Movie, May I?


Century 16
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

No, I don't know what I think. I am uncertain.

It's basically the dna of a blockbuster blended with dumb jokes and prepared by a fancy chef in art-film molds. That last part combined with the speed and chaos of the film make it hard to form a coherent opinion on a single viewing.

For instance, the sort of dopey cliche answers it provides to life's mysteries: a failure to push through to something more interesting? or a wise a recognition that simple answers have lasting power for a reason. And pretending that something deeper is, in fact, deeper, is cardboard theology? I'm not sure.

No question the cast is incredible. They are asked to ground some crazy stuff and they pull it off. Good on them!

I suppose my reaction, thus, is pretty similar to what I felt after seeing Swiss Army Man, also by the Daniels.

I guess what I'm saying is that their films deserve close attention and study but I don't think I quite care enough about them to be the guy to do it. But I will keep watching them as they come out. I suspect that they have one of my favorite movies in them and I'm excited to one day see it.

UPDATE: As I hear from more and more people who say this is one of the most powerful movies they have ever seen, I'm beginning to feel a bit left out.

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth (2020)

Oliver Jeffers is hit or miss as a picture-book creator. Some of his books are brilliant and some are difficult to deal with as they are a bit . . . purpose-oriented, shall we say.

Anyway, someone decided to adapt one of his books into this short movie and, thought I haven't read this particular one, seems safe to guess it goes in that latter category. It's all about loving the Earth, so....

But the good news is this is a charmer that doesn't wear out its welcome. It has no pointless antagonist, it's just a movie about growing perspective.

And, I must say, its rare you see two parents in a cartoon who so clearly do it when they get to be alone.

Departures (2008)

Although this film is Dickensian in its reliance on convenient coincidences, looks like television, has breathing corpses and hamming actors and heavyhanded symbols, it still pulls off an incredible emotional finale.

I do wonder if part of the motivation for making this movie was to battle still-extant taboos about working with the dead in Japan. (Looking it up.) Not entirely wrong and funding was hard to come by because of said taboos. I call this a Theric Is Right.

And although I knocked the acting, each actor had his moments and some (eg, the boss) never missed a beat.

I should probably also admit that I largely watched this at high speed which made some of the choices appear worse than they were. And, if nothing else, the sacred experience of witnesses the respectful depiction of another culture's death rituals is worth the time spent all on its own.

The Trolls (2015)

How obscure is this movie? Well, I couldn't find it on Letterboxd or IMDb or Prime Video. You can buy the dvd on Amazon (only one left!), but wow. I found the poster at the studio's website. Which, surprise! surprise!, is a microbudget joint.

I'm pretty sure this was shot on an iPhone. The exteriors are gargeously saturated. The interiors are washed out. When the focus suddenly switches (which happens once) it can be a disaster (was a disaster). And it's clear they didn't do take after take until it worked. Some of the lines could've used another chance.

All that said, I loved this movie. I laughed. A lot. The plot and world may be a bit shaky at points and the sets may be . . . unremarkable, but the concept and the characters and the jokes are fun fun fun.

Here's the set-up. A three-person company has invented an astounding new battery technology only to be taken down by patent trolls. And so they aquire an ancient patent rendered immortal by one of George Washington's executive orders to patent-troll the patent trolls.

Anyway, it's cheap and wonderful.

Link+ dvd

35 Up (1991)

First, quick mention that it's a bummer when people opt out of an issue. I'm glad to see Symon and (eventually) Peter will return.

As time goes on, the characters age and my feelings for them deepen, soften, change in various ways. Bruce I have come to deeply admire. Neil I worry over. Nick I wish to see succeed. John I am only now starting to see as worthy of respect. Paul I want to be happy but I'm stressed over his finances. Suzy astonishes me by how she's changed. Et cetera.

Anyway, I don't know if the series will continue, if the subjects will still buy in now that the man behind it has passed, but I hope so. After I'm caught up, I want to see 70. And 77. And I hope they live long lives such that there will be many more episodes as well.

Seven Up!7 Plus Seven21 Up28 Up

our dvd
Bambi (1942)

Thevoting for the film unit was weeeeird this year. Maybe it was because I tried a different style of voting, but classic black-and-whiters like Duck Soup and Casablanca were relegated to the ashcan in a big way. The dominant vote-getters were Bambi and Nausicaä. Everything else was stuck somewhere in the middle.


Even though Bambi was one of the top vote-getters, when I accounced it, there was outrage that we would watch it. But I convinced them to at least shut up and the movie convinced them that it is much more interesting than their vague childhood memories might suggest. It's about the circle of life much more than Lion King is, imo, and while I love the later flick, it's much more conventional.

Imagine if audiences had better supported Disney's weirdest things. What would our culture be like today?

Anyway. Bambi is so charming and wonderful you won't notice unless you're really paying attention, but it's a beautifully strange movie and worth revisiting if you, too, haven't seen it since childhood.

Century 16
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

To be honest. I wasn't excited about another multiverse movie. My last two trips to the theater were to visit the multiverse, not to mention Loki and What If. Enough already!

But, as you know, Marvel's bidding is what we do. So away we went. Me and two twelve-year-olds.

The movie took a while to win me over. SPOILER ALERTS A-COMING. I wasn't thrilled that Wanda was fully villainized. I'm as tired of the cocky Strange schtick as, apparently, the rest of the universe. And the introduction of America Chavez just didn't work for me. I don't know why, but I just has a hard time caring about her.

But, somehow, it all came together for me. Basically, when Sam Raimi cut lose and gave us a Sam Raimi horror movie, the thing just came alive! I found the end of the movie totally redemptive and found myself loving it. Which is great since, so far, I've found all the Phase Four films pretty lackluster and it'll be a few years before I get to stop giving Marvel my money. The least they can do is entertain me for it, right?

Moana (2016)

I came in late and was working on something for the rest of it, but I still find the movie riveting. Particularly emotionally, but I also like the music more than most Disney films. I even seem to be coming around on the crab. I suspect the ease with which you come to like that scene depends a lot on how well you know the David Bowie catalogue.

Anyway, Moana's a great character and the arc of Maui is exactly what a supporting role is supposed to accomplish.

I was also thinking, after all the stuff last year about Lin-Manuel Miranda having faith that Andrew Garfield would learn to sing, this may be a thing he likes to do. Have faith that people can sing. Here he had faith in Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. And it too paid off.

Finch (2021)

A lot of great things in this movie. We already know that Tom Hanks can carry a movie all on his own and he does so here, no problem. The robots are great. Jeff may be the best live-action robot (so to speak) since Johnny Five and his mannerisms are very Bunson Honeydew (and good voice work from a voice I recognized but could not figure out [maybe because I know him best as a couple of psychopaths in Get Out and Twin Peaks]). The intimate aspects of the world work great and the basic conceit of their journey is satisfying.

But this isn't a very good movie. The outside-our-immediate-environs world is hard to conceptualize, for instance. Or, for an even better for instance, the filmmakers expect "American Pie" to do a whole lot of work for them—but it's not at all clear they know what work it's supposed to be doing. And the conclusion is . . . a bit thematically mudddled.

If I were reviewing this movie and you were considering whether to watch it or not on my recommendation, I would say this: "Post-apocalyptic road adventure with Tom Hanks, two robots, and a dog. If that's enough to make you want to watch it, watch it. Because those elements are great. The movie as a whole doesn't hold up, but if you can watch this movie cafeteria-style, you're set for a fine evening."

The Liberators (2016)

The story of a Texas man who, while liberating Europe, liberating some priceless religious artifacts, and their discovery, decades later there in Texas.

Or: the story of a German man who spends the first half of his life figuring out which American soldiers stole certain artifacts in order to bring them home.

Pretty pedestrian filmmaking visually, but it does a decent job of showing how various parties react to each other. Might be interesting to watch this alongside Monuments Men.

Man on Fire (2018)

A man returns to his hometown at age 80 to set himself on fire as a witness/protest to its legacy of racism and brutality. Was it worth it? Did it work?


The kids mostly thought the town is probably satisfied with its depiction. A minority suspects it would feel betrayed.

While he brought gasoline and flame, best case scenario is that what he really brought home was sunshine.

Perhaps the next generation will keep his story in their minds and introduce new versions of the conversation to their own children.


our dvd
Psycho (1960)

No matter how many knockoffs you've seen or how jaded you are or how many of the beats you can guess, if nothing else, that final ratcheting of suspense will get you.


Always recommend.

Chan Is Missing (1982)

I'm pleased to report that THIS is the movie my students said disrupted their sense of what movies can be. All the characters talking over each other (and the rest of the sound design), the refusal of the mystery to resolve, the verite filming—all fresh and new and unexpeccted. Plus, the new milieu was appreciated. Kids from immigrant families recognized what they saw. Plus, it has to be cool to see a city you know as it was forty years ago.

As we were watching it, I was afraid I'd made a mistake, but I think I'll keep it among the options.

(Last time I watched it.)

Eagle vs Shark (2007)

So now I have (for the moment) seen all Taika Waititi-directed features. Although this is sweet and charming, about 85% Jared & Jershua and 10% Wes Anderson with some foreign flair and stopmo, I think it's probably the least of his films. Story-originator Loren Taylor kills as the lead, but Jemaine Clement (whom I love) is a bit too damaged for the ending to quite land. I'm not sure this is best for her.

I don't mean to denigrate the film. Like Boy, it captures the intense thereness of the Hesses or Anderson, but that there is podunk New Zealand.

I think we'll call the films flaws a side effect of being Waititi's first feature. Perhaps, seen first, it would be stronger without the comparison. Possibly also we are more cautious in 2022 being happy to see the less broken girl win the more broken boy. It's all hard to say. Regardless. I'm glad to've seen it.

Two Million Minutes: A Global Examination (2008)

This short documentary is a bit panicked over American students falling behind Chinese and Indian students, expecially regarding engineering. You can tell this was at the beginning of the STEM excitement. And while the film isn't terrible, it does pick and choose its data in ways my students noticed and rebelled against. You can't fool the kids.

They're brighter that the filmmakers may think.

Learning to See: The World of Insects (2016)

So you make a film about your father. You introduce this film with a full screen of text saying just that. You establish that your father left the U.S. for Colombia in 1994. You interview his siblings and sister-in-law. But your own existence, or that of your mother, is never brought up again. That's a pretty big hole to leave. And for a film called Learning to See, what are we supposed to do with that void?

Anyway, the film is about the father moving to Colombia, eventually taking up photography, then becoming passionate about photographing incects. (They're pretty great.)

It's exciting to watch him capture these amazing images. And various scientists talking about the value of the images both to science and conservation and just to people caring are great, but they lead to the next thing that's clearly missing from this film: What do you want us to do? Care about your dad? Fight for the Amazon? Buy some photos? I really don't know.

But the photographs! And the sense of a craftsman at work. Both worth the watch. Confused movie, but no regrets on my part!

Extension 765
Psychos (2014)

I only recently learned about this film in which Steven Sodergergh spliced together the Hitchcock and Van Sant films. I can't remember where I read about it and haven't found the article, but here are three other articles which won't waste your time: The Guardian, Open Culture, The New Yorker.

It's been a long time since I saw the 1998 Psycho and I don't remember it that well though I didn't think much of it at the time. I knew who Anne Heche was and I'm pretty sure I'd seen Vince Vaughn in Swingers. But it must've been before Lord of the Rings because I'm certain Viggo would have stuck in my head, if so, even though he is barely intelligible here. Anyway, the acting seems to be, on average, inferior. I didn't even remember William H. Macy! And all I remembered about Julianne Moore is that she had earbuds (which she loses in this version).

Anyway, Soderbergh changed the bulk of his movie to be all black and white. The original article I read that pointed me to this suggested the cuts give certain aspects of characters to one film or the other.

I'm glad I'd just seen the original Psycho because it made it easy to see some of the definite changes Soderbergh hath wrought. For instance, Norman cleaning up the apartment: much shorter. It's Vince Vaughn doing the cleaning so . . . is that actually a Van Sant decision? I kinda doubt it, but I dunno! Anyway, it's a change. (The meeting-the-sheriff scene is Hitchcock and it's also abbreviated and church is cut entirely. Maybe this is just Soderbergh's lauded ability to edit any film into shorter size.) These shortenings increase in the third act. Maybe Soderbergh was guessing we knew what was to happen and would thus get bored, waiting for more interesting changes?

(This could also be why wee accompany with Julianne Moore through the house, as her Mother's-room mini-jumpscare is much jumpier, and the details of the house are a bit more in-your-face. Did you know birds are an important symbol in Psycho?)

The murders are the most interesting moments. Color comes back to the Van Sant and both are overlayed. The end of the shower scene is excellent as the two versions swirl around and past each other.

I have a theory about the bad acting: perhaps the 1998 actors were trying to ape "inferior" midcentury acting and thus landed nowhere at all? Could be.

Perhaps Soderbergh agrees with me as I think all the bit characters (folks in Marian's office, all the cops, the salesman, the sheriff and his wife, the hardware store clerk, the shrink—they are all from 1960 (or eliminated, eg the lady buying poison).

I suspect that final bit as Normal sits in is blanket talking of flies is meant to be the key. Vince Vaughn is more mother and Anthony Perkins is more Norman? A few things get in the way of that theory, but it's my best guess. If there is a unified intention, that's likely it. (This might also explain why the bit characters are all from 1960—they only exist in the real world? Problems with this suggestion as well, but hey. Write your own take.)

I guess, in the end, I agree with the articles that said this edit makes it easier to see the value of what Van Sant did. Plus, you don't have to watch Van Sant's for ninety minutes straight to make the discovery!

Russian Ark (2002)

If your memory's shaky, this is the Russian film that broke the long-take barrier with a 96-minute one-shot film. No cheating like Rope or 1917, just o n e   l o n g   t a k e. I had no idea digital tech was this good twenty years ago!

Anyway, it's a plotless journey through time and the Hermitage. We are the narrator and our only real companion is an old French diplomat more surprised he's speaking Russian than that he's unstuck in time. We pass through the rooms and the years and almost two thousand actors and extras in equisite costuming.

It's a terrific, museum-like experience, but I can't say I loved it or want to watch it again. The mumbojumbo framing seemed beside the point.

I do suspect this could never get made in Putin's Russia.

Shattuck Cinemas
The Northman (2022)

I haven't seen Eggers's most recent film, but I did see his first, The VVitch, and the comparisons are striking. Darkness, evil, the past, Anya Taylor-Joy.

I think this film is much more hopeful that The VVitch, however. Although the ending is, maybe a spoiler?, bloody, the conclusion is also redemptive, at least by the tenets of the Odinic faith. And that's something I do like about this film, that it takes the religion of the characters seriously. Magic is real in this world. The Northman is mythology.

It's also Hamlet, which I did not know going in. Young Amleth must avenge his father. And (and here we have an actual and a major spoiler) the screenplay takes a page from Margaret Atwood's Gertrude. And that twist give a needed boost of energy to the concluding act of the film.

Anyway, a very good movie. Not one I imagine I'll ever desire to see again, but I appreciate it for what it is (a dark, violent, magical, Viking Hamlet) and the ways it played with it's themes, but it's not exactly a delight meant for rewatching, imo.

library dvd
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Nausicaä is the first in Miyazaki's line wonderful young heroines. But how young? Students said twelve then, looking it up, changed their answer to thirteen. I remembered twelve but, watching it, I think early twenties makes more sense. America's premier Miyazaki scholar calls her an adult. She's definitely young and there seem to be very few characters who are not either older or younger.

Anyway, however old she is, she is the savior of her world.

I see it as a somewhat simpler, morally speaking, Princess Mononoke. But that might undersell it's own complexities.

Anyway, it's a great piece of Miyazaki, but I can't think of any one thing it does better than any other Miyazaki movie. So let's call it tier two?

library dvd
Porco Rosso (1992)

I felt a need to rewatch this since starting the relevent Unspooled episode. I've seen it twice before, but it's never quite clicked. But a number of worthy people count this as their favorite, so I don't mind try, trying again.

I do think I enjoyed it more this time. That same expert calls Porco Rosso Miyazaki's Casablanca, which got me thinking. And the first few minutes of the Unspooled episode made me realize you can't just dismiss Italian fascism as long-ago-and-far-away window dressing. This is a complex world these people live in, for all its TaleSpin dressing. (How is there no YouTube video exploring the similarities of their hideaways??)

Anyway. It's a funny movie and I'm aging into it. But I think I will always prefer the questions raised by, say, Spirited Away more. And that's okay. We can all love different movies this most. Miyazaki is large.

Century 16
The Bob's Burgers Movie (2022)

This genuinely was more cinematic than the show. They made the image feel bigger, both more expansive and with more depth. And the story felt large enough for a movie without betraying the ethos of the show. But the runtime was padded out with songs (much as becoming more and more true of the show) (and other shows from the same team, eg). The songs don't really move the plot forward, they just cover feelings we're already aware of. Plus, they're hard to understand. At least for me. I'm not skilled at understanding lyrics. So that was a struggle.

But the film did provide real movie moments: thrills, jumps, mild sniffoos, etc. I don't regret saying yes.

Mickey Mouse Monopoly (2002)

2002 was a long time ago. I was expecting more on the literal, economic and business aspects of "monopoly" but it's more about how Disney's depictions of such things as gender and ethnicity are problematic—especially when so pervasive as Disney has such a grasp on America's kids.

The students said that they feel the movies have improved but that Disney's grasp on popular consciousness via their business practices is ever worse.

Who wants to argue that they're wrong?

Putin: The New Tsar (2018)

Given its short runtime and startlingly good collection of talking heads (the lack of Americans is the most striking absence), this film does an excellent job covering the basics of Putin's rise to and hold onto power. Leaving out a couple things like his mayorship and the Chechen war feel like serious gaps in the story but its psychological thesis and access to significant interview subjects (cabinet-level officers in Russia and Britain, Kasperov, a former president of Georgia) make this feel like time extremely well spent.

The history we've had since 2018 might make it prematurely aged, but if read as an explanation of Putin's behavior it holds up just fine.

Previous films watched


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











A reasonable number of books for a change


060) Irredeemable by Mark Waid, et al., finished May 20

I can't remember what I was actually looking for on the library website when this popped up, but Mark Waid's a respectable name so I placed it on hold. When I picked it up and it was 896 pages I about threw it back. Would have, had I been walking home. But I set it next to my bed rather assuming I would never pick it up. 896 pages is a big commitment for a book I long to read. And I had no memory of this one.

Besides, I'm a bit burned out on the-most-powerful-superhero-is-the-badguy stories. Two seasons of The Boys has been plenty and I never quite made it through even season one of Invincible. Both are great, but enough already!

Incidentally, all three comics were coming out at around the same time. So that was the zeitgeist, I guess.

I read quite a bit of Invincible once upon a time but not The Boys. And now on to Irredeemable.

It's good. Let's start there. It starts after the goodguy has already gone full badguy so no time wasted on buildup. Among the other heroes, Qubit is among the most interesting characters in this genre I've ever read, and all the characters bring new ideas to superheroing. Nothing's really wasted here. Plus, the story just keeps growing in complexity. And when something comes off a bit deus ex machina, it ends up just being another complication.

Among the fine choices made is the relationship between our erstwhile Superman and his greatest nemesis, which takes the Batman/Joker vibe from LEGO Batman and explodes it. It becomes one of the strangest, most perverse, complex, and fascinating hero/villain (villain/villain) relationships I've read.

It even has a cute ending that is somehow both too much and just right? I think I would have liked it better, had it got the history correct.

Anyway, I have zero regrets reading it. I'm still surprised I did, but it was a fun, provocative, intelligent, original, and brutal, brutal ride.

There's a reason, I guess, we're still reading superhero comics.

five days

061) Stanslaw Lev's The Seventh Voyage by Jon J Muth, finished May 23

I saw this book at the library and it intrigued but, since most adaptations-int-comics aren't good and because I'm trying to cut back on library books, I didn't get it. Then, immediately afterwards, I read an article in The New Yorker that made me reconsider so I immediately put it on hold.

I don't think I've read any Lev. I've seen the Soderbergh Solaris but I was NOT prepared for it. So this, another adaptation, is arguably my introduction.

First, I can't speak of it as an "adaptation," but this is a very fun read. And Muth's pacing and art are terrific. The goofy introduction sets a marvelous tone and it's madness thereonout.

Basically, this astronaut's stuck in space because fixing his rudder takes two people. Luckily, he's able to tilt his navigation juuuust enough to throw him into a wonky portion of spacetime causing more versions of himself from other moments in time to appear and help him fix the ship.

However, they are not that helpful.

I'll also add that Muth's artist notes at the end are fascinating. He makes models before he paints!

two nights

062) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Simon Armitage, finished May 28

I bumped into this in high-school English and both loved it and feared it. Perhaps because my teacher told we'd all been saying it wrong.

Well, Mr Richards. According to this introduction, the text suggests both our pronunciations are correct.

And my memory of the story is largely from rewatching bits of Joseph Campbell with my own students over the years.

And I reckon this is my first time reading the whole thing.

This is a side-by-side version with the Middle English on the left and Armitage's vigorous and sometimes happily nuts translation on the right. I wanted to read the Middle English but, well, this is from northern England and it's a lot more mystifying that Chaucer. And let's not pretend Chaucer's a walk in the park. So while I would occasionally read lines and phrases in the original, I largely stuck with Armitage who successfully builds characters and suspence and simply brings the story's rollick into the present.

And like all good writing, it made me want to attempt something of the same. Lots of alliteration, lil quatrains at the end of each bit. Break it into fitts because what a word that is!

I'm flirting with the idea of rewriting "Duties of a Deacon" as a sort of mock epic in the style, then submitting it on the sly to Michael Collings.

I am engaged in other projects whose momentum I hate to interrupt and if he doesn't like it, what the heck else could I do with it?

But fun and art are their own reward.

short bursts over several weeks

063) Heike's Void by Stephen L. Peck, finished May 30

This is my fourth Peck novel (after A Short Stay in Hell; Scholar of Moab; and King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals) and I think I can say it is my favorite. It checks all the Peck boxes: intellectually challenging, thematically complex, diversity of subject matter, horrific at parts, wise, redrock canyons, having knowable characters, having perhaps unknowable characters, collagic, occasional bursts of impossible vocabulary—you name it! Both the elements that make Peck's worth both compelling and inviting and repulsive are in full force here and the balance here is

He's dealing with elements I'm always wanting to see more of (eg: angels, the after life, redemption, violence, lgbtq Mormons) and doing so in complex and perplexing ways.

I'm not as widely read in Mormon lit as is generally supposed (or it might be better said that I'm widely read enough to grasp how large the field actually is) but I'm willing to say all the same that Steve has set the bar and the rest of us are still aspiring to leap.

In short

No, that's impossible.

In medium, Heike is a philosopher cum murderer. Her first victim survives and

No, I'll give too much away. And I've only mentioned one character so far!

Instead, let me just mention characters.

Elder Holberg, the apostle whom God hates.

Alma Lune, widower of the deeply homomisic Holberg's son (and the good elder's secretary)

Arrow Beaton, a pothead soldier who accidentally sells C-4 to the enemy.

Nephi, an ancient prophet on a crappy angelic

You know what? Even this is risky.

Suffice it to say that in this novel Peck is asking questions as weighty as any he has ever asked and although the ending is still unwilling to deliver us joy this novel remains open and happy and beautiful and optimistic on net.

I mean—this is a novel whose first forty-eight pages are essentially a shaggy-dog story to introduce the plot. And it's not upsetting! The novel is playing games with both us and the characters. The rules to these games are complicated and the teams keep shuffling but we are all playing together and the novel's tendency to a universalist theology makes us hopeful to be hopeful.

just over a month

Previously . . . . :