The Films of November,
such as they were


As You Like It (1978)

Helen Mirren, ten years after her famous stage run as Rosalind, picks up the role again.

I don't know if I agree with her interpretation? I mean, it's fine, but I want a Rosalind who's a little less sighy and dreamy, you know?

Also, the p a c i n g is pretty slow given the medium.

our dvd
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Not an ideal viewing. Half the movie I was in the kitchen, only hearing it. A ten-minute segment kept replaying for some reason. The last third I missed entirely. And the whole thing was the obviously insufficient English dub.

If I hadn't seen it many times I never would have known what was going on.

(Maybe I still didn't?)

Even so. I love the matter-of-factness of this movie. It's not the flashiest of Miyazaki's movies but that very lack of flash might be what makes it so easy to see the core of his films: Seeing the people in them. Just really, really seeing this thirteen-year-old girl. And, thus, allowing us to see her, too.

Flora & Ulysses (2021)

I liked this even more the second time.* I just happily embraced it as a joyful and obvious piece of family entertainment. Even with the gross corporate synergy (which does, I'll admit, lead to a couple great jokes), it's a piece of pop that works on the level of the great live-action Disney movies of the '60s and '70s.

We watched it because the four-year-old wanted to rewatch it. Her memory was very shaky but I had convinced the youngest older brother some months ago to give it a try so it happened. The next bigger brother abandoned the watch (biggest brother wasn't home) but that's because he was never paying attention in the first place.

Even something this easy to climb can't be climbed if you're playing Smash Bros. Pay attention, people.

library dvd
Masaan (2015)

The title translates as Crematorium which, yeah. The title doesn't really work in English.

My favorite thing about this movie might be the music. It has a great personality but it doesn't force its way to the front of the viewing experience. Apparently the lyrics are good as well (they were written by the screenwriter and picked up at least one award) but I'm not qualified to talk about that

Basically, this is a melodrama. It's a couple of stories---one begins at its turn to sadness, the other takes that turn most of the way through the movie---that should give you the feels. But the screenplay's restraint and the excellent acting raise it to a higher level. In clumsier hands, this could easily have turned into an inadvertant comedy, but instead it's a lovely little poem about love and loss and what comes next. Eventually. Eventually.

Anywya, I really liked it. I think Lady Steed didn't buy the primary romance, but hey---it makes more sense than Rosalind and Orlando!*

(* see As You Like It, above)

Century 16 Hilltop
Eternals (2021)

I didn't have high expectations for this movie a month ago. It looked entertainging but messy. My Chloé Zhao interest was still homed in on Nomadland. But then, just before it came out, I started reading early buzz calling it a Terence Malick superhero movie and other indirect descriptions that peaked my interest. Then the reviews came in substantially less enthusiastic. And then there was an opportunity to see a movie in theaters and this is what the boys went with.

And I'm sorry to say that my original expectations were more accurate. I still liked it fine but it didn't recreate the superhero genre as I'd been hoping.

And now I'm going to make some specific observations, some of which may be indirectly spoilery, so consider yourself warned.

Lea McHugh is so great. I was actually wondering if they'd found a thirty-year-old who looked twelve to play the role. This girl has a future. And her face is so interesting—in ten years, she'll be Hollywood's Anya Taylor-Joy.

The kids thought Kumail Nanjiani was hilarious while I thought his hilarity was grossly underused. But then I'm more familiar with his body of work. That's the difference.

Twitter was abuzz with Chloé saying she loved Zach Snyder's take on Superman and that Ikarus was her Superman. But his face and hair reminded me more of Homelander which made it hard to accept him as Superman. That myth has already been corrupted.

I was glad to have watched Masaan and discussed it with our film group just before watching Eternals simply because we took a quick trip to the Gupta dynasty (which name is used in Masaan to signal status) and even got to see a vaguely Hindu cremation. (The Bollywood stuff, however, was more Billu.)

I started wondering halfway through which Earth we are on. The multiverse may already be corrupting our ability to care. So many Earths. Is Tom Holland even on this one?

Then Thor came out over a decade ago I was like, Wulp! That's enough Marvel for me! The mythological/cosmological/mystical parts of Marvel had never really appealed to me. And now it's looking that that will be the bulk of the MCU for the next decade.

They'd better get better at this.

our dvd
Bottle Rocket (1996)

Son #2 really wanted to see this as the pandemic broke open. He asked and he asked and we never let him. And now we finally pulled it out when he was the only kid home and he'd forgotten wanting to watch it. He did enjoy it but there's probably a lesson in here somewhere.

Anyway, it's still a good movie. The similarity to the Hesses is clearer here, I think because it's still early and Wes Anderson hasn't totally diverged into his more extreme selfness.

This time I was hyperaware of the threat of violence throughout the movie. So many times where this could have become a bloodbath.

I also don't remember hearing Anthony's shrink telling him he doesn't have to save everyone before. And that's the emotional climax of the film—where Anthony lets Degnan do the saving. Even though that's pretty buried, it still works nicely.

The fun thing about any Anderson movie is the details you get to uncover before. Even if they're details you've probably uncovered every single time. Like the jumpsuits.

Out of Liberty (2019)

As predicted, I liked it better than last time. So many interesting choices in this film. Making Porter Rockwell a comic character, for instance. The use of sound and score are contemporary and remake our expectations. The entire focus of the thing.

I wouldn't call it a masterpiece or anything, but I think it stands up well to the other great and recent defamiliarizer of Church history, Jane and Emma. As a pair, they force us to reimagine scenes we think we know too well to think about. And that's a good thing.

library dvd
Sisters (1972)

Since watching the De Palma documentary, I've been trying to watch more De Palma. It's been slow going. Even with the added impetus from Pauline Kael, I'd still only added Phantom of the Paradise to my watchlist. Then I read a a recent BR/DW article and it made me put Sisters on hold at the library. (Rather, it made me put Sisters on hold first and then I decided I'd better watch it before I get to The Fury or Blow Out, which are the two from that era I most hope to be impressed by, thank you Pauline Kael.)

Anyway, one of the things I wanted to see what his use of split-screen which was indeed smooth and accomplished. So that was cool.

Also, I wanted to tasted the Hitchcockianness. And I most certainly did. Sisters's bouquet has hints of Read Window, Psycho, and Spellbound, while not really being any of those. So that was great too.

The hypnosis scene was one of the better ones I've seen but did go on rather long. Still. It did set up the conclusion nicely.

The denemount, however, was wacky. Although I delighted to see Charles Durning pre-Coens.

In the end, however, the movie was just good. It would have been vastly better if it hadn't engaged in a big cheat with the first murder.

In the end, it just didn't shake me. And it certainly didn't live up to this intense billing:

Actually, let me zoom in for you....

library dvd
Beetlejuice (1988)

I first say this movie well after it came out, when I was a senior in high school. Having grown up watching the cartoon on Saturdays, the movie was a bit bewildering. The relationships between the characters were different and the actual protagonists were complete introductions. So I couldn't really enjoy it.

But now over twenty years have passed. And although I did watch a couple episodes of the cartoon this afternoon (they do not hold up), that didn't prevent me from visiting the movie on its own terms. And it's good. In fact, much better than the cartoon. Which is not good.

Anyway, it's charming and kind of dumb. And the only Dune movie I have, to date, seen.

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

Simu Liu is a good looking dude and maybe it's not fair to place him next to Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung and then complain that he doesn't act so good, but this is an expensive movie filled with top-tier talent and . . . Simu Liu doesn't act so good. He's competent in the dramatic scenes (usually) and competent in the comedic scenes (usually) but he's terrible at transitioning. He's not skilled enough for ambiguity or complexity or changing gears.

But you know who is good at all those things? Awkwafina. And so that's one more comparison that makes the movie's star look bad.

Do you think she ever regrets getting stuck with that nom de rap? Do you suppose she'll ever follow The Rock's example and transition from Awkwafina to Nora "Awkwafina" Lum to Nora Lum?

One last note. The most brilliant thing about Iron Man 3 was making Ben Kingsley the bad guy and then not the bad guy. Trevor is an amazing comic creation and all the more incredible because who in all the universes would hire SIR BEN KINGSLEY to play a total dope? Amazing.

our dvd

About a Boy (2002)

The stupid MCU has rotted our kids' ability to be excited about just about any other kind of movie. Last year, intend as I might, we didn't fit this into our Christmas slate. This year, it comes first. First, I say!

Note: The kids say it is not a Christmas movie.

Regardless, it's my favorite Christmas movie.

I find it so beautiful and so exquisitely made. It's so well edited and scored and acted and all the pieces fit together so, so well. I love it.
And the kids did too, so all is well.

library dvd
The Amazing Spider-man (2012)

This arriving only five years after Spider-Man 3 was too soon. After the bad press, I hadn't even seen Spider-man 3 and I still wasn't ready. By the time Spidey hit the MCU, it was okay. And introducing him in a non-Spider-man movie probably helped.

Anyway, this is a deeply mediocre movie. Almost everything about it is bad. Even for a comic-book movie, the science is terrible. The villain barely makes sense. Multiple aspects (eg, the voice-in-head) are heavily derivitive of the Raimi films. They absolutely wasted an American treasure and one of the biggest movie stars in the world. The only thing that works okay is the Peter/Gwen thing.

Honestly, I was still uninterested in the movie, even though I like Andrew Garfield and I like Emma Stone and the rest of the cast, though I did not remember this, has wild potential. This is not the first time I've gotten it from the library. And the only reason I checked it out again is because these villains (and possibly Andrew Garfield?) are showing up in the MCU and, ugh, you know I'll end up seeing it, sooner or later. It's inevitable. So we watched it. Yay?

At least now, I don't have to wonder if I'm obliged anymore.

An Honest Liar (2014) × 2

Although kind of tangential to the conspiracy unit I do with sophomores, the conversations it can lead to are among the most productive we hold.

It is a little depressing though to realize that people like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff are still around squeezing benjamins out of the gullible. Doesn't really make you feel great about the world, does it?

Previous films watched














118) Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, finished on November 26

Teaching Frankenstein for the umpteenth time this year, I was startled by a new experience. A student came to class rattled, emotionally wounded, by the De Lacey's casual anti-Islamic sentiments. This anti-Turkish portion of the book is short and really just a convenient excuse for certain bits of plot and character. We were able to incorporate it into our understanding of the novel and what it's larger aims might be, but I left the experience uncertain how no other Muslim student had ever called out this scene before.

(Incidentally, although it works well, thematically, in Frankenstein, I do think "Islamophobia" was a blindspot of Mary Shelley's. There's more of it [and worse of it] in The Last Man.)

Anyway, this girl asked me to write a letter of rec for her college apps and I decided to incorporate this experience into her letter. I decided to pull out the fun fact that Frankenstein is the most-taught work of fiction in American universities, then thought I might find it one syllabi at the university I was writing.

Instead, I was distracted by finding this.

I shared the link with her and she had bought and read the book before I was even twenty pages into it. (My local library had a copy.)

Anyway, I've now finished it. And it was good.

Basically, a guy (just a guy) finds pieces of bombing victims and puts them together until he has full body. A soul, also displaced by a car bomb, finds the body and brings it to life. This living thing then sets about avenging each piece of itself.

In the course of the novel, we pass through many, many point-of-view characters.But the Whatitsname, only indirectly, by listening to a recording of him telling his story.

(That choice, incidentally, felt like the most direct nod to Shelley, perhaps even more than the creature's existence itself.)

Reading this novel was certainly "good for me" in that it helped demolish my single story of wartorn Iraq, and I enjoyed my time spent with the characters. But for some reason I can't quite explain to myself, I was never pulled into the story. I always felt distant from them. I don't know if it was the (frankly, rather boring) plot or the fiddlings with chronology or the framing choice which made everyone slightly less real (although I think it was intended to have the opposite effect?), but in the end, it became a book I finish because it's a library book. If I owned it, instead of saying four weeks in the next line, it would probably say four years.

four weeks

119) Clockwork Curandera, Volume I: The Witch Owl Parliament by David Bowles & Raúl The Third, finished on November 26

This comic is part of the burgeoning tradition of American fantasy, my favorite of which has been the recent Witchy series. This one takes place in fictional nations around our world's Mexico/Texas border. It has a lot of steampunk and traditional magic and so on and so forth.

The Kickstarter left me rather uncertain, but it did say it was "steampunk graphic novel reimagining of Frankenstein set in colonial Mexico," and how could I ignore that? So I bought it and now I've read it. And I'm afraid all my worries came true.

The art is cool, with retro flourishes from multiple eras and styles. But aspects (the use of accent color, for instance) don't seem to have any purpose—they just look cool. And it's given an oldtimey paper background. But it's just the couple sheets of oldtimey paper repeated over and over. Plus, so much exposition explaining things—I get why this is a comic, but I think the world and the story likely would have been better served by a novel.

The Frankenstein aspect is more Branagh than Shelley: our hero is killed in the opening pages and her brother, an alchemist, brings her back to life. Her sudden transition into an abomination makes things more complicated (allegedly, everyone says that other people don't like alchemy/homosexuality/shapeshifting/certainmagics but every authority figure given a chance in the book works hard to show that they are cool with it).

Ultimately, it's just trying to do too many things, and they don't fit comfortably in a book this short, only a small percentage of which is actually words.

Not surprisingly, you don't have to look far for someone to disagree with me (example) and I suspect the book may work better for younger readings. I'll hand it off to my 12yrold who thinks it looks cool and see what he thinks.

four days

Previously . . . . :


I heard an Axe whizz — when I died —


I heard an Axe whizz — when I died —
And then — my Head — fell on the ground
I jumped and screamed and ran around
As turkey blood spilled on the Ground

Then I fell into a heap
They cut me up — and ate my meat
I hope you understand me well —
Hey, all you pilgrims? Go to hell! 


originally published November 22, 2005


“Tired and Poor”


If you pay close attention to my blogroll (which I doubt), you may already know know Brinkwater from his blog of the same name. Brinkwater is an old friend of mine from his time in gradschool. He and I are online just enough and in just enough of the same places to have maintained our friendship, which is great. So many friendships blow away like dry sand.

Among other things, he and his wife each submitted work to Served. This previous working relationship is relevant because earlier this month, as I was looking at old hymns of mine for submission to a BYU-Idaho thing, I found one that didn't seem right to submit. But there really isn't a forum for ironic hymns, so I demoted it to joke and posted it to Twitter.

Where Brinkwater saw it and immediately composed music. One thing led to another and it went from demo to working recording to longer recording with instrumental portion to it can be put online as a single.

 It's a good melody. I could say it's adjacent to something else but why don't you just listen to it yourself?

It's now available on Spotify/Apple/Amazon.

Feel free to perform it at your own worship services. (Click to enlarge.)


And celebrate Christmas with Brinkwater, while you're at it!


As you like it—whether that is religion, disease, prehistory, motherhood, or good common sense


108) The Book of Mormon, finished on October 19

Busy adolescents, sure, but is it actually true that six years have passed since we last finished this book as a family? Really? Egad.

I'm pretty sure we started over for Come, Follow Me, but STILL.


110) As You Like It by William Shakespeare, finished on November 8

I know this is supposed to be (at least one of) the best comedie(s), but I didn't love it. Reading the essay at the end of the book, I see my impressions weren't crazy. The essayist agrees that there's a big gap in the plot. But then she goes on to talk about all the many things that are happening and suddenly it was more fun. Sometimes, it's nice to have a guide.

friday and monday

111) Premonition by Michael Lewis, finished on November 8

In The Fifth Risk, Lewis showed how the Trump Administration demolished the United States Government's ability to do science.

In this sequel/prequel, he shows that the problem was endemic before Trump and his goons showed up. But that the best people were fighting both before and during covid, trying to make the system work.

In short, we should have lost our faith in the CDC looong before 2020 and remade it. We didn't. We still haven't. I don't know if we can.

The epilogue, which is supposed to be a bittersweet moment of heroism, is merely depressing. But I can't disagree. If America can't make keeping people alive sound profitable, this sort of thing will just keep happening. Capitalism must be our savior because we have rejected all other gods.

Well, that's a depressing review.

This book is a thriller! Wildly fun to read and filled with vivid characters fighting heroically against impossible odds!

The only downside is we know how this story ends. Which is to say, it still hasn't. And no matter how heroically you try to change the outcome in January 2020 or March 2020 or May 2020, we the readers know perfectly well it will not happen. It will not happen. It will not happen.

And so no matter how delightful a companion Michael Lewis is on this journey, ultimately, the book's bound to leave you a bit melancholy.

coupla weeks

112) Tuki: Fight for Fire by Jeff Smith, finished on November 12

I've had this book for a while now, and just finally set down to read it. It's the first volume of I think two (I bought both volumes but two isn't released yet) from the creator most notably of Bone.

I bought the b&w versions because the correct way to read Bone is in b&w. But I'm not certain that's the case with Tuki. You can tell that Jeff Smith designed this art for color from go, and while it still works well in b&w, something's missing. Dang.

The story takes place in ancient Africa, a couple million years ago, when multiple human species shared the space. It has hints of the mystical and a steely-eyed kumbaya relationship of friendship from our isolated humans as they come together across species.

It was a fun read. Lacks the chaotic joy of Bone but I'm glad I bought it and I look forward to #2 coming in the mail.

It's being released to the general public in less than a month, so it's not a bandwagon yet, if you hate jumping on those.

(Click on the title above rather on this link. It's currently cheaper not on Amazon.)

one night

113) A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk, finished on November 13

Lady Steed read this book then complained to me that it was a pointless read because it only says things any mother already knows and so why need put them down on paper? And then she insisted I read the book. So, perhaps, the true audience should be nonmothers.

Perhaps amusingly, the book's introduction claims that for all her reading, Cusk has found no one to really discuss what it is like to become a mother and therefore her book fills an unfilled niche. A bold claim. And a strange one for a book, a significant percentage of whose pagecount, is spent in long extracts from other authors. To mention a few, Swann's Way, The Rainbow, Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, "Frost at Midnight," Dr. Ferber, House of Mirth, The Great Fortune, Madame Bovary—plus a bevy of shorter quotations, paraphrases, and disguised sources.

I was surprised to arrive at the extended copyright page at the end of the book and not see the various essays listed. In fact, nowhere in these pages is the sense that the book is a composite of previously published work. And a cursory internet search leaves that feeling intact. Apparently this is a work composed whole and not a collection. Which is hard to believe because the book covers the same time period over and over again from slightly different perspectives. And while this could be called clever artistry, creating the feeling of being trapped in days all identical to one another—what it really feels like is pieces written far various venues later collected.

In short, I don't recommend reading this book in a rush in order to return it to the library. You may end up reduced to skimming chunks as I did because she's meandering through repititions.

An unkind way of saying this is that the book is self-indulgent. Which, given the reactions to her later book on marriage, seems, perhaps, prescient.

Regardless, I think my wife's opinion is the best. It probably doesn't say anything that those who lived through it don't know all too well. But to those adjacent to that experience—or, especially, those who have viewed it only from a distance—it will let you inside.

Naturally, your own experiences will vary. Perhaps your baby will not cry in precisely this way; perhaps you will not require the same escape from breastfeeding; perhaps you will not happily afford the same sequence of European nannies.

You know: different.

week or so

114) The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett, finished on November 17

When the four-year-old and I started this, we took off like a rocket. The first night or three we read an entire chapter. And then we slowed down. And then she took to having her mother put her to bed because she didn't want to read about Tiffany. Because there were no pictures. Even though she loved the book and talked about the characters even when it wasn't bedtime.

So we finally finished, months later. And it was great. But I'm not sure my plan of going on and reading the other four Tiffany books (which I have not read before) at bedtime is quite ready to execute.

Which is a shame. Because Tiffany Aching is a role model any young girl can look up to.

about five months

Previously . . . . :


Unfinished book: Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio


Having recently fallen in love with one of Kim Addonizio's poetry collections, I looked to the library for another book. And so I checked out Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within. I didn't anticipate more than sampling it, but it is chockful of good stuff. I sampled a larger percentage of it—so large that it made sense to finish the book. So I started reading through, from missed bit to missed bit. And then I promptly lost it. And with other library books screaming for attention, I didn't find it again until today, the day it is due back. So I'm returning it with some small but significant number of pages unread.

The craft book, by a poet, is a robust genre (Mary Oliver's stands out in my memory). For a group of people allegedly too good for the rest of us, I tend to find these books accessible and charming and familiar.

This is one more book to add to my would-be-good-to-have-in-a-creative-writing-classroom list.

Anyway. Now I'm going to try to cram down a few more of the remaining pages before walking over to the library. Wish me luck!