The years starts, slowly


The Last Starfighter (1984)

This wasn't one of the films I was planning to prioritize showing my kids. I first saw it in high school, having never even heard of it until almost a decade after its release. I did like it (except for one really stupid thing at the climax) but it wasn't foundational or anything. But as part of our Toys discussion, I mentioned this movie and the boys thought it sounded awesome. So we watched it. And they did like it.

What most surprised me was the CG. This is a very CG-heavy film, and if you'd asked me how good CG looked in 1984, I would not have guessed this good. The boys were impressed too, though it's still 1984 CG and definitely did throw them out of the movie with some frequency. Still. Pretty cool. (Props to the Cray X-MG!)

The film's a fun mix of 80s teen flick and Star Wars and the balance is mostly hit. It lifts pretty direcly from Star Wars and Empire way too much imo and I suspect that caution is part of what kept it from being a smash at the time. I'm not surprised it's become a cult fave (and the kids like the idea of a new film coming out in the next few years) but it's hard to imagine it being remembered in another 50 years.

neighbor's dvd
Little Women (2019)

So this is fun:

After an egregiously long delay, I have finally seen this movie. And before we get to the fun part, I should note that I am mortified to still have never read the novel and the only movie version I've seen before is the 90s one which I saw once, in the 90s. And liked it very much, thank you. The point is, I don't know the story super well. Certainly not as well as I would like. Certainly not well enough to know how the meta elements of the film play in the novel.

Anyway, I loved this movie. I thought it was pretty much perfect. I thought the meandering through time was well executed and turned into a powerful addition to the tale. I thought the cast was great, the music was strong, the costuming and cinematography were stellar. I wasn't 100% sold on Chalamet, though he certainly had his moments. Saoirse Ronan was terrific in the lead. My eyes were tearfilled through most of the running time and for dozens of different reasons.

Lady Steed hated it. She thought the time shuffling was a terrible choice. She wasn't sure if ol' Saoirse just did a terrible job or if we can blame that on the writing. She did cry but is angry about the cheap manipulation that led her there.

Was thinking all through the film how I immediately wanted to watch it again and perhaps again.

Looks like that might not be a popular move around here.

started from our dvd
and moved to Kanopy
which was about the same
so I guess just splurge
on the Criterion bluray
Harold and Maude (1971)

I have the movie playing, sound only, as I type this. Or, rather, I've listened to a half hour so far while reading about Ruth Gordon on Wikipedia and typing very little.

I recently learned that the reason the soundtrack was never released (well, briefly, at a special event, decades later, so: never) is because Hal Ashby used the demos and Cat Stevens was not pleased. I don't know what they would have sounded like in a later iteration, but it's hard to imagine they could be much better. What I don't understand is, when this works so well, why don't we see more of it? (Do you have favorites in the scored-by-popular-musician genre?)

I noticed this time how many symmetrical compositions there are. They aren't as showy as Stanley Kubrick or Wes Anderson but they are an important part of the film's style.

It's a great movie.

Even without the pictures.

Encanto (2021)

I loved this movie.

Okay if we talk about all the Disney movies since Tangled (2010) as the Tangled Era? Great. So the Disney Rennaissance is generally considered to end with Tarzan (1999), but the two before it—Hercules (1997) and Mulan (1998)—were also stinkers, and there had been evidence of decline since at least Pocahontas (1995). So it was time for another rebirth and Tangled was it.

It was just a bright and wonderful movie! It walked into the room with such (deserved) confidence! A new era had arrived and although the last dozen years has included some deeply mediocre movies (I'm looking at you Big Hero 6 [2014]), they've also included some real gems. After rewatches, Moana (2016) has become my favorite, but Tangled has remained the best first-watch until tonight. And that's with the stumbles Encanto had on its way to the finish line. Stumbles, incidentally, that I don't think will be present with a second viewing. Good movies get better, after all, when you see how it all fits together.

Special props to Mirabel's animator. Although I think I see a couple nods to Joy, her physical creation is so unique and alive and wonderful. She is among the most alive animated characters I've ever seen. I'm guessing she's supposed to be 12ish, but I think 14 makes sense. Her strength and terror are just right for the age and her courage carries the film.

I didn't realize it at first, but an early scene is where I started discovering this film is something special. When the strong sister is doing way too much—everything, really, for everybody—I was mad at the absurdity of her doing so. But then she shows her vulnerabilites and you know what? That's where we start seeing the story for what it is.

And I know some people are So Over Lin-Manuel's music, but I thought it was great.

Anyway, I really liked it. It's my new favorite 2021 film and one I'm not sheepish to put on top. Well done, Mousehouse.

library dvd
After Hours (1985)

We recently finished up Ted Lasso; one of the final episodes seemed familiar to me. Lynchian? No. After Hours. And as soon as the episode ended I was going to look it up, see if anything had been written on the connection, but then I saw the title of the episode—"Beard After Hours"—and saw that I was right. So I picked it up again from the library.

I didn't laugh as much as the first time, honestly probably because "Beard After Hours" was a bit tighter (being half the runlength) and because I was trying to compare them the entire time. Lynsey and I agree that some of the cut scenes would have been better left in, which I rarely feel. She also felt that the film is inadvertently sexist with all the crazy women and thus an artifact of its era.

Anyway, I still liked it. And it's still the earliest Scorses movie I've seen.

Link+ dvd
21 Up (1977)

So I am completely wrapt up in these movies. Seven more years have passed, the kids are now 21, much of what is happening is just as we expected from age seven; some of it is what we started seeing at fourteen. Some of it is surprising. Among their stories are ones that make me feel certain I will be terribly sad in future episodes. Others I assume will become all the more irritating.

Cannot wait to find out.

Previous films watched


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













Comics (not that comical) and a novel (pretty comical)


007) Remina by Junji Ito, finished January 15

It wasn't until the book was ending that I realized I recognized its aesthetic. Like the last time I read Junji Ito, this is a genuinely terrifying read. A carnivorous planet arrives in our solar system, consuming planet after planet, as the people on earth see its eye and go mad.

What results is a mix of chase scene, apocalyptic drama, torture porn, cosmic horror, and pop culture satire that just gets more and more awful, even with a constant series of lucky saves and bizarre math. Parts of it reminded me a great deal of "Nightfall" (which I just heard a terrific adaptation of).

Anyway, this was a genuinely scary comic book and, if that appeals to you, I recommend it.

two days

008) The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill, finished January 15

It's a cool concept but a nothingburger of a story.

two days

009) The Tea Dragon Festival here by Katie O'Neill, finished January 15

This prequel is much better. The characters have actual depth rather than relying on Tumblr-style diversity shortcuts. The art is just as charming but now there's a point.

one day

010) A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, finished January 18

When we finished Wee Free Men, I wasn't so sure that we should jump into another Tiffany Aching book—especially one that came from the library. But we did and hey! We took less than half as long to read it! We still had a couple nights when the 4yrold complained about long books or black-and-white books or books without pictures being boring, but she also has a sound memory for what has occurred in both books and a willingness to persevere through the scary parts and the weird (witty) parts. No question reading about Tiffany will make her smart, whatever that means.

(Incidentally, you see here the cover we read, but the series has spawned a number of excellent covers and same fab fan art. Worth a google!)

less than two months 

011)  Diana: Princess of the Amazons by Shannon & Dean Hale and Victoria Ying, finished January 26

We've been reading and rereading The Princess in Black and its sequels with the 5yrold. A couple months ago, we read a slew of Wonder Woman-themed picture books. And so when I happened to see this Hales-penned MG graphic novel, I grabbed it off the shelf and brought it home.

And she loved it.

But I still regret getting it.

Not because it was bad (it isn't) but because—

Diana is the only child of her nation. She's lonely. She needs a friend. And then a friend appears! And Diana needed this so much and the friend is such a good friend. I mean, mostly. She does pressure her into less and less godly activities, but she's her friend. And my 5yrold has been the sole single-digit-aged person in her house for most of her life. And, for most of her life, she hasn't been able to spend time at a friend's house. Literally: for more than half of her life, she has neither been to a friend's house nor had a friend to hers.

And so this book is supposed to have a message of be careful who your friends are.

But for a little girl who, like Diana, has never had a friend, she just really wants one. And at the end of the book, she still wants that friend. Even though she played Diana into released monsters upon the earth.

Not the right time to read Diana: Princess of the Amazons. Maybe in a couple years when she finds it on her own, it will be a better choice.



Previous Posts 

Let's start the year off with some old friends
001) U Is for Undertow by Sue Grafton, finished January 4
002) Far Sector by N.K. Jemisin et al, finished January 7
003) Joseph Smith and the Mormons by Noah Van Sciver, finished January 7
004) The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, finished January 11
005) The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani, finished January 11
006) Bad Kitty Goes on Vacation by Nick Bruel, finished January 12

final posts in this series from
2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013
 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020 = 2021



Let's start the year off with some old friends


001) U Is for Undertow by Sue Grafton, finished January 4

First, I've been complaining, the last couple of volumes, that Grafton dropped the estranged-family plotline. It came back in U and, although it didn't take up that many pages, they were effective pages, effectively changing all the rules and making the last paragraph something of a tearjerker.

I've also "complained" a bit about the change in use of p-o-v—in the early novels, Kinsey is the author of the text. The novel is her first person narration. Lately, she's adopted the thriller convention of alternating p-o-vs with the villain. These parts tend to be in third person. With this book, she's expanded to additional p-o-vs as well. It's a fine form, but honestly, I miss all-Kinsey-all-the-time. I had been looking forward to reading X, a serial killer novel in which we can't be sure who the killer is or what they're up to throughout because we know only what Kinsey knows, but it looks like I won't get that wish.

Anyway, although I miss the old form, this is another solid entry in the series. It reminds me of Q in that it's based on a (not real this time) cold case. The reliability of her sources waxes and wanes but, because of the alternating chapters, we always know when she's on the right track. Dramatic irony's great, but I miss being on the journey with Kinsey, rather than just watching her journey. (Have I said this already?)

She does make one of the alternating-pov thriller writers a villain this time, so project that as you will.

This is the most metaphorical of the titles thus far, which is also an interesting touch. I like that she's still playing. Even when I miss the casualties of her play.

On to V!

over a week

002) Far Sector by N.K. Jemisin et al, finished January 7

This has been showing up on best-of-2021 lists and its the first such comic to end up in my local library system. So I threw it on hold and now I have read it.

Far Sector also carried the added appear of being by N.K. Jemisin whose recent reign of sf awards has been much remarked upon and I've felt find of bad, not sampling. But this is perfect for sampling! For instance, it has pictures and isn't five hundred pages! Very attractive.

Plus, who doesn't get excited about a new Lantern?


The world Jo Mullein has been sent to is far, far away—much further than Lanterns are usually assigned. And she is alone on a strange world.

The world is strange, but it takes time to fully grasp the implications of that strangeness. Every alien world should be strange, but alien worlds also have to be close enough to our experience so we can find out way inside. Different writers find different balances. At first, I thought this one leaned much further to the latter, but as the story continued, I liked the balance better.

It doesn't seem likely to stick with me at all, but what I did like was the impression it left of a great mind at work. It does feel like the mind of a novelist though, trapped in the strange world of comics.

about a week

003) Joseph Smith and the Mormons by Noah Van Sciver, finished January 7

I have a great deal to say about this excellent historical novel-in-comics but I don't want to say too much here because I want to consider other venues where I might sing a bit more loudly. We'll see.

In short, it's excellent and I'm not cancelling my preorder to get the hardback.

five days

004) The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, finished January 11

I was reading an interview with an editor I'd had a pleasant exchange with (I would link to it, but they actually mention it several places and I haven't found the one I'd seen before. Just look for nff noir sanxay and all the top hits will be relevant) and decided to see if the library had it. They did! And it deserves praise like "Goes up there on the list of classics alongside The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Maltese Falcon, The Long Goodbye, and A Hell Of A Woman." I absolutely loved how much danger and menace and chaos came to this woman, and how her mind failed her (realistically), and all the heroic things she was trying to do for her family, and the development of those relationships, and how they pushed her further into, what in lesser hands would be termed, madness.

Anyway! A neglected American classic!

maybe two weeks

005) The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani, finished January 11

I don't know how I ended up on Bookshop's page featuring these books (they're a bit behind in their cataloguing–there are more), but I decided I had to read one. So I picked the one I thought looked most interesting / most connected to my current aesthetic concerns and went to see if my library had it. They did! Then I just searched for "art of"—which brought up a lot of noise but several other volumes from the series, all of which I put on hold (as well as a few other Art of _____ books that were too tempting to ignore). All of them are so intriguing that when I decided I had better start with the one that first attracted me and not look at the others until afterwards, I picked this one up, certain it was the one. That it wasn't the one hardly mattered. I enjoyed reading this very much.

It was much less prescriptive than I'd feared. Much more descriptive in fact, which is great. Books for writers don't all need to be textbooks. I like it when I get to explore a writer's mind through their own explorations—what they have read and what they have discovered. Castellani is a fine host. I didn't love every chapter equally, but he did give me new tools, new ways to think about narration and narrators and why I like the stories I do.

When I've been saying that what I like in a novel is its language and its characters, Castellani argues this is perspective. And I realize he is right.

Speaking of which . . .

under a week

006) Bad Kitty Goes on Vacation by Nick Bruel, finished January 12

I read me a Bad Kitty book every now and then (everyone should) and part of their delight is the way different forms of storytelling interact with each other. In addition to two simultaneous narrators, the books feature a mash of prose and comics and other things, like lists. They are witty and delightful.

I'm not sure when the books moved into color, but I personally don't prefer it. There's nothing wrong with it and I'm sure it'll be commercially great, but I like the black and white.

Also, and it seemed to be connected to the change of setting, my favorite narrator was missing from much of this story (which is about a plan hatched by chickens to create a Hello Kitty / Disneyland thing to turn people against cats and toward chickens; most books in this serious are not quite so . . . high concept). So not a tippetytop Bad Kitty but still fun to read.

I mean—it's not like I'm reading them to someone, I just like reading them!

one day

final posts in this series from

2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013
 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020 = 2021


the most recent post in the books-read series *


A Dubious 2022 Plan


Last year, in frustration, I declared I would only read books I already own. I don't think I did well, but let's check the math, shall we?

Of the 131 books I read last year (this includes books read more than once):

42 were books I owned prior to January 1, 2020

60 were library books

6 were books I picked up for free
     including 3 from an author or publisher
     and 1 as a gift

3 were borrowed from my mom

4 were read online

and 12 I purchased in 2021

Which seems to add up to 127, so I screwed up somewhere. But these numbers are good enough to prove I failed at my goal.

Perhaps even more telling is this information accessible from the library's website right now, the books I have checked out:

I'm not equally serious about reading all of these (not to mention the three books I have out on interlibrary loan or the fifteen books currently on hold). For instance, I really want to read Ishmael Reed—but none of the books at my local library were top of my list. And I'm about a third through the religious book (heard about here); if I owned it, I would eventually finish it, but I don't and I got the gist so it'll probably go back before I'm done.

The thing is, I just really want to read the books we own. So I'm going to try and at least read MORE of my own books than I do library books  in 2022. Should be manageable, right? I mean, I just used giftcards to get these three on Barnes & Noble's 50%-off-hardbacks sale and I'm excited to get past the second page:

Wish my self-control luck!

Derned temptatious libraries.....