October and a disturbing paucity of scary movies


Century 16 Hilltop
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

I really wanted to go see The Green Knight as my first movie back in theaters. Having missed that, maybe wait for The French Dispatch or Dune? But definitely not a Marvel movie. Yet here we are. A student will be spoiling it in her Monday presenation during the class both the Big O and I are in, so emergency theater-go.

Shang-Chi has a sister who has a haircut like Evangeline Lilly and is given a fancy suit the same color as Evangeline Lilly's. This can't be accidental, right? So all I can figure is that the lesson Marvel has learned—and which they are signaling here—is that they've learned that it's important to choose which female character will get her name in the title next time, like, for sure, everybody.

The villain was good. Stellar actor, for one thing. But I've noticed that the best villains in Marvel movies have a family connection that matters to good guys in the plot. The Vulture, Killmonger—even Thanos, who became a good villain before his end.

Simu Liu was very good at points but he also had some of the worst line readings I've seen in a Marvel film. Which I'm especially surprised by because this is an excellent director we're talking about here.

All actions movies are morally wobbly but this one is particularly so because it attempts to address morality directly which just puts into contrast how immoral the rest of the movie actually is. No further comments since the film's still new.

Realized as I saw the swaying bamboo that my kids have not seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Which is a terrible realization to have just before Michelle Yeoh shows up. They haven't seen Speed either but, then, neither have I. Guess we should.

Anyway, it's 12.44am. I hope you weren't hoping for coherence.

our dvd
Gentlemen Broncos (2009)

This summer I saw a new piece that, perhaps, will finally begin the reassessment of Gentleman Broncos. Shortly thereafter I had a conversation with Richard Brody, whose paragraph on the movie at the time was the only positive notice I saw. (He has also written this and this.)

I'm rewatching it now because I am finally beginning my much delayed begin for an essay due on the ninth. (It is currently the fourth.) I don't know if I'll succeed, but it's not too late to be impossible. Wish me luck!

our dvd
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

With the right class, this deliriously weird movie can prompt endless conversations. One must wonder if James Whale isn't a genius for that reason alone.

our dvd
Hero (2002)

It's been . . . over fifteen years since I've seen this movie?

The first time I saw it was one of a handful of movie-watching experiences that changed how I watched movies. hero taught me that movies can be poetry. I discovered a new way to see and to consume film. The colors, the magical movement, the layered stories—none of it was realism or simple fiction. It was poetry.

Without Hero, maybe Tree of Life doesn't top last decade's list?

This watch was different. It couldn't blow me away in the same manner; I'd seen it before and my breadth of movie-watching is much greater. It's still good, but it felt like a piece of propoganda to me. The director/producer/cowriter claims he had no political intentions, but I feel like some shine through all the same. Although it probbably makes Xi Jinping uncomfortable, I imagine he's glad it's out there.

I remembered the movie being much longer than its 100-minute runtime. And it did feel longer than that. But it's not. It's 100 minutes.

Does make me eager to show the kids Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and maybe catch up with some from that wuxia-in-America era that I missed, like House of the Flying Daggers. Or maybe just some 80s Jackie Chan? That'ld be good too.

Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021)

So. Hooray for corporate synergy. This feels engineered to inspire people to comb it for every reference to the Muppets and the Haunted Mansion. It overrelies on clumsy metahumor. It reminds me of the errors Muppets in Space made. It's a bit confused whether the Muppets are themselves or playing parts (ala Muppet Christmas Carol). Plus, the way it's shot, you have to wonder if it's not a 3D ride waiting to happen.

That said, I did enjoy moments a great deal and it was wonderful to listen to Dave Goelz play Gonzo. I was wondering who was do Gonzo so well then the closing credits revealed he was the last of the originals still standing. I am very glad to have him.

Anyway. It doesn't make me think a Muppet rennaissance is on the way. But if they keep making stuff, the right people will get a chance eventually. Right? Right?

Scotland, Pa. (2001) × 2

After my screening, I tried it out on my sophomores. And although they argued whether it's a good Macbeth, they liked it for itself either way.

I agree. I've seen it three times now. And it's pretty good.

And, for my money, it's a good Macbeth.

(Fun fact: Macbeth is not like, say, MacDuff or MacDonald. No one was ever Son of Beth. I should point out real quick that Wikipedia disagrees on this point, but I'm convinced by my reading in the sources that the spelling just changed over time to look like other Scottish names. I might even, in fact, be related to everyone's favorite Apocrypha characters. I told you my facts were fun.)

Anyway, if you show it to students, know there is language and that I blocked part of the projected image at two points. Also there's a lot of fine 70s music. (If you like Bad Company. Also: a song written by a Shakespeare.)

I was interested to read that the movie is, in part, an intentional rebellion against other filmed Shakespeare of its era. Knowing that, it makes sense. But whatever their motivations in putting it all together, it works.

Mr. Boogedy (1986)

For a few years, my sister, who hated scary movies, insisted we watch this and its sequel every year for Halloween.

Having just rewatched it . . . I can't really explain it.

Sure, it's a Disney-safe horror movie—ghosts and such—but it's . . . pretty so-so in every way. Nice to see Mr Addams ham it up, and the gags and stuff can appeal to kids, but it's aged into pretty dry fare. I laughed mostly out of nostalgia. I don't think the kids will be clamoring for the twice-as-long sequel. (Though that does sport Eugene Levy, so I'm kinda interested, to be honest.)

our dvd
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

It was never my favorite Monty Python product and, honestly, now I'm kind of over it. I still laugh, sure, but I can't help feeling I could be doing (watching) something else.

Like: Flying Circus. I would really love to watch Flying Circus straight through. Wouldn't that be something?

library dvd
Macbeth (2015) × 2

Sometimes a movie is wonderful and terrible at the same time. This is one of these. It's a visual marvel. I would be hard pressed to tell you of a movie that uses the manic and the still to equal effect. The use of motion slowed and sped—a chiaroscuro of motion—is intensely wonderful. And the style of its frame and the intelligence of its edit? Just amazing. Nonpareil.

But it slices and dices the text in ways that are sometimes brilliant and, as I have now seen the movie several times, equal parts insightful and nonsensical. Why were the lines describing the death of young Siward applied to Macbeth? It makes no sense.

But it's hard to begrudge a film that does so many things well, even if you have to know Macbeth already to follow this thing. The acting and editing are "good" but you're not understanding this stuff if it's your first exposure.

As an aside, this movie was funded, in part, by Amazon Studios. Yet you can't watch it on Prime anymore. Not even for additional money. Streaming exclusively on HBO Max.

The Bat (1959)

Well, this is a terrible movie. Consdering it's an adaptation of a play which had already been adapted for the screen twice (itself based on a novel with a second genetic line of adaptations), you might think the kinks had been worked out. In fact, I suspect several were introduced here.

As I understand the broadway Bat, it was much more constrained, Mousetrap-style—one night, one house. Even though this film starts earlier and takes us to other locations, the dialogue and staging are straight-from-the-stage hokey. And the film cheats so, so much. The final reveal of the murderer's identity is a hefty cheat, for instance.

Some good performances (Vincent Price in particular) don't redeem it.

The best part, however, is the design of the Bat character. That was cool. I imagine it is more or less what the character had been previous to 1959, but shall we check? 1926? (yikes) 1930? (I'm not sure whethr one or two is more right? either way, it's halfway there)

Previous films watched


















Two books—one finished, one un


So two books came into my orbit recently with similar premises. In Seveneves, the moon is dying and thus will kill us. And in Project Hail Mary, the sun is dying and thus will kill us. These books are respectively by Neal Stephenson who has been in the news recently because Mark Zuckerberg is actively creating the dystopia he imagined in his second-only-to-Neuromancer cyberpunk novel which I wasn't all that impressed by, and Andy Weir who has been everyone's favorite scrappy little near-future/hard-scifi nerd novelist ever since The Martian arrived.

I picked up Seveneves because a trio of people told me it was worth reading. And three is kinda too many to ignore. So I asked the library for it and jumped right in. And I was making great progress. When a book breaks 700 pages, you have to stay with it or the library's gonna want it back before it's done, you know?

Anyway, son #2 really wanted to read it and kept sneaking it away so I told him to just take it and read it. He's cranking out books-read faster than I am (and I had another long library book to read anyway).

When I thought he was finished, I picked it back up. He'd lost my bookmark so I spent a long time looking for where I'd left off. Then I read a few pages and he took it back to read the last hundred pages.

The thing is. I wasn't liking it that much.

The concept of the disaster was terrific—the moon breaking apart and becoming (eventually) a life-ending rain of death. But I read hundreds of pages and never got to that. Hundreds of pages of expository dialogue and Stephenson adding paragraphs to make sure we get to enjoy all the research he'd enjoyed. Which is find. It's like The Work and the Glory without endnotes. But that alone is not what I read fiction for.

The biggest draws for me are character and language, though plot can carry me through when those stagger. Seveneves's characters were interesting in their moments but I never grew to care about them between readings. The language is pedestrian. And the plot TOOK FOREVER.

So I took it back to the library. I couldn't be bothered to find my place again.

I'm bummed because I was looking forward to the destruction of the planet and the return of humans in 10,000 years. I've no doubt those would have been thilling passages, both viscerally and intellectually—and maybe if my bookmark had still been in place I would have skimmed forward—but figuring out where I left off was more work that I was willing to put in. Which is a bummer, because I still want to know what this is.

Also kicking around the house was Hail Mary (actually Project Hail Mary but the cover makes that Project easy to miss and it's a catchier title without it). Son #1 made son #2 and their mother read The Martian (he tried to make me, but I could never talk myself into it; I didn't doubt it was a fun read and a commercial concept, but the first page did not inspire confidence in language or character). Son #2 got Weir's third book from the library before our monthlong summer vacation and, I thought, finished it before we left. But no. So he got it back from the library and I decided to declare Martian bankruptcy and read this one instead. The cover copy was intriguing.

Although I don't think Weir's a terrific writer, I do think he has real prowess, conceptually. For instance, "The Egg" is not beautifully written, but it has stuck with me far more than just about any other afterlife fiction. And it's been made into So Many short film. So many. He has power.

Hail Mary commits most of the same sins as Seveneves (characters waxing expository in their dialogue when they should not, for instance) but it at least starts us off in media res. Granted, that means we end up with almost half the book in flashback, but he has layered reasons for that which I suppose count as "clever" or at least reasonable.

My biggest complaint with Hail Mary though is how predictable it is. I don't try to outsmart texts, but the ultimate solution to the dimming sun was obvious to me almost immediately. The idea that all the great minds of Earth wouldn't shoot off into space with this hypothesis already leading the back is ludicrous. Maybe one of the pleasures of (if you will) "popular fiction" is that the reader gets to feel smarter than the characters, but I don't take much pleasure in that.

Still, Project Hail Mary delivers one of my all-time favorite aliens. And not everything needs to be Great Literature. Have fun. Eat a potato chip.

In the end, I read about the same number of words from both Stephenson and Weir. They weighed about the same in terms of fact-sharing but one weighed more in terms of dumb fun. And thus the same amount of reading from two books results in one book added to unfinished books and one added to this year's books-read list:

109) Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, finished on October 29 

 about a week   




Last night I dreamed I had died and was reincarnated. I was the third child in a family of five children. We were in the candy distribution business. My older brothers hated sorting the candy as it came in, reboxing it for eventual sale. But I remembered being me (the now me, the me-writing-this-post me) and found it all new and fascinating.

Of course, no one else remembered their past lives. Whether that was because they had forgotten them or because they never had one, who can say. The only person I could talk to was not a person at all, but our golden lab who was, himself, a reincarnation of my beloved childhood dog. We knew each other from before. It was what kept us certain that our memories were real.

Everyone else treated it as an imaginative phase. And I couldn't help but wonder if I wouldn't be better off embracing my new life rather than spending so much effort, talking to a dog, trying to hold on to what was gone. Real, but gone.

As I aged into older childhood, my memory of being me grew confused. Like, I realized, a dream upon awaking.

And one day I resented being sent to sort boxes of candy and it was clear: whether I would embrace it or not, this new life was my life now.  Its demands and details were more than enough to fill my attention.

The me I was (the me I am now) was lost to time, another faded memory, an entire life forgotten in all but a few floating details that could have come from anywhere.

And my dog is dead. Or perhaps just too old to run when called. Who can tell. I have candy to sort. But someday I will leave this place and make my own life and I will never touch a box of candy ever, ever again.


“Look! A monster breakfast bans romance! Young fry of treachery!”


101) The Glass Looker by Mark Elwood, finished on October 3

Perhaps I knew this when I purchased the book from the author, but I was surprised to get not only the book, but also a couple bookmarks and a numbered print as well. Moves the $35 I spent from a tad pricey to a fine deal indeed.

The concept of the book (and the coming series) is that Elwood collects all the contemporary accounts of Joseph Smith's early years (or, more accurately, accounts by contemporaries) and puts them in chronological order without judging their likely accuracy or how pleasant (or not) they are. So you end up with a Joseph Smith who is the strongest and hardest working kid and a Joseph Smith who is so crippled he's essentially farm-worthless. An honest child and a conniving child. And lots of seerstones.

At times, certain pieces of art were too pencilly for my tastes, but in the end I was won over. The art is effective. Which is necessary for a comic to work—it can't be all words and research. It's the marriage of art and word that makes comics comics. I look forward to watching the art refine in coming issues.

Speaking as someone who has above average knowledge of Mormon arcana, this book is still filled with stuff I didn't know. Sally Chase, for instance. How did I not know about her?

This book seems like a must-have-around for any collection. It touches on any interest in lit, comics, and history. A fascinating work.

threeish reads

102) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness after Siobhan Dowd, finished on October 6

Dowd began this story featuring terminal cancer while she had terminal cancer. The cancer got her before she'd written very much and Ness accepted the task of taking her concept and beginning and making it so.

I had no idea this was a book when the movie came out in 2016, five years after the book. And when I found the book in a Little Free Library, from the look of it (shape and Jim Kay's illustrations) I assumed it was a midcentury classic.

Behold, my ignorance!

Anyway, it's a good book. And it moved me. And I suspect the movie will be even better. I look forward to finding out. But I suspect that the strengths of film will work particularly well here if executed from boldness, which, from reviews I read at the time, I suspect will be the case.

Anyway: boy, monster, mother. Plus supporting characters.

a few days

103) Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket, finished on October 12

Do you realize it has been 22 years since the first Lemony Snicket book was released? That's a lot of years.

I bring it up because whether Poison for Breakfast is a betrayal of the Lemony Snicket brand or its ultimate expression depends a lot on who you are.

If you started with his first book, new when you were in first grade, you are 29 years old today. That's a lot of years.

But have you grown in those years? I suspect you have. But have your desires of Mr Snicket also grown in these years? Or do you yet desire from him maudlin tales of woeful (but scrappy) orphans?

As I began this book, just before it first claimed to be a work of philosophy, I realized it reminded me of another book I had read recently, by which I mean six years ago. So perhaps not so recently after all.

Anyway, do you reread for pleasure or read for new challenges? Do you want a work of philosophy? An essentially plotless book? Man wakes up. A mystery arises. He fails to solve it and fails to solve it. Until he discovers that the solution to the mystery is that there is no mystery. Or, more accurately, that it is not more mysterious than everything else. Which is a lot mysterious.

At first, I felt we were spinning in the sand and getting nowhere. But by the end, I was won over. This is a book of negative epistemology. Not to say that reading it will make you more susceptible to QAnon—quite the opposite in fact—but that it will inspire more humility in your own epistemology.

Also, if you are like me, you will also laugh a goodly number of times. And the notes charm as well.

Have some poison for breakfast.

going on a week

104) Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, Ryan Estrada; finished on October 13

I really wanted to like this book. And I suppose I did, sort of. It was a frustrating read, though. It really needed another good edit before going to press. It has a few problems with the storytelling which get in the way of more fully appreciating the history and the characters living it.

That said, largely, it worked. One emotional beat hit well.

I just...wish it had been better.

afternoon and early night

105) Romance or The End. by Elaine Kahn, finished on October 14

Here we have poetry of sex (of the cumming variety as well as the metaphorical variety) and violence (usually of the sexual kind [by which I mean physical, sure, but especially the emotional variety]). It is largely excellent although some of the poems work in the collection but could not stand alone. So if that annoys you, now you know.

There's a spread near the end of the book that struck me as a sort of thesis for the whole—even before I realized it coincides with the collection's title (click to enlarge):

since october fourth

106 & 107) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished on October 18

It was a slow read as not every day is Macbeth day but we made it through.

Some class reads are great. Some are terrible. This was subpar but not abysmal.

Hard to get conversation going in masks. Even with microphones.

about three weeks

Previously . . . . :


And a low-price sex act makes one hundred


095) Deeper Thoughts by Jack Handey, finished on September 23

The book is good. But, you know, so is YouTube.

not long at all

096) Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert, finished on September 23

On the one hand, this is absolutely the trend of YA fantasy comics novels of the last decade-plus—the sort of thing born of Bone and kept popular by the likes of Kazu Kibuishi. On the other hand, this is one of my favorites.

The girl is a nervous homebody battling an intense anxiety (with one of the best visual representations I've ever seen); the Galdurian is an honestly optimistic force of simple happiness, an adventurer brave and intelligent—experienced without losing his innocence.

Anyway, adventure (in the form of a wandered-off grandfather with a suddenly mysterious past) arrives for the girl and she and the Galdurian take off together.

Meanwhile, Skeksis-like creatures are awakening from their mythic slumber. The exposition is subtle and riveting and by the end of this book we have a pretty good sense of the worries that lie ahead of us. I didn't intend to read book one of a new series but darn it I did. And you know what? It was good. I hope Kid A remember to check out #2 next spring.

an evening

097) Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, finished on September 28

I can see why this book has garnered lots of accolades. It's crafted well. It does interesting things with it's one-color scheme. It celebrates a totally normal queerness. I think this latter detail is why the book is set in Berkeley. (Neither the writer nor the illustrator are from Berkeley and it shows.)

Like a lot of YA fiction, it seems to be anxious to check as many topical boxes as possible and, like a lot of YA fiction, it overrelies on some storytelling techniques to make sure readers don't miss certain points. It sorta bums me out because I think that readers (even YA readers who, frankly, are good readers) can get the points without the flashing arrows. That said, I suppose the book's intention is to model queer storytelling. So judging it by the standards of First! I suppose it's illuminated paths that readers might otherwise not see.

So I'm not saying anything about it was wrong, just it's aimed at a different audience. Which, when you think about it, is pretty obvious.

under an hour

098) My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones, finished on September 29

It's been a while since I read (mostly) Jones's first novel, which I picked up when it was still quite new and thoroughly remaindered. I feel like I remember wondering, when I called it quits, if he had written other works since then. The answer was yes. About a dozen, and another since. Good for him.

I can't speak to all the books between and his first, but I can still see the same hand at work. Even thought that first book was a mindthrottling work of magic realism in the Southwest Indian vein and this one is a slasher that doesn't reveal any supernatural cards until a brief moment near the end. This is a slasher that is also a metaslasher, ala Scream, in that characters in the book see the genre they are inhabiting and navigating the terrain by that knowledge.

I don't know if anyone's made a list of all the movies that are cited by name during the course of this novel, but it would be a long list. Jones could clearly put together a top-100 slasher-movies poster and still have to leave things off.

There are things about the novel I liked and things I was less happy about but, in the end, I like all the attempts, whether they succeeded or not.

Stephen King said (either in Danse Macabre or On Writing) that while scary is scarier when you don't see the monster, it's cowardice not to show it anyway. While the attempt to increase the scare may usually fail, it's a chance that's necessary to take for the greatest scares. And Jones takes many such chances in the novels final couple hundred pages. And his hit rate would do any Major Leaguer proud.

This is not Jones's first novel to follow the slasher formula which I (and probably you) associate most completely with the movies. I haven't seen many movies that qualify as slashers (off the top of my head, the only two I remember being mentioned in the book are Psycho and Jaws, both of which I love and both of which demand qualifications). Fun story, once upon a time, I had a dream that I was in a slasher film but every time it was about to descend into blood and death, it couldn't. Over the course of the dream, I realized that because I had never seen Michael or Jason or Freddy at work, my dreamscape could not do away with me after their manner. Haha, monsters!

Anyway, Jones has written at least four novels he considers slashers, and most of his output is horror of one type or another.

Another personal aside, the story takes place in an Idaho town next to the Caribou–Targhee National Forest. I spent the first decade of my life in an Idaho town next to the Caribou–Targhee National Forest. It's next to a dam and reservoir. So's my hometown, though not quite so closely. Thanks to one paragraph on page 252, I learned it was in Fremont County. I don't think I've ever visited Fremont County and Jones isn't from Idaho either. A spot of googling and I decided that any more attempts to make the setting match reality would be no bueno.

Which I should have known once the protagonist, thinking about escaping to the city, considers places like Boise (okay) and Idaho City (oh?).

Another thing I find interesting about this book is that while it embraces everything that movie's get wrong about high school, it finds a balance between the too-negative and the too-positive, arriving somewhere that feels almost right.

I can't I believe I read this long book so quickly. What a solid way to start off the Halloween season!

Maybe next year will be the year to finally read the book of his that's been on my wishlist for years (and which I don't think I had ever connected to that first novel?).

5 of 6 days

099) Anne of Green Gables by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler, finished on September 29

So this is a beautiful book. I'm more than a bit ashamed to never have read Lucy Maud Montgomery's original novel (it's my sister's lifelong favorite) but I did see the 80s miniseries multiple times. I do have an emotional connection to the story.

I mean—otherwise, would I have wept all the way through this book as I read it aloud to my four-year-old? No, right? I don't know.

Anyway, I need to read the novel.

two afternoons over a week apart

100) The Grownup by Gillian Flynn, finished on October 1

In the back of my mind, I knew the next book I finished would be my 100th and I wondered if I should aim to make it a memorable choice. For instance, I'll shortly be finishing The Glass Looker, which certainly seems a suitable Thericonian choice. But then I picked up this slim volume and that was that. I mean---it's basically a hardbound short story. It does have a nice cover:

 (It's cooler in person.)

Anyway, it was written for an anthology and won a pretty serious award and I found it at a library sale while I was on lunch for jury duty.

It's such a cool little thing, I thought I might give it to son #3 for his twelfth birthday, but having seen Gone Girl, I wasn't sure this was a good idea. I flipped through it for a while before I saw the phrase "hand job" which convinced me it wasn't for him.

Could have saved myself some time by reading the first paragraph:

I didn't stop giving hand jobs because I wasn't good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.


Anyway, what we have here is a take on Turn of the Screw. And when I realized this, about halfway through, I started to get disappointed. I still might be? But not really. It's maybe have the length of the James novella I'm guessing? And so it doesn't turn quite so many times. But when it turns, it turns fast and it keeps turning. James stopped turning the screw at the end, we just can't tell where it stopped. Flynn's screw's still a-turning when the story comes to its end.

So yeah. I liked it.

two days


A comment on 100s:

I just went and looked. 100s of years past don't seem to show a particular pattern. 2008: Rosemary's Baby. 2009: a Batman-family graphic novel. 2013: Y: The Last Man. 2014: Paradise Vue, which I was JUST TALKING ABOUT with some AML people. 2015: A not-great spooky novel for kids. 2017: A graphic novel I didn't care for. 2018: A wordless graphic novel I loved. 2019: Classic OSC. 2020: My favorite recent YA novel.

Nine 100s, which includes four arguable works of horror, three works of Mormon literature, five graphic novels (including the heavily illustrated kids' novel). So possibly what you would get by randomly sampling? Ask your local pollster.

Previously . . . . :