Кві́тень (not that I watched any Ukrainian films this month; wish I'd thought of this earlier)


library dvd
Pulp Fiction (1994)

First time!

My first memory of Pulp Fiction is reading about how great its writing was in The New Yorker in the Bakersfield College library. And it quoted a section of dialogue which was basically unintelligible from the percentage of it that was efferinos. This is great writing? I said to myself. I was turned off.

Next, still living at home, I would occassionally catch a few minutes on late-night cable tv. Later, I would see a few videos about its editing or whatnot.

The film is so culturally effused, you can't know nothing about it.

But most weirdly, I've had a poster of the movie up in my classroom for yeeaarrs. Over I decade, I bet. That's another story but its point is it's embarrassing to have the poster of a movie I haven't even seen next to favorites like Amélie, Adaptation, and The Royal Tenenbaums. I mean—until 2020, I hadn't seen any Tarantino movies!

Pulp Fiction is, depending on the source, 2:34 or 2:45 long. Which is long. And another reason to perpetually put off its watching. But the kids were gone and I happened to have impulsively picked up the dvd from the library and we had lots of karma built up from six hours of conference, so I guess the time had come.

And it is immediately engaging, immediately entertaining. But meeting Vince and Jules driving around brings the things to life. Even the overly famous Royale with Cheese dialogue lives in context.

It's the kind of dialogue I admire. Where characters are allowed to be themselves rather than simply appear in scenes concerned only with what is in the scene. All good film writers do this and the fact that it was considered revolutionary in 1994 makes me wonder how bad writing had gotten. Do we really owe Quentin Tarantino this much? Or was it just that this movie managed to make $200 million? I don't know.

Anyway, when it was over, Lady Steed turned to me and said, "Now I get it."

I do too.

link+ dvd
28 Up (1984)

I'm finding these movies utterly enthralling. Generally, their futures were visible from age seven, but some take unexpected turns towards tragedy or happiness or victory or integrity. The lesson, perhaps, is that no matter how much we will stay who we are, what we can do with who we are is reasonably varied.

It's not fair to be upset at those who choose not to participate (only one will stay away), but I will allow myself some irritation. And feel justified in assuming they are being entirely predictable.

I wonder if there is an additional fascination for me, in that the subjects are only slightly younger than my parents and so now we have entered into my own childhood—and now I can see what it looked like to adults at the time.

Regardless, I am excited for whatever comes next!

Seven Up!7 Plus Seven21 Up

link+ dvd
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

So Lady Steed haaaaated this film. I'm not sure she even likes me anymore. She has certainly decided she'll never Vonnegut again. Which I find mystifying. It was a good movie!

But I don't think film is as easy a medium to adapt Slaughterhouse-Five in as comics. Not to suggest what Ryan North pulled off was easy, but maybe it suggests a path forward should someone choose to adapt the novel again.

The film of course had to make cuts. The way they introduced Lazzaro was efficient, for instance. And they fit in Desden's kid soldiers which the comic left out. But some of my favorite bits were missing, like the vitamin syrup. And it's hard to really be fully Slaughterhouse-Five without narration. This adaptation made the fine choice of having no narration, but as I think about it, narration is one problem that could be solved more interestingly in the digital era. While the film does make intersting use of editing, with digital tools, you could push this even further. And in addition to / instead of voice-over narration, words could play across the screen. Imagine for instance, setting up "So it goes." such that it can just appear across bodies without further comment. Or across the candles they carry. Edgar Wright could kill this. Someone ask him if he's interested.

Anyway, it's a solid adaptation. I didn't love it and I was distracted by it being the first viewing of an adaptation of a novel I know well and all the secondguessing that implies, but it works. Me missing a final poo-tee-weet doesn't change that.

library dvd
Batman (1989)

I haven't seen this is a long, long time. If I remember correctly, it took me years to finally see Batman Returns. I finally rented it on my own and watched it alone in preparation for Batman Forever. Which then became the first Batman film I saw in theaters. And it was an amazing experience, although I never have seen it again.

Anyway, Batman itself I saw several times and although it's been nearly thirty years, 85% of it was fully familiar. What was different was everything that's happened to me since then. Which I divide into movies that have been released since I last watched it and pre-1989 movies I've seen since then. Or, in other words, now I see how this film is in conversation with what came before and how movies since have been in conversation with it. For example, that bell tower is straight out of Vertigo! And it's coated in King Kong effluvium! And what about that Citizen Kane table in reverse? And since its release, besides every superhero franchise and Batman movies in particular (Heath Ledger calling in the Batmobile?), the film's chockfull of classic lines that echo through the years. Weirdly, tracing it the other direction's a little harder, but I'll bet the connections will be clearer moving forward.

Most importantly, the kids liked it. They picked up on some flaws like Michael Keaton's inability to move in the suit, and miniatures don't feel as real to them as cg does, but this "new" version of the Joker worked for them.

Which reminds me—is here the first time Joker calls Batman Batsy?

Turning Red (2022)

What is wrong with people?

I am really confused what people were so angry about. Was it the existence of periods? The fact that kids and parents don't always get along? Is it actually that she's not a white American boy? Really? Is it recognizing that women too might have a Wound?

People are so exhausting.

Anyway, were I sub30 I would probably have a hard time getting over my deep hatred of boybands (which I now recognize is probably born of a 13yrold boy's strong emotions as much as love-for in 13yrold girls), otherwise this movie was so easy to fall into. And I was resisting it because I was trying to figure out the haters instead of just watching the movie! But the whole mother/daughter thing really worked for me and I got a good Pixar cry in the final act.

I can't help but to wonder if those haters haven't seen enough Ghibli. That influence is palpable. Hey, y'all. Go watch some Ghibli movies.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

UPDATE: I listened to the Turning Red episode of Pop Culture Popping on the Apricot Tree and listened to four people who did not like it largely be reasonable. Some of their complaints I sort of agree with (character-development issues for the mother and the magic rules) and some I did not. The two in the parenthetical, however, are examples of how we largely just read the film differently. Even though they recognized that the film is largely from the kid's p-o-v (which is simplistic in a 13yrold's way), they then expected the world to be more complex. I'm not so sure about that. Would it hurt? No. But is it a failure? Probably not.

And saying an immoral soulgrab like Ron's Gone Wrong is superior really makes me trust your judgment, you know?

Regardless, I was talking to someone at Pixar and it sounds like between the aggressive release schedule and their eagerness to get out more diverse characters in their films, movies might be popping out . . . too quickly. The yearslong rewrite process Pixar was famed for is going away. Turning Red is a good example. The final draft is not that changed from the first draft. And the (yes, I agree) terrible lines the PCPAT crew despised stink of the This is clever and it fits! that's great in a first draft but, in a finished film, is embarrassing and revealingly lazy (eg, "The farther you go, the prouder I'll be." / "My panda, my choice!").

Anyway, I still liked it. But like the insufficiently rewritten Incredibles 2 or Onward, I'm not sure I'll watch it again.

Embrace the Panda: Making Turning Red (2022)

And watching this immediately afterwards was kinds of magical. The parallels between the filmmakers and the characters was known and expected but living through them metaphorically recreating themselves was fun. It's totally okay that your first novel is autobiographical, you know. That's okay.

Free Guy (2021)

So it was about exactly what I expected. The third act relies on cliches more than storytelling but it holds together well enough.

Incidentally, Ryan Reynolds's innocent voice is about exactly the same as Will Ferrell's. Did you notice that?

library dvd
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021)

Happy to say I got to watch this again, this time with my beloved who I think laughed even more than I did. And I had hindsight guiding me!

The production design is gorgeous and the jokes are constant and the madness is unstoppable.

I had more to say but my laptop broke and I decided to wait until spring break was over to write and . . . I have no idea what else I intended to say. Which is a shame because I'm sure it was brilliant.

Jewish Museum
Henson's Place: The Man Behind the Muppets (1984)

This was great. I learned a bunch of trivia that may or may not have passed through my brain before, and I learned it from the people who were there—while they were still there! I highly recommend carving out 52 minutes for this just for its interviews with Mr and Mrs Henson, Mr Oz, and Lord Grade.

But there are some rarities there that I suppose you could track down on YouTube (eg, outdoor tests for The Muppet Movie) but find them and watch them. It's on Kanopy, for instance.

our dvd
The Mummy (1932)

Of all the classic Universal monster movies, this one's aged the worst. Great for discussing the problems with colonialism (this film can't decide if it's a critique or an apologia but it hardly matters as it can't conceptualize a different world) but it's awkward. And Zita Johann might have been a storied stage actor but, Nineties-filmed experts notwithstanding, she didn't work for me. I feel bad she suffered so much and I wish the excised scenes still existed but, overall, not a great movie. Great makeup! Strong Karloff performance! But the failings of these movies (lazy character development, bad romantic stories) really kill it here as the architecture is too icky. Alas.

library dvd
Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Happy to rewatch this!

I still say it's an intelligent monster movie which is nice, honestly. But it's also a solid Vietnam movie (I haven't seen Apocalypse Now but there are so many Heart of Darkness references I figure the allusions must be legion) and kind of a slasher movie (first of the people, then of the monsters--which are so well designed, some of the most terrifying monsters I've seen on screen).

Even the opening and closing credits are brilliantly conceived.

I'm not putting it on the AFI 100 or anything, but c'mon. It's great.

They Call Me Trinity (1970)

I don't have much fluency in spaghetti western so I really don't know if this is typical or not, but I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. The lead is hilarious without ever being funny and the physical comedy is topnotch. Not everything is great—women get short shrift, the final action sequence is looooong, a lot of things are just stereotypes brought to life (eg, Mexicans, Mormons)—but for sheer entertainment value, the lead can do more with a look than just about any comedian I've seen. I'm amazed that at least he and his brother are Italian because they sound terrific. I had no idea. It was so much better than the Italian horror I've watched. I am most certainly up for more!

our dvd
Please Vote for Me (2007)

I've probably seen this movie over twenty times but somehow it didn't occur to me until now that it qualifies for this list. So let's talk about it!

Here's the setup:

Voting is being introduced into a Chinese classroom. For the first time (ever!) the kids will get to choose their own class monitor. From a slate of three chosen by the authorities, but still.

Immediatley, all democracy breaks through. By which I mean dirty deals, corruption, lying, etc. And the parents are into it.

It's an absolutely amazing movie.

When you've seen it as many times as I have, you start seeing where swaths of the story have been left out (and start doubting the validity of the narrative) but the story is compelling and the edits are great and it's just wonderful. I use it with my Animal Farm unit, my conspiracy unit, my dystopia unit, my local-elections unit—anywhere I can excuse squeexzing it in. Even with subtitles, students dig it.

our dvd
Gattaca (1997)

It's been 20+ years since I've seen this movie and I thought it holds up great. It's retrofuturistic elements make it timeless in a way something "actually" trying to predict the future would fail at.

(That said, the high-school seniors I watched it with thought it seemed really old. By which I think they meant they don't know the word "timeless" nor what it means.)

I was surprised how much I remembered. Clearly the film made the impact upon me I thought it had. I was also surprised to discover it was a flop upon release. I had just come home from my mission and was sick in bed, but when I came around, it sure seemed like everyone had seen it.

Spoiler alert, but why does Jude Law kill himself? I don't deny that it feels like the right choice, but—why?


library dvd
WW84 (2020)

This is a classic superhero movie in the Superman (1978) mold. By which I mean it's emotionally satisfying in the moment but the conclusion is so absurd it will become a punchline. Or maybe not, in this case, as this film didn't each up the zeitgeist in the same way and spinning the world backward is a clearer puchline than . . . whatever happened here.

And that's the problem, isn't it? The rules here are utterly confusing. The movie thinks it's very smart and will reward obsessive rewatching, but I doubt that very much. I don't think it's layered. I just think it's confused. And deep down the movie knows it as well. Notice how deliberately is avoids all our questions about the invisible jet (eg, where'd the fuel come from? what about radar? where'd they land it?).

But the parts of the movie that work, do work. Most of the moments of the film are wonderful. They don't really fit together all that well, but when you have a good cast and strongly suspended disbelief, you can enjoy the movie for what it is.

Incidentally, my usual rule is to call the movie whatever IMDb calls it, but I made an exception this time as not one, not even in the small print at the end of the credits, is this movie called Wonder Woman 1984. So I'm going with the movie.

So hurrah for the dumb superhero movie! But boo for trying to get serious at the end. And boo because we didn't get the at-least-as-good edit that was 20+ minutes shorter.

Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (2017)

I've seen Rebecca Hall in various things but it wasn't until Tales from the Loop that I really started paying attention to her. And while the leads are great in this film, she's the standout. And her accent makes me wish she'd been around in the Forties to midatlantic with the greats!

The story, as you may know, is about the man who invented Wonder Women and the two women he made his life with. I was worried the film would be all sexysexy but the focus is really on their love. The film is organized with so many filmschool/screenwritingmanual tricks as to be slightly tiresome at points, but the core relationship(s) move the plot forward and the faces of the actors—especially the two women—make the story work.

I do wonder if actually every single thing in Wonder Woman came from their lives (even the invisible jet?), but whatever. It's that kind of script.

And it's worth noting, after seeing the photos in the closing credits, the actual people were not so movie star beautiful.

But it was nice to see Oliver Platt again. It's been a long time!

Previous films watched


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











You tell me whether it's garbage-in or not


037) Bride of the Far Side by Gary Larson, finished March 23

Comics collections are all over the house—Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Foxtrot, Sherman's Lagoon, Garfield—and so I'm always reading them. But not in a front-to-back way and so I never really "finish" one. Today I did! Funny stuff. As is to be expected.

waiting out an adolescent temper tantrum

038) Batman: Night of the Owls by the entire DC bullpen, finished March 23

The first book was really just set up for this ambitious one-night story spread across multiple titles and, in some cases, multiple issues of those titles. A whole bunch of writers and artists working together, trying to do their own interesting thing with the characters available to them. DC went big on this one! But it was truly an issue of too many cooks.

This comes out as DC was still working out its New 52 and the efforts to bring a new world to life and do exciting new things is sometimes in conflict with correlating all those things into one great whole. As a work of Batman theology, it's trying hard but it's not likely to keep kids in the faith.

I appreciate the effort. But I didn't really care for it.

under a week

039) The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, finished March 25

This book is as old as I am and has been a classic just as long. Yet I never read it. Or really remember being aware of it before subbing in elementary classrooms about fifteen years ago, where I would see it on shelf after shelf in room after room.

I picked up a free copy late last year and gave it to Son #3 as a Christmas present. I was right and he did like it. He passed it onto me and I finally picked it up.

I anticipated liking it but I did not anticipate loving it from the first page. Raskin can right! I also expected a charming little mystery—and I did get that! What I did not expect is that, following the mystery's conclusion, would come an extended epilogue to push the novel into emotionally-moving territory. Nice play!

My library has Raskin's other novels as well and I may well pick them up. They certainly have great titles.

almost a week

040) The Pocket Book of Ogden Nash, finished March 25

I started reading this book while my students were taking state tests. With poetry, you're always near a stopping point. And with Ogden Nash, the only worry is my laughs will be disruptive.

I highly recommend reading Nash because he is brilliant and hilarious but because comedy doesn't age well and with each decade, fewer of his jokes land. Act now!

As I read, I wanted to write about many of the poems individually. So many lines and verses that were too good not to share. But circumstances prevented and all I can do now is press this (or any of his) book(s) into your hand and say, read! read!

You'll be happier than you were.

several years stretching well before the pandemic

041) Slaugherhouse-Five or the Children's Crusade: a Duty Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut / Ryan North / Albert Monteys, finished March 28

I don't really dig GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPTATIONS, as a rule. I don't think there's anything wrong with it anymore than I think film adaptations are wrong. Adapt away! But most (not all) comics adaptations of novels I've read (or started reading) are lifeless and being "good for you" was the main goal. It started with the passion of a suit imaging selling it to schools and grandparents, not the passion of artists who love the story.

I am happy to this one is great!

Does it eclipse the book? No. (Lucky book!)

But it's pretty dang good.

The first smart move Ryan North made was taking one step back from Vonnegut's first-person narration. And while he doesn't enter the text as, say, Ryan North, he does create an over-narrator that can talk about dead Kurt Vonnegut.

The text follows the basic shape of the novel and hits the main point fairly accurately. Bits are missing and some parts don't quite match the rhythm, but other decisions are frankly brilliant. This is a definite comics version of Slaughterhouse-Five.

The only real downside, I would say, is that the comic seems forced into taking more clear sides as to whether Billy is actually timetravelling or just crazy, but I feel it did the best it could.

I approve.

three, four, five days

042) The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith, finished March 28

The woodcut-like illustrations are beautiful and the tone is perfectly folktale-like, but the story lacks the logic of folktales. It didn't make any mythic sense to me at all.

But oh, the pictures were lovely to look at.


043) Jem by Frederik Pohl, finished March 31

I love how simple this cover is. (The back is even plainer—just read with the words "THIS IS THE WAY / THE WORLD ENDS..." in text matching the UTOPIA text on the front.) That's why I picked it up and why I had a hard time getting rid of it, even when I doubted I would ever read it. But read it I have! And it...is not the book it was in 1979 when it became the first (and last) novel to win a National Book Award in the science-fiction category.

Clearly, in its era, it captured something that felt enormous and true. And all I can say is: 1979 suuuucked.

Pohl has a low opinion of humanity. Even in the final chapter which behaves like something hopeful and utopian, it's questionable. And the rest of the novel is filled with backstabbing and inevitable nuclear weapons and rampant nationalism and violence and betrayal of all sorts.

This future wants to be post-racism and post-sexism but the characters are still hella racist and sexist, they just are open about it. It's that sort of calling-a-spade-a-spade version of not being racist. It's not racist is we openly acknowledge it as such. The constant sex is similar. The characters are sexually free because they recognize that they are doing things they shouldn't do but it doesn't occur to them they shouldn't even though they know.... 

It's tricky, not being of your time. Pohl's made an effort and good for him, but he's wrong in ways that have aged this book abysmally. Really makes you think, as a writer, about trying to make future-living people. They'll probably end up time travelers from your era only.

Anyway, I didn't like the book. But I kept reading it because the science-fiction concepts are compelling. The Jem of the title is a planet orbiting a dim star. Our humans go there and discover three sentient species happily eating one another. Naturally, colonization happens and, naturally, it gets ugly. Some of the colonizers happily exploit and others accidentally exploit, but they're all exploitin' regardless.

My favorite character is Charlie, a sentient hydrogen balloon. And his naive corruption through his connection to the humans is tragic to watch. 

Intentionally or not, everything is upsetting in this book, so if that's your genre of jazz, this Jem's for you.

one school year

044) The Mundane Adventures of Dishman by John MacLeod, finished March 31

I'm not sure how I ended up backing a collection of a Canadian b&w I'd never heard of before, but I have absolutely no regrets. I laughed all the way through, the art was high quality than I anticipated, and the writing was simple but honest. I believed in this story, in all its absurdity. In same ways, I might even like Dishman more than Flaming Carrot.

In short, after living for years with radioactive Fiestaware, mild mannered Paul develops amazing dishwashing powers, which he then decides he should use to fight crime.

So you can see how irresistible Dishman is.

The original issues were published between 1985 and 1990 with two more added in 2018.

I only wish there were more.

two days

045) Because Sometimes You Just Gotta Draw a Cover with Your Left Hand by Stephan Pastis, finished April 4

Remember up top where I said I never finish reading these sorts of collections? Well, my beloved just brought a stack of them home from the recycling center and while it was mostly Foxtrot, a couple Pearls Before Swine and a Get Fuzzy. The latter two I started reading the moment they appeared. And have been somewhat loyal ever since, although following a syndicated comic is a big commitment. So not that loyal.


I grabbed the standout cover (not standout because it was good but because it was bad as Pastis admits in the intro; but it's even worse because trying to search Amazon for left hand pastis just got me pasties; even putting in the entire title did not help; BAD TITLE more than bad cover, honestly) and read it.

The strips ran from May 2010 to February 2011 which finally answers my question of how many strips does a book like this hold? They almost always remove the dates from the strips (at least from more modern strips) which I guess is to make them timeless, but whatever.

It's a funny book. A bit misanthropic, but I'll allow it.

three or four days


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