And twenty-twenty-one comes crashing to a close


Before we get to the final films I watched this year, how about a recap on the year's new films? For a year chock-full of movies I was excited to see (The Green Knight, The French Dispatch, Dune, Licorice Pizza, The Matrix Resurrections, Godzilla Vs. Kong, The Lamb, Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar, A Quiet Place 2), I saw almost none of them—and the ones I did see disappointed. Here's the complete list of 2021 films I saw, from best to worst:

Flora & Ulysses (that's right: the superhero squirrel was the best 2021 movie I saw; what the crap)

Luca (one of the more forgettable Pixar entries)

The Marvel movies (all four were pretty mediocre)

Muppets Haunted Mansion (which was pretty bad)

Raya and the Last Dragon (which was very bad)

Ron's Gone Wrong (which wasn't as bad as Raya but which held a lower opinion of its audience and thus pissed me off)

And then Betty White died today. So there you go.

Anyway, December:

= = = = = = =

library dvd
The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

I didn't know it when I started, but let's start December off with a Christmas movie!

(I mean, barely, but it is. Barely.)

The Jim Cummings name had been popping up here and there and this movie was on some list and it was the only movie of his I could find at the library (none were streaming for free) so I grabbed it. (Plus, it looked like a werewolf-themed sequel to Brigham City, which didn't hurt.)

After that, I heard Cummings on a podcast where I learned fascinating things about his filmmaking process (for instance, instead of storyboarding, he makes a one-man podcast version of the film for the cast—I suspect this might be part of the reason a few of his line readings were . . . really off).

Then I finally saw the movie. And it's pretty good. I wouldn't say I'm amazed or blown away or anything, but overall it was a fun ride with some nodes to more serious fare. So . . . like a Christmas movie.

The photography of the opening credits was cool. Amazing what turning something upsidedown will do!

library dvd
Speed (1994)

Never seen it. But it keeps coming up, including this best-action-movies list, which I did...alright on (now 24/50).

Anyway, after watching Shang-Chi's bus sequence, I figured it was time.

And it was pretty great! And nobody ever told me how awesomely Nineties the opening credits were!

On the downside, this was the first time I heard Keanu deliver a couple lines that made me get why people say he's a bad actor. He's not, but he did flub a couple here.

But speaking of Keanu, when the closing credits rolled and we saw Keanu played Jack, the 14yrold watching with me said, startled, "Jack was Keanu???" He'd been waiting for Keanu to show up and eventually decided it must be him, but he never did recognize him. Which is wild. I mean—how many times have our kids seen Bill & Ted?

So while sure, a couple moments were simply absurd, it was an excellent piece of escapism. And, bonus points for such a diverse cast on the bus. That's was L.A. looks like! And they managed it in 1994.

Bedazzled (1967)

Mostly I know Dudley Moore from 80s comedies that didn't really appeal to me and mostly I know Peter Cook as someone beloved of comics his age and a couple decades younger (and for saying mawwiage in Princess Bride). But I've never really seen any of their work. As contemporaries of Monty Python I thought they might be rather alike, but otherwise I hadn't spent much time guessing.

Bedazzled (as I largely know from hearing about the 2000 remake) is about a down-and-out fellow who sells his soul to the devil for wishes.

The manner in which the wishes are fulfilled it a bit bewildering the first few times. Just cutting to them expects a lot of the viewer We did figure it out eventually, but I'm sure it'll work better on a second viewing.

The jokes are dry, dry, dry. People say British humor is dry; this movie is what they mean. I don't see it getting dryer than this.

Even so, it's not heartless. It has a very hopeful ending, after all. Though the words say humanity sucks, what we see actually suggests maybe we're not so bad after all.

our dvd
It's Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

Only an hour and two minutes long. Made of three short films become one. Utterly beautiful. Neverendingly bizarre.

I will say, it does get teenagers outside their expectations.

I bet it'll get you outside yours as well.

Let's hope our lives are happy ones. I hope you have a beautiful day.

The History of the Seattle Mariners (2020)

If you are wondering how I was talked into watching an almost four-hour movie about the Seattle Mariners, that is a very good question. And the answer is BW/DR. The Big O and I have been watching it in installments since shortly after I read this review and it's taken that long for us to put the pieces together. It's a long movie!

And it was wildly entertaining. We laughed and laughed, he expressed shock, amazement, delight, and despair.

After finishing it tonight, O said, if the A's move to Vegas, maybe he will adopt the Seattle Mariners as his team.

It's a pretty good choice.

Anyway, it's a movie that is largely about the building of a decades-long graph. It's splattered with images of heroes and goats, snippets of news articles, and other ephemera. It cuts away at times for short clips of actual baseball or Seattle from space. It's plain but active, always moving, and our hosts are as bewildered by the whole thing as we are.

I would watch one of these for any MLB team. But I'm not sure many MLB teams offer quite this useful of a lesson.

I could talk more about why, but someone's already written that review.

Someone's already made that movie.

our dvd
The Matrix (1999)

There was a time where I would never imagine showing this movie to students, no matter how relevant, because they had all seen it.

That time has passed. Practically none of them have seen it now.

Time, you see, has passed.

It was 80% applicable and the break's tomorrow and they voted and The Matrix was an easy first place. And they loved it. Not blown away in the same way since the last twenty years—their entire life of pop culture—is built on a foundation laid by The Matix, but, you know? Kind of blown away all the same.

It was kind of cool to see.

Ron's Gone Wrong (2021)

So this is a delightful, charming, and basically evil movie.

Capitalists are evil, kids. But don't worry: the capitalists will save you.

Technology is isolating kids. But don't worry: technology will bring us together.

This film uses all the tools of film to think we are righting against the man in order to make sure we embrace the man and hail him as our savior. Neat! It tastes like real satire!

So yeah. You and your kids will have a fun time with some great set pieces and a terrific cast. But the movie might linger. And I'm not sure that's worth it.

Would I watch it with my kids again? No. If the love it and want to watch it on their own, will I stop them.


Probably not. (Isn't it time for us to all sit down and watch another Spider-Man movie?)

library dvd
Die Hard (1988)

A Christmas movie generally takes place at Christmas, more or less. This movie takes place entirely on Christmas Eve (though it probably doesn't end until early Christmas morning). So it wallops, say, It's a Wonderful Life.

But it can't just be about the trappings. Even if it's loaded with violence, you need stories about, I don't know, coming home for the holidays, families reuniting—that sort of thing. Think Home Alone.

And the best Christmas stories have at least hints of Christian allegory. My kids made a deal with me. They could watch Die Hard if they read Luisa's essay thereon. Of course, Luisa only strikes the surface. As Stephen King said, you want to mark someone as a Christ character, give them the initials J.C. So: John Clane. (I know, I know. It's actualy John McClane. But Mc means Son and if you think giving a J.C. the middle name of Son makes him less Jesusy, what bible are you reading?) But hey—make is a family game. Luisa filled in the free squares. Now take it apart looking for bingo.

In short, yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. And it's basically the Silence of the Lambs of action movies. So why are you holding out?

Two last notes:

1) Since last watching Die Hard, I've seen several episodes of Moonlighting. I both get and am mystified the controversy in casting Bruce Willis as an action lead.

2) A lot of the score is Christmas-adjacent. Songs like Pachelbel's Canon are quoted in the score and then you also hear chunks of something like Beethoven. Not actual Christmas songs, but songs that we associate with Christmas because certain beloved classics have been adopted into the holiday.

Hitching Post Theaters
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Two and a half hours of fan service.

parents' dvd
Elf (2003)

My parents' tv is not that great by what's-now-on-display-at-Costco standards, but since we watch everything on a ten-year-old projector, it still has a sharpness and clarity we're not used to. We were seeing book titles, and pink trees in the background, and candy types in jars we'd never noticed before. And while watching something like that is always a tad disorienting, it does make me wonder if we should rearrange our home to hold a fancy new television.

(Incidentally—was watching a Price is Right from 1961 yesterday and a fancy new television cost then more than a new car.)

Home Alone (1990)

So, while I'm no expert, I think this might be Chris Columbus's best movie. The only other one I like I haven't seen in aaaaaages:
Anyway. This one is pretty good. No masterpiece. I don't need it part of my yearly tradition. But I can watch it. Even if I miss the middle (as this time), I'll come back for the ending.

For my money, Catherine O'Hara is the heart of the film. But, that said:

It occurred to me, this time, that this is a basic hero's journey with a fascinating twist: Kevin goes on the journey WITHOUT leaving home. Home leaves him, instead. Otherwise, it all checks out. Watch it with that in mind. It works. Kinda neat.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

So, after my first post-repentence viewing last year, I was ready to watch this movie with fully fair eyes. And here are some takeaways:

1. Rizzo is sometimes annoying rather than funny.

2. The ghosts are appropriately eerie.

3. Michael Caine's performance is amazing. That moment when he realized he is the butt of Fred's joke? Destructive.

Anyway, I liked it. I hope it becomes a tradition.

library dvd
¡Three Amigos! (1986)

This movie is written by Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, and Randy Newman. This is quite the collection of names!

I never saw this movie. Everyone my age loved it and it was weird to discover how many lines I knew, but this is a first viewing for me. It was strange how it wandered from realism to not-real-at-all. Honestly, although I liked it fine, it does seem like a movie best seen the first time as a child. Although as a child the little-balls and dick jokes would have left me deeply uncomfortable and unable to enjoy the movie.

I finally picked it up after enjoying Only Murders in the Building and wanting to see some classic Martin-on-Martin action. And enjoy it I did.

Does anyone know if this movie's become a classic?

library dvd
Seven Up! (1964)

I'm not sure when I first heard about this series of films, but, in case, this is your first time, let me give you the skinny.

Twenty English kids from different regions and classes are selected for a documentary when they are seven years old. Inspired by the Jesuit maxim, show me the child at seven and I'll show you the man, the documentarians purport to show what England will be like in the year 2000. It's a fun enough concept, originally just an episode on British tv.

Anyway, seven years later, someone comes up with the idea of revisiting them. And, having done that, they've kept it up every seven years since.

I've been wanting to watch them since I heard about the series, which I'm guessing was either 42 or 49 Up. I've figured, once day, when life is slower, I can take a week or two and watch them all at once. You know. Post-kid, maybe. But the ward's unofficial film group chose 56 Up as one of our movies this year and I really do not want to watch them out of order. So here we go!

The first episode is a fascinating time capsule. And it would have merit even today as a stand alone work. BUT WE KNOW UPDATES ARE COMING. And that makes it so much more fascinating. As these kids navigate the end of the twentieth century and the birth of the twenty-first, how will they navigate changing realities around class and politics? Where are they today? Can we, as the Jesuits suggest, pick out the Boris Johnsons supporters clear back in 1964? Frankly, those are darned exciting questions.

library dvd
7 Plus Seven (1970)

The most striking change between seven and fourteen, to me, was who wouldn't look at the interviewers anymore. At first, I thought it was the most disadvantaged kids. The most rural of them always looks down. The lower-middle class girl who went to the lower-level school (compared to her friends) rarely looked up and couldn't speak up over her friends. The only kid who reads as not 100% white always seems to be looking over the interviewers' heads. But this theory is thrown off by the girl, who I believe comes from the greatest wealth, being as nose-in-her-lap as the farmer kid. Perhaps it's because her upbringing is also rural? Perhaps its because she thinks it might be shameful to be on the same screen as these lower-class kids? Perhaps because she genuinely is skeptical that anyone cares about this sort of thing? Perhaps her breasts just arrived last week? I have no idea. But she won't look at them either.

It's also curious to me how they speak a more enlightened talk but their walks are no more enlightened. I'm partucularly troubled by the richest three boys—not all of them equally. Well. We'll see where they go next, won't we?

library dvd
The Holiday (2006)

When this came out, I dismissed it as a Love, Actually knockoff (which wasn't fair as I'm fairly certain I had not yet seen Love, Actually in 2006 and thus could not have known how terrible it is) with stunt casting and ignored it. And largely forgot about it. But then, this year, I discovered it is beloved of many. And that the Kate Winslet / Jack Black relationship in particular is heralded in some corners as particularly real and true and lovely. Sounds like I movie I could get into.

The set-up is pretty simple (two heartbroken women houseswap across the world) but the film doesn't just mirror their experiences. Kate's first relationship, for instance, is with the elderly writer next door. And that relationship is developed better than her relationship with Jack Black.

That relationship, I expect, gets better each viewing, but we're convinced that a number of scenes from the script were cut (the movie's still over two hours long), most of which would make that relationship stronger. (We made a list, as the movie went along, of what seemed to be missing.)

But that said, it's still a decent relationship. And the movie is full of other great details. The two little girls are amazing (so, so good); when Cameron Diaz cries (this is a major spoiler but one you're set up to expect from go) it is fully affecting; and dang if it Eli Wallach isn't absolutely wonderful in a role I did not anticipate from the dvd box.

The movie is reaching for classic screwball and wears its influences proudly but it doesn't quite pull it off. Nice try, crossing wit and sincerity, but nah. (Also, it gets film history wrong on several points. The number of movies in release back when, for instance.)

All those complaints regardless, I can definitely imagine watching this movie again some other week between Christmas and New Year's. Maybe I'll like it more then.

Oh! And this had some of the best Hollywood cameos I've seen since The Player. I wish they'd fit in a few more. There were obvious spots for more!

Oh! One more thing. Crazy to see Kathryn Hahn and John Krasinksi get maybe five minutes of airtime between them in bit roles as Cameron's employees never to return again. 2006, baby!

our dvd
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

It's New Year's Eeeeeeeeeve!

And time for the Hud.

I love this movie. In my personal movie history, Hudsucker is to comedy what Psycho was to film more generally.

Earlier this hear, I found a limited-run Substack on Hudsucker, which I highly recommend. The one I've thought about the most is the one proposing George Clooney would have made a better Norville. I thought about that a lot this watch. And Clooney would have done a great job, but it would have been a much different—but, I don't think, better—film. Debate as you like.

I'm also grateful that he went frame by frame and wrote down all the potential careers off the career board (the film is so needlessly generous—so many additional frames in this film really ought to be paused and copied down). And I'm grateful for the argument (which I reject) that the pants scene was needless, though it did make me notice a few other arguable flaws in the script.

In the end, it is simply a movie that I love. And that is enough.

our dvd
Toys (1992)

Great cast. Great music. Master director working from a great script. Incredible sets and stuff. And yet, I cannot imagine a world where this is a huge hit.

Kind of a bummer, no?

Anyway, I know the 90s are famous for great soundtracks, but this may be my favorite. I know it intimately. Such that when a song in the movie is only a few bars, I know where it's headed. Bit distracting, really. And why isn't that spot of opera on the cd?

Anyway, it should probably be a hair shorter, but if anything its questions are even more relevant today. My high-school senior's been getting ads from the military asking him to come play videogames. So, speaking of the future, hello 2022.

(Final aside: seeing this trailer c. 1992 was one of the moments the possibility movies possessed changed for me. It ranks up there with the trailer for Rushmore, I kid you not.)

Previous films watched

















If these are the last books of the year, we can celebrate the new year satisfied


124) Royal City: Next of Kin by Jeff Lemire, finished on December 15
125) Royal City: Sonic Youth by Jeff Lemire, finished on December 16
126) Royal City: We All Float On by Jeff Lemire, finished on December 16

It's no secret I think Jeff Lemire is one of the best things we have going. Since my first gush, I've been a serious fan. And I love it best when he does his own work, words and pictures. His art is painful and his words draw blood and the combination is deadly. And he navigates so cleanly from realism to magic—he may be the greatest North American realist I know. (We can debate this later. The short list is long.)

This is the story of a family shattered twenty years ago by the death of the youngest child. They all find themselves back in town when dad has a stroke. (Only one, it's worth mentioning, ever managed to leave.) And they navigate their depressed hometown and radio signals and the many ghosts of their brother. It's a story of healing and growth. And whatever the opposite of cloying is.

Not much happens. And everything happens.

And the character design—these people are a family. And, by the end, for all their failings, you'll wish them well.

three days but the first was a week before the other two

127) Everything but Money by Sam Levenson, finished on December 16

The book is a mix of small comedic pieces published in places like TV Guide, Parents, Collier's, and newspaper syndication; and some preachy bits that appeared in the same places. How much where versus how much otherwhere versus original to this book, who can say. The book as a whole holds together. Let's talk about it!

I : Sweet Horseradish (pp 1–125)

II : "Look, ma, I'm middle class!" (pp 126–168)

III : Off My Chest (pp 169–238)

IV : "My dear children" (pp 239–243)

The first thing you'll notice is that over half the book is part one. It goes on long enough, it's a shock when it ends.

"Sweet Horseradish" is about growing up poor, the children of European, Jewish immigrants. It's packed full of wonderful stories about a disappeared world. Games in the streets, dealing with relatives, living in packed spaces, what school was like, what holidays were like—it's a mix of absolutely real moments and delightfully comedic hyperbole. I imagine this must be what Levenson's comedy schtick was like. (I can't say for sure—I've only seen him guest on What's My Line.)

Then his childhood ended and I was shocked to realize the book continued onward! I'd been reading it, like, twenty months at that point!

Anyway, he grows up and goes to college and moves to the suburbs. Works fifteen years as a high-school Spanish teacher. Later moves into entertainment, though that's less grounded and so gets less play.

Part II starts off a bit preachy about How Things Have Changed, but happily digresses into more comedy bits now and then. "Off My Chest" more directly deals with patching up society, but it also loses its way now and then with bits that feel like they've already been workshopped on stage. Certainly, they seem to require an oral delivery. Or maybe it's just that fifty years have passed.

That final tiny section is just his last plea for goodness.

Some of the things he worries about can seem snobbish (kids need classical music, not British rock bands) or quaint (maybe schools could provide lists of educational tv progams?), but he seems like a genuinely decent human being. Although some of his phrasing is, ah, rather midcentury, I don't think it would be absurd to call this book the antiracist bestseller of 1966.

(I used a part near the beginning of III to suggest a reimagined classroom with my sophomores. They weren't as enthused as me.)

He's a charming host and he has the sugar to help the medicine go down. Plus, it's just a terrific bit of time travel.

Click this image to read the book at the Internet Archive:

a shade over two years

128) Chip Off Olympus by Jules Tasca, finished on December 17

You know that brand of liberalism that proves how not racist/sexist/etcist it is by making racist/sexist/etcist jokes and daring you not to laugh? From All in the Family (from which this play takes its epigraph) to South Park, this aliberal liberality has broken open conversations and made a new generation think racial epitaphs are okay to laugh at. Sort of a mixed victory, you ask me.

Chip Off Olympus dives right into this. I'm honestly not sure from fifty years later how likable these characters are supposed to be. What remains real is the seeming betterthanness they have over other races, poorer people, religious people, fans of lowbrow television, and so on.

I can imagine laughing at about half the jokes, but the other half would leave me feeling so dirty, I wouldn't have a good time.

Here's the set-up: Three grown kids (one a famous heart surgeon, one a failed writer, one with stigmata) and their mother cope with the legacy left by their bit-player father, an absolute saint, who, it ends up, "dorked" absolutely every leading lady he ever worked with. Which was pretty much all of them.


I mean, it could work. The set with all the props from all those movies is visually fun. The kids have a decent dynamic. Mostly, the jokes, in their attempt to be cutting edge and modern, have aged very very poorly.

Ah, comedy, thou dangerous lover thou.

a week or two

129) Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke, finished on December 21ish

Less a meditation on loneliness and more an address to mortality, this nonfiction look at dying relationships, people, and places is a tighter construction than her second book.

I loved it.

Radtke's style—realistic but simple, monochome with washes and stark lines—backs up the themes of her book. It's a terrific fusion of form and function.

And someday, no one will remember it.

a few days

130) Thurber & Company by James Thurber, finished on December 27

Thurber drew compulsively which is why he can do so many things. Sure, sure—it all looks the same, and he was, as is mentioned int his wife's intro, "pre-intentionalist . . . finished before the ideas for them had occurred to me," but he's playing with variations on his themes and each is unique and does something new. I admire that. And it let's me know my compulsions aren't so powerful and don't push me as far.

since christmas

131) The Spirit of the Season edited by Curtis Taylor, finished on December 29

After getting to tell Curtis Taylor how much The Invisible Saint meant to me at a virtual Sunstone thing summer of 2020, he invited me to submit to this collection. Which was flattering—and great to add another holiday story to my collection.

I had my wires crossed on some of the details, as it ends up. Mine is perhaps the shortest story in the book and it might be the only one without Mormon content. But hey! I got to write a Christmas story in a genre I'd long wanted to. (I won't say more because I don't want to ruin it for you. Pick up a copy to prep for next Christmas).

I saved my story to read last and Orson Scott Card's to read second-to, since I'd read it before. My memory of that read (although the two sentences at the link aren't enough to be certain of my opinion) is that it's well below my expectations for a Card story. Some of his short fiction is among the best I've read, after all. But I did find the story emotionally moving, even if I do find somewhat unpleasant the the story's theme, viz. Redemption of the Wealthy Capitalist Who Was Actually a Really Good Person All Along.

One funny thing about that story is it still takes place circa 1991, but for this publication, Card (or Taylor?) updated "home teaching" to "ministering"; add this to your collection of mildly amusing anachronisms.

My two favorite stories are probably the first I read (Taylor's "Mavericks" which takes place near my wife's hometown and features one of the best renditions of powerful spiritual influence I've ever read) and the third-to-last, Ann Dee Ellis's "A Christmas Story" which is tight and beautiful and sad and witty and manages to be full of style without ever once seeming like it's showing off. I don't think I'd heard of Ann Dee Ellis before, thought she has multiple books out. I've mostly sworn off YA and MG books, but maybe I'll make an exception. Anyway, I've put the two at my library on hold.

A few thoughts on some of the other work:

Darlene Young is represented, including her dirty shepherds poem, which I love.

Several of the stories I thought were very close to being excellent and just needed a sterner final edit. I feel pretty safe saying that not just because a couple of my favorites should have been a couple pages shorter but because the brown M&M's were still in the bowl: when a word started with an apostrophe, it curled the wrong way. I believe every time. I noticed.

Anyway, stories I thought were great but should have been a hair tighter include Donald Smurthwaite's "The Greatest White-Flocked Aluminum Artificial Christmas Tree That No One for Miles Around Ever Came to See" (which felt even more true when I visited my parents and saw their spinning tree) and Stan Zenk's "The Wenceslas Papers" (a comedic noir).

That latter story took place in San Francisco, which merits mentioning that most of the stories are set either in Utah or Northern California. There are a few exceptions: Southern Idaho which might as well be Utah (the reason people from southern Idaho resent people saying this is because it's true) and England (though with a strong Utah tie). Makes me feel even more out of places for setting mine in the Midwest. Vive la différence!

Some of my other favorites include those from the big names, the people who make the cover: Dean Hughes (his story, along with Card's originally appeared in Aspen Books' Christmas collection of three decades ago) and Susan Easton Black (whose essay appeared in a Deseret Book collection two and a half decades ago).

In short, even though I feel justified complaining about the polish of about half the collection, I still enjoyed it mightily. And I know that anyone even a hair less persnickety than me is apt to have no complaints at all. Make it a gift for the better-than-Theric person in your family.

a few weeks

Previously . . . . :