "want what we want to want." Thus there are deep ethical implications lurking here for freedom, wellbeing, and even the integrity of the self. (quoting James Williams, 114)

. . . at its most successful, an algorithmic "honing in" would seem to incrementally entomb me as an ever-more stable image of what I like and why. It certainly makes sense from a business point of view. When the language of advertising and personal branding enjoins you to "be yourself," what it really means is "be more yourself," where "yourself" is a consistent and recognizable pattern of habits, desires, and drives that can be more easily advertised to and appropriated, like units of capital. In fact, I don't know what a personal brand is other than a reliable, unchanging pattern of snap judgments . . .

That seems like enough.

To end, how about the one quotation from this book I've already quoted half a dozen times and intend to quote a hundred more, from John Cage:

In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all. (95)

over a month

051) We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, finished on May 26

On this cover of the book (which is very similar to mine---same art---but a later design), the pufferer claims that this is the most influential science-fiction classic of the century. And in case the person picking up this paperback is skeptical that a book they've never heard of by some Russian they've never heard of could be more influential than, I don't know, Clarke or Asimov, we see a blurb noting that it "led the way" to Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-four.

Which is impressive but undersells the facts. Both Huxley and Orwell were directly influenced by this novel which they each read. And let's not forget that Nineteen Eight-four was directly in communication with Brave New World as well.

But We is where is started.

Fun side quotation from Vonnegut re his first novel: "I cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Eugene Zamiatin's We."

I also want to bring up another book which I've never heard was inspired be We but obviously 100% was: Ayn Rand's Anthem.

So here we have three novels that I have taught multiple times to many students and opposite we have their parent. Who takes most after their shared progenitor? Well...it depends how you weight things. Surface level it's more Brave New World than anything else. Shiny perfect world, funkily scientific freelove, distant future, assigned lifelong roles. But wait, I hear you say. Those last two also apply to Anthem! So they do. Plus, like Anthem, the characters are named things like D-503 or Equality 7-2521.

We also shares its greatest weakness with Anthem. These two Russian-penned novels rely on a first-person narrator (conceit being this is a record kept by the narrator) but the nature of the narration frequently strains credulity. Both writers want access to the mass of allusions available in our world but which should not exist for the narrators of their novels. So their constantly slipping them in with excuses and it's kind of embarrassing, frankly. Brave New World solves this problem by introducing a Shakespeare-reading savage and Nineteen Eighty-four fixes the problem by making our world in the recent past, allowing the main character to vaguely remember things and for evidence of allusion-rich materials to still have echoes on the edges of society.

Nineteen Eighty-four also gets DNA from We in the sense of an always-watching oppressive government (although the Benefactor is more like Anthem's World Council or Brave New World's Mustapha Mond). There's even a character like O'Brien, though, twist!, he is part of the Brotherhood! Nineteen Eight-four also lifted the bullet---one of the most powerful bookenders in modern lit---from a paragraph before the end of We.

The end of We is echoed in all three books' very different endings.

Is anyone keeping score?

Anyway, it's a short novel and most certainly worth a read if you're interested in the genre. It may not be the strongest of the four but it does hold its own.

a couple months

Previously . . . . :


T is for . . . a whole lotta things, actually


043) T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton, finished May 14

We see here a return to an experiment she introduced in S, alternating points of view. Of course, that's standard procedure in thrillers but it is a serious break from the first-person, written-reports conceit of the alphabet novels. In this one in particular there is no way to justify the other p-o-v chapters as reconstructions. It's just fiction. And because of the larger novelscape in which it arrives, it's almost meta.

Of course, I'm thinking about this more than the average duck. When they were coming out, and presumably mostly read by people who read lots of contemporary mystery fiction, the shift might not have even been felt.

The villain today is a sociopath who reminds me of Cathy Ames. There are many significant differences between them, but the cold use of others is strikingly akin. (The East of Eden film was namedropped in A, fwiw.)

In other respects, the novels seem to have stagnated. I had expected the Kinsey's family element to become a major part of the series as time went on, but it now seems completely dropped. the books are constrained in time and subject matter, but it's been a while since any major developments on this front. I don't see her bringing it back anymore, which I find disappointing.

One exciting aspect of this was it's double climaxes. We had what felt like a book-ending climax and then, ten pages later, we had another. How about that?

And the subplot---I realize I'm posting a lot of SPOILERS today---resolved to a child molester who was treated with far more sympathy that I expected.

Really, this volume was a good one for bit characters. And I thought my fear of the death of Henry might finally come to pass, but he got away. So phew.

Final bonus, she introduced me to two California painters I was unfamiliar with: John Gamble and William Wendt. I appreciate that, Sue. 

over a month

045) Sweet Tooth – Volume 3: Animal Armies by Jeff Lemire, all finished May 22
It's been over ten years since I was first wowed by Sweet Tooth but the trailer for the new Netflix show was the impetus needed to finally finish them. They're all published now, so no more excuses.

So I went to the library's online catalogue and immediately got confused. I put one of each title on hold, which meant a one, a two, another two, and a three. When they arrived, the first two were much thinner than the latter two. Two completely different publishing schemes. But between the four books I had all the original issues except #12, which falls between the skinny two and the fat two. So I went to Hoopla and checked out number three of the first set of collections.

Anyway, it's all explained on Wikipedia if you're interested.

When I first read Sweet Tooth, the first two collections were all that existed. Those twelve issues were Lemire's original contract.

They were also the first time I'd seen his inks colored in a traditional comics way. It works fine but Lemire's inks have such visceral power I do like his work better with less CMY. But it is the right choice for the way the story is told and drawn.

It's funny, picking up a pandemic book here at the end of our own (much kinder) pandemic. It's still a fantasy---and of course this one has so little in common with our own, any judgy feelings I may have irrelevant---but I don't think I'll read worldenders the same anymore.

So I'll pick up a few chapters into my second second volume and see you there!
 all late one morning

046) Sweet Tooth Deluxe Edition – Volume 2 by Jeff Lemire, finished May 22
047) Sweet Tooth Deluxe Edition – Volume 3 by Jeff Lemire, finished May 23

Sweet Tooth is not just a fun read, it is emotionally potent and it has important things to say.

The sort of thrills a movie gives? Sweet Tooth provides those. When the hockey buddy says let's roll out? I was as thrilled as I've ever been in any medium. And the final sequence is moving both emotionally and spiritually.

The art is great. In some flashbacks and dream-sequences we get more Lermirey watercolor colors. A historical sequence at the beginning of book three three is drawn by someone else but it works great. No problem.

But I can't overstate how much I love Lemire's line. Albeit in pretty much entirely opposite ways from another line I love, Craig Thompson.

In the end, the old world ends and a new, wiser world takes its place. For a story filled with such violence and ugliness, Sweet Tooth ultimately is about goodness and beauty and kindness and, perhaps, even innocence.

Highly recommended.

an afternoon and a night and one more afternoon for the author interview

Previously . . . . :


bitty betty Books!


 037) The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne, finished April 21

Early in quarantine, on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to try the baby out on Pooh. It wasn't a great success. For a long time she held a grudge. But eventually we returned to it, now and then—sometimes in great marathons, sometimes in single paragraphs.

Meanwhile, bedtime became chapter-book central—but Pooh continued on slowly, slowly.

These books are terrific. I love reading them. Even at this pace.

She liked it okay.

like all of coronatimes

038) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished April 22

First, fun fact no one will care about before we get started, I just learned that Mary Adrian was a pen name for one Mary Eleanor Penn. 

(Was that not fun?)

Anyway, this is an enormously important book to me, personally, to my childhood. I talked about this at some length back in 2011 so I won't repeat myself, but I loved it. I loved it.

This time, it was the little girl's turn. Every night, after books and prayer, she asks me to tell a story from my childhood. And one time I told her about The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard and she was immediately captivated. We had to finish Stuart Little first, but it had to be our next book. And so it was. And we rushed through it!

Every night was exciting, absolutely captivating. And every day she would tell her mother about mysterious sounds and amazing discoveries and whatever whatevers.

The book is far from a classic. Hardly anyone as ever heard of it. It's only easy to get a copy because no one else wants one. And yet—

It's terrific.

Reading it this time, I was fascinated by aspects of technique I don't remember noticing before. Example: the kids are lost in the desert for a significant portion of the book. They are in serious danger!

Anyway, that's all I have to say. All that and sorry for the watermark on the cover. There isn't a better image online and I don't want to pay Photobucket money to fix mine. Nor do I feel like rescanning it just now. I apologize.

postscript: just discovered the book is available in near-identical form (title's changed, at least one character has a different name)

under a week

039) The Garden of Enid—Volume One by Scott Hales, finished May 2

I wasn't so sure about reading this to the child (books with her are all I seem to be finishing lately?) and sure, most of the jokes are over her heard, but she's getting into Enid as a character and the talking CTR ring is Hil Ar I Ous.

Strong case to be made that this is MoLit's best comic so far. It's easily top five and probably top three.

sunday monday tuesday sunday

040) Tiny Writings by Danny Nelson, finished May 5

Something I must make absolutely clear before we go any further is that you must buy this book. You must. It is truly excellent and there is no way you will ever get your hands on it unless you buy it. Also, you should act now because Danny has a habit of suddenly removing his work from availability. Not books, so much, but I don't trust him. His ugly-duckling series was one of the most marvelous things I've read and it's not available now. I don't think it ever will be again.

I'm not saying this just because Danny's my friend, though he is. And not just because his poem "Creation" is so great that after making its debut in The Fob Bible it was chosen by the editors of both Fire in the Pasture and Dove Song for inclusion there as well, making it Peculiar Pages' most revisited work and with zero complaints.

What makes me mad is that Danny is one of our great talents but he's too dang reserved. He does most of his writing in small bursts for very private audiences which are then, sometimes, published in books with nearly no fanfare which hardly anyone will ever read.


The genesis of this book was a list of words, each of which became the title of a piece of flash fiction. Thus, there are fifty-two such short-shorts (one for each week of the year) plus thirty-one more (for each day of any month you like) which thirty-one include the nine originally written as proof of concept. And while a couple are jokey and another couple have a p-o-v-violating throwaway line at the end and a couple more delve into a genre without 300% confidence and while there are a handful of dumb copyediting errors that shouldn't have made it into print, those few errors do not change the fact that this is easily the best single-author (or, for that matter, multi-author) flash collection I have ever read. No contest. It doesn't matter what world Danny enters or how long he stays there, he peoples it with fully living souls engaged in important conversations and actions. Almost without exception, these stories are not small excerpts from a longer work you'll wish you could read—no, they are utterly satisfying and complete works, all on their own.

The stamina required to write these eighty-three stories is staggering. Orson Scott Card famously said that writing a short story is just as much work as a novel in that both require you to create a world entire. While that's an obvious exaggerration his point is a good one. And, let me repeat, Danny just did this eighty-three blanketyblankin times.

Ignoring shipping, it's the same price both morally and immorally, a mere nine ninety-nine. It's the perfect too-late-to-read read. It's the Mrs Winston of books with weird covers.

a couple weeks

041) Whispering Death! by R.A. Christmas, finished May 6

Bob heard that I was reviewing his previous collection in Dialogue and reached out to see if I would blurb his latest work. I said yes although the review's since come out and who knows how he feels now.

Happily, I like this one much more. I'm not sure if he's actually getting better or if I'm just getting better at reading him but, regardless, I thought this collection was, you know, good.
It has two primary threads. One is the names-changed autobiographical account of Hank---mostly with his wife June but also exploring her other wives and June's absence, following her death. The second is further poems about the god Dog, a polygamous monotheo, and his son, First Pup, and their many worlds to be watched over and saved. In Leaves of Sass, the Dog poems felt like tired jokes to me. But in Whispering Death! their wit is genuinely funny and paired with a weariness that makes anything silly about the poems part of their holy point.

Christmas is in his eighties. He's outlived plenty of the world he grew up in, from people to words to sodas, and part of what this collection does so well is show how the old don't quite fit in. They say the human body replaces every atom every seven years. Ol' Hanks' one of the few atoms left and he doesn't recognize the body as well as once he did. (The poems on geriatric sex nearly move this from subtext to text.)

At moments, a couple poems reveal a near maga sensibility, but the speaker in these poems is trying, even if he knows his ultimate success will come with his death:

But Hank knows that to finally
end racism everybody his age
(eighty-one) probably had to
die. That's his white story. 

But this distance and the chaos of the journey that brought him to it also grants him the ability to see clearly our failings as well. Read "Rameumptom Rebooted" and try to feel innocent, oh Saint.

Note that, as implied, my copy was provided by the author in exchange for a blurb which will say some of the same things you see here. The book itself is not yet released but will be soon. Christmas's books are available exclusively through Lulu. 

maybe two week

042) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, finished May 9

I'm not sure I've laughed out loud reading a play this much before. Certainly not in a very, very long time. It's utter madness and, as with the last time I spent real time with a Shakespeare comedy, I can't understand why it hasn't been turned into fine animation. Animation is the natural home for these plays. Can you imagine?

Anyway, I'm excited to spend time with it with my students the rest of the month. I expect them to queer it every which way. Should be fun.

from thursday

Previously . . . . :