Octobrrrrr films were just not chilly enough


I hate disappointing Octobers. I had a long list of unseen films I wanted to check off this Halloween season but, as you will see, not a lot of depth here.


Hope you crammed more in than I did!

library dvd
Old (2021)

Sure it's a bit obvious and yeah we can never know what it would be like to enter it without any idea of what it was about, but it's still a cool concept and an enjoyable film. I suppose you could say it as an emnight twist, but some explanation was always going to be forthcoming. Really, it's all very calm and upfront as to what it's about. Outside the controlling conceit, there's no real gimmick. Plenty of flash (maybe too much) but it's a very utilitarian ride. Fun, but I don't know that it'll be one we're still talking about in ten years. See you then (so long as we stay off the beaches)!

Werewolf by Night (2022)

I cannot believe that it is October 11th and not only is this only the second Halloween-adjacent film I have seen, it's only the second film period. Disgusting.

But two movies starring Gael García Bernal means I get to have an opinion on him now and I think he's pretty good.

I appreciated that Marvel's going for an old Universal vibe here. It only catches it off and on, but some of those ons are terrific.

This might be the first MCU thing I've seen in which I hadn't even heard of the character before seeing the titular piece of entertainment. So with no preconceptions, how was it? Okay. It was fun, shockingly gory (because b&w makes it okay??), and had a couple of moments. I liked that it wasn't trying to be any bigger than what it is. So all in all, a success. But not likely to prove memorable. But I wager we'll see this guy again with . . . Blade? Black Knight? Moon Knight? Time will tell.

I will say that the Swamp Thing knockoff* was better rendered than She-Hulk which seems insulting, to be honest.

*(Ah. It's Man-Thing. I've heard of him.)

library dvd
Emma. (2020)×2

I completely agree with my first viewing on every point, even its predictions that it would be ever better this time. It was.

I showed it to my AP Lit classes as a capstone for reading another Austen and it was hard to tell if they were into it at all until Box Hill when they all gasped in horror. No doubts after that as I heard them react audibly to every emotional beat the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, there's Mr Jepson, just weeping at the slightest provocation all the way through the third act.

library dvd
Bell Book and Candle (1958)

Suck a peculiar film. One part Vertigo to a half part each of That Darn Cat and The Cat from Outer Space. And just as weird as that sounds. Without being quite as solid as any of them.

I finally decided I had to see this movie when I learned it came out the VERY SAME YEAR as Vertigo—and stars, like Vertigo, James Steward and Kim Novak. And swapping San Francisco for New York doesn't solve the problem. It's the same era. They are the same actors. Some of the lighting and shots echo. And then Jimmy's secretary has almost the same hairdo and suit Kim did in the other film! It's disorienting.

And is it a creepy movie or a funny movie? Is it romantic or abusive? It's really hard to tell. Part of that is due to the metaphors trying to push through the skin like an unruly skeleton, but it's just not quite coherent tonally or thematically.

I wish a braver director had been at the helm. Richard Quine has some exciting images and good ideas but lacked the ability to make the whole thing stick together. Even Elsa Lanchester seems not quite sure which way to go and she's Elsa Lanchester! Her very presence should make this thing sing!

our dvd
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)×2

Still enjoy this movie immensely. I get why Harold Bloom complains that Tuscany is a bigger star than Shakespeare, but I disagree.

I know Shakespeare doesn't care, but I he did leave a couple of arguable plot holes, for instance, how did Claudio know about Benedick's poetry? Speaking of Claudio, my experience was most different this time in that I had much less sympathy for him. He's kind of a golddigging misogynist lightly papered over with infatuation, isn't he?

In terms of actors, Keanu is better than people give him credit for and Kate looked so much different when she was nineteen. It can's just be her plucked eyebrows, can it? Plus, I always get sad seeing Kenneth and Emma so great together knowing where their personal histories would lead. And, speaking of Emma, whom even Harold Bloom lauds, isn't she great? Just terrific. In absolutely everything. Maybe the best we've got.

due to complications,
a mix of our dvd
Freevee and Soap2day
Much Ado About Nothing (2012)×2

I've been wanting to watch this for ten years. And now I've finally seen it. Twice, no less! And . . . I dunno. It has some truly excellent points. Some of my favorite bits (eg, the watch looking at each other) are barely connected to Shakespeare's words. And not all the actors really succeed at their parts. Benedict, for instance, can do physical comedy but not comedic delivery. They kept some badly aged stuff from the play for intentional effect (Claudio's Ethiope reference) and other they kept without them making much sense. The modern setting was mostly fine but it was hard to get a firm grasp on just what the rules of this modernish world are. For instance, Agent Coulson's choices as the plot is revealed to him (he plays Leonato) are terrific. But then he has to give Claudio his niece and although his delivery is fine, the plot just turns to nonsense before our faces. And since the whole thing takes place in one house, it's perplexing how some information remains unknown for a full day. Little things like that mean that great performances from Claudio and Beatrice (and what seems like a Claire Danes impression from Garfunkel) get interrupted by bits of script and linereadings that appeared to need a bit more time before being camera-ready

In short, a pretty good adaptation but not as good as 1993's. Perhaps Harold Bloom would have loved it.

Prime Video
A Bucket of Blood (1959)

So apparently it is possible to watch some movies too many times, and I've just hit that point with Bucket of Blood. Although I chuckled at moments, it's just a little too dumb to watch this many times.

Then again....


Previous films watched












Luckily, Charlie Brown never meets the tyrannosaur


Lot of comics this go-round which surprised me as I've been reading a lot of prose of late. But I'm in the middle of lots of books, not at the end. Other than rushing through Emily St. John Mandel's latest, my personal reading's been at a more deliberate pace with comics thrown in for spice. And three of the eight I read with other people. Here's to reading as a communal activity!


110) The Complete Peanuts: 1961 – 1962 by Charles M. Schulz, finished October 9

We spent sooo much money getting me this entire set to it's high time I start reading them again. I decided, however, that I would not start at the beginning or feel I had to go in order and certainly not like I had to read the introductions. Just enjoy the art.

Sally begins kindergarten in this volume. Much of the dialogue from the Halloween special comes from these strips. Schroeder forgot Beethoven's birthday in 1961 but made up for it in a big way for 1962.

In short: wonderful. Just wonderful.

maybe three weeks

111) Theseus: Volume One by Jordan Holt, finished October 19

I received notice from Kickstarter that volume two is now for sale so I figured I better read volume one (which I have no memory of supporting but arrived in the mail one day anyway) to see if I want another.


The writing is terrifically funny, even the fake letters page and the how-I-do-comics pages (which are also more informative than usual)—and most people who try to be funny there are, ah, a bit embarrassing.

So this retelling of the Theseus myth complete with gods and monsters is entirely entertaining and all I want is more. So I guess I'll get more. Even though I sorta kinda swore off buying more comics on Kickstarter.


two days

112) Over the Garden Wall by Pat McHale and Jim Campbell, finished October 20

Following Over the Garden Wall's (deserved) success, comics started appearing. This volume collects the first set of stories, which occur between the episodes of the (excellent) show. And they do a fabulous job capturing the show's vibe and its pleasures. Which seems like review enough.

two days

113) Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel, finished October 20

"I've never been interested in auto-fiction," Olive said, but it was difficult to meet his eyes now. 

That's the most interesting sentence in Sea of Tranquility. Because Emily St. John Mandel is clearly messing with us. Olive is a character who found sudden success writing a novel about an impossibly volatile flu and then, a few years later, finds herself living in a world where a real pandemic arrives. On other words, Olive Llewellyn and Emily St. John Mandel are too similar for anyone to doubt the possibility that Olive is just a fictionalized Emily. And so when Olive says she has no interest in auto-fiction, one imagines Emily too must look away.

Or consider an interview Olive gives mid-real-pandemic:

"What are you working on these days? Are you able to work?"

"I'm writing this crazy sci-fi thing," Olive said.

Sea of Tranquility takes place in a number of years from 1912 to 2401. It includes some deliberately paradoxical timeloopery and is intentionally a sequel to The Glass Hotel, although not the one I read. When Jonathan starts imagining another world rather than the prison life he is living, it is that imagined world that is the real world in Sea. Not to mention the characters more or less prove they are living in a simulation. So "crazy sci-fi" seems reasonable. But so would "metafictional" or "auto-fictional."

This is a pure example of the pandemic novel. It can only exist because its author had little else to do. And it's a successful experiment. I don't think it's quite as good as her last two novels, but it is good and it's, well, it's crazy. It may prove to be a transitional work for her. What we see next may be something entirely new.

Which is pretty exciting.

And maybe worth screwing up the timelines.

a week

114) A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, finished October 21

I first (and most recently) read this to Baby O when he was a literal baby. He is now a freshman in college. I first remember hearing about the story when Siskel and Ebert loved a film adaptation, which I then rented on VHS as a teenager on their recommendation. (Or, possibly, just remembered their recommendation clearly enough that I eventually watched it much later. Who knows.)

Anyway, the story is emotionally compelling and moving and filled with details the 5yrold liked as we spread it over a couple months of bedtimes.

That said, it is also racist and classist even as it strives desperately not to be. It's sort of racism and classism that's nearly impossible for someone like my daughter to pick up on, but pausing for pleasant conversation to explore the, ah, sticky issues raised was not wasted time.

She's very excited to read it again. I'm not sure I feel the same way, but after her library book, I don't have something else in mind, so we'll see if she still wants to read it then.

probably over two months

115) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Amazing Adventures: The Meeting of the Mutanimals, finished October 22

Part of one story in this collection was drawn by Noah Van Sciver, which is how it came up in my library search. It's a short, for-kids book so I decided to just start at the beginning and read through. And I'm glad I did even though it was largely dumb because of a story written and drawn by Ben Costa starring a mutant frog who is nothing more than an extended riff on Napoleon Dynamite. Not excellent, not important, but 100% delightful. You have to see his photo of his girlfriend.

one day

116) Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, finished October 26
117) Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, finished October 27

What a weird play.

I mean—it's this great romantic comedy, but over half the jokes are about cheating. The very last joke is "Hey, Prince—get married. It's great! You'll be a cuckold! Haha!" The whole play's like that.

Because wearing horns isn't really part of our culture anymore most of the jokes will be left out and those left over will slide by unnoticed but this play is intensely cynical about love. Intensely. Maybe it would have been best if that turn to tragedy had just gone all the way to piles of dead bodies.

Still. It's fun. I did laugh.

a few schooldays

118) Love by Frederic Brremaud and Federico Bertolucci, finished October 27

I read the first of these (Tiger), a soundless journey through natural India, alighting on animal after animal and ending with a startling human appearance. I liked it enough but it wasn't a hundred pages and I didn't have that much to say so screw it. It doesn't count.

But I did like it enough to read another. And after that one, I did have something to say. So I kept reading them and now I've read all five (at least, all five so far) and I kinda love them. Certainly like them much more than the other book I've read by these two.

I love how they are shockingly brutal at times. I love how they show many different parts of ecosystems. I love that small animals and large, both predators and prey, get to be protagonists for moments.

Dinosaur is rather different from the others in that the cover animal seems like the second protagonist, not the first. But I discovered that the original title is plural—Les Dinosaures—which makes more sense.

I like how both land and water are engaged in each volume. I like how big their worlds are. Fox takes place in an ice age and there's a volcano and orcas hunting bears and man oh man it is awesome.

I mentioned the shocking appearance of man at the beginning of Tiger. Man, appropriately, also appears in Mastiff and, again, in a shocking manner.

My five-year-old really likes these because they have no words. But she also finds them pretty dang scary. I'm not certain she's read every panel.

Because they are genuinely thrilling. Life and death. Survival of the fittest, at times, survival of the luckiest at other times. Lots of owls. At least four different continents. Wondrously detailed and felt. Just terrific books, especially when added together into one great whole.

a few weeks


Previously . . . . :


The anarchist and the playwright (& thme)


Not two hours after posting this, some anti-Shakes conspiracy theorist tracked down my email and sent me his manifesto. Naturally, it proposes some aristocrat as the actual author. So I thought I'd talk a hair more about why their theories are dumb.

But just a hair. These people spend enough time on themselves, they do not need ours.

First, as Graeber points out, those with wealth and power don't need to imagine the lives of those without either. Their world is secure! What do they care what the poor do?

However, those without must constantly imagine the minds and desires of those with—because, if they (we) misunderstand the powerful’s minds or desires, we (they) may end up bankrupt, in prison, fired, executed, or otherwise unpleasantly situated. You have to know what the powerful care about in order to avoid their ire. Don’t think this is a long-ago problem.

Ergo! It is much more believable that the fancy characters were written by nonfancy people than vice versa.


If you agree to adopt this logic but you still need an aristocrat to write Shakespeare’s plays, the idea that it was a woman does make some sense. Women, that is, having less power than men, must know how men think—but this is less true of men regarding women:

Therefore, Shakespeare, being a man, could not possibly have written Rosalind.

(Queen Elizabeth, one assumes, messed up this dynamic for many men. Although this means, of course, that she of all people writing the plays is most absurd of all.)

End aside.

Incidentally, one might argue that the truly poor don't feature that prominently in Shakespeare's plays, but to that I shrug. Shakespeare wasn't born a beggar either, and if few people waste time imagining downward, why should Shakespeare be more virtuous? But also, not even the poor want to see plays about the poor (cf Sullivan's Travels). So even if he could, would the audience have cared?

In the end, all these conspiracy theories are based on the idea that great art cannot come from humble sources. It's worth nothing that no one in Shakespeare’s time thought he was a fraud. It was only after the whole of England accepted his plays as great and worthy—over 200 years later!—that the aristocratic theories began. These imaginers would rather deny creativity and imagination (not to mention genius) than to see them in a glovemaker’s son. And so they string together coincidences. That’s not history. It’s merely collecting trivia. To “support” a snobbish worldview.

(Do not email me your stupid theory in response.)



It's less like I've had a crush on her since 1993 and more like we're good friends who found other people but you can imagine another world where things worked out differently, you know?


(and other stories)


103) Long Live the Pumpkin Queen by Shea Ernshaw, finished September 10

1) There's some weird stuff about pacing that I didn't like and even though the author thanks her editor for cleaning up plot holes, there are some other flaws that are peculiar. Just one example, at one point Sally has no bones; at two later points she has fabric bones. That sort of thing.

2) Sally's visits to the other holiday lands were well imagined though a bit hard to get enthused about. Part of that may be blamed on the demands of the plot, but those demands tie back into the pacing issue and so, ultimately, the place-to-place-to-place nature of the overlong central section makes a certain amount of sense, but trying to keep it trim left the visits cold while still feeling like of step of plot lasting waaay too long.

3) I'm not sure how I heard about this, but I put it on hold before I realized it wasn't a comic. I got it anyway with the idea it might be a good book to read to the 5yrold as this was her first favorite movie. But we're in the middle of The Little Princess and I/she didn't want to interrupt it. And since it's in demand and can't be renewed, I decided to just pick it up myself.

4) The beginning of the book was incredibly compelling. Even though I love Sally and was excited for her to have her own adventure, it ends up what I really wanted was some sexy sexy Sally/Jack scenes and this book delivers. The writing is G-rated but the passion is intense and very hot. One expects that Shea Ernshaw has some, ah, extended scenes in some scenes she cut before submission. Because this relationship is emotionally deep and the flashes of physicality that made it into this novel for children hint at something equally rich and assured. Anyway. If you've been shipping since the early Nineties, this book might be for you. At least Certain Parts.

5) The book is about Sally development from the uncertain child of abuse into the powerful and certain Pumpkin Queen. This is so-so. I wanted it to be stronger, but even as Sally is daring and brave and out on adventures, she doesn't seem to grow that much. She's just sort of stronger by the end. I wish this angle had been the real focus of developing in the editing process.

6) One thing that bugged me was this apparently inescapable theme of Disney products (I've already complained about this re Star Wars and Marvel) of important people requiring a certain geneology. Ugh.

7) Speaking of, it was startling when a real-life character appeared in the book—someone who had committer her final newsworthy act on the day before. (This link is a spoiler.)

8) This novel is totally a corporate product but you know what? Thank you, Disney. Now I want the ten-episode version. I think Henry Selick just became available.

about a week

104) Bug! The Adventures of Forager by a trio of Allreds, finished September 22

The weirder corners of the DC universe are so so weird. I've never been deep into stuff like Kirbyesque cosmology and it ain't easy to just dip into and know what's going on. And I did feel plenty lost here as well, but the wit of Lee and the beauty and vim of Mike and Laura make it a fun journey regardless. Plus, with the Allreds doing it, you get lots of cultural eastereggs (including those of the Mormon variety) and bits of wisdom—I especially liked the bit about building with your hands rather than your mind):

And, as long as we're in the neighborhood:

Anyway, do NOT ask me to explain any of this but I can testify that there are plenty of cool ideas and, I reckon, if you're steeped in New Gods mythology, you'll get more out of it than I did.

Also, I should mention that although the cover makes no mention of it, there's a short thing in the back about a guy named Midnight by a different artistic team that looks cool but has a tricky to follow panel-path, is crushed into pages that are really too small for the artistic decisions made, and is either missing a chapter or crushed the entire climactic sequence between panels.
That's a lot of complaints about a book that's jampacked with cool stuff, but I guess what I'm saying is that if you've never read comics before and are looking for a place to start, this ain't it. Experts only!

under a week

105) The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, finished September 24

So I just love her writing. It's not anything I can articulate, but just start reading her and you are immediately given the confidence that you are in the company of someone who knows what she's doing.

I loved Station Eleven, her big breakout book, and I intended to read this as soon as it came out in 2020, but Lady Steed was a tad underwhelmed so it ended up back at the library before I had a chance. When Sea of Tranquility hit earlier this year, I immediately put it on hold, but then I heard that it's connected to Glass Hotel (and, lesserly, to Station Eleven) and that it's a richer experience for having read Glass Hotel first. So back on hold went Glass Hotel.

And I loved it. I can see how, immediately following a read of Station Eleven, it might disappoint by not being big in the same ways, but with a bit of separation, it is just as impressive. So many interwoven stories, but it feels natural and organic and not workshopped and deliberated. Even its more flashy move like a switch into first-person plural and simply right.

The novel is deeply noneuclidean, by which I mean it is filled with parallel lines constantly intersecting with each other. Everything reflects everything else. And it's interesting to see how some people write about Glass Hotel as a novel of the multiverse while others see it as supernatural (or simple madness). I say,

What I like most is that every character feels fully realized. Even if they never get to be a pov character, even if we haven't been in their pov for a hundred pages. They live. And that means all the choices, crisis or not, large or small, matter. Because they matter to the characters. Now, most of them are large, at least within a character's life (ponzi schemes, mortage crises, artistic failures, dead mothers, drug addictions, suicides), but even small moments matter which is why the disasters matter as well. These people are complicated and contradictory and therefore we can hear them breathe.

maybe two weeks

106) Fangs by Sarah Andersen, finished October 2

A vampire/werewolf love story from the creator of Sarah Scribbles, just with more intentionally attractive art. What's not to like?

one short evening

107) The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, finished October 3

I heard of this book in an AML review that did a Mormon reading of the novel. I reached out to the review's author as it seemed to me he might also be interested in a similar book I admire, Replay.

I was surprised when he wrote me back, telling me he had read it on my recommendation and asking if I had read Harry August. I had not. My library didn't have it and I wasn't motivated enough to get it some other way. But now I felt obligated! So I interlibraried it and now I have read it.

Here's the concept:

Harry lives and then he dies. Then he is born again at the same moment and under the same circumstances as his first birth. He lives, dies, back to the beginning. He carries all his memories with him from previous lives.

As conceit, solid. It might seem hard to build plot-driving stakes around, but North solves that problem. The last hundred pages are filled with moments of emotional depth and excitement, but I think what I will be left with is a sense of eternity's tedium and wondering just what Harry will do next.

Without progress, what good is eternity?

two weeks

108) Brindille by Frédéric Brrémaud and Federico Bertolucci, finished October 5

It's a fine little fantasy, but it does reveal the advantage a work like Bone has that takes its sweet, sweet time over a thousand pages.

Another problem is the translation. For instance, in one panel a character is clearly reacting to some kind of a joke (probably a pun) and that is retained, but no effort was made to insert a funny where it belonged. Just a literal translation. And the the books title is Brindille but the main character is called Twig. So unless you know French, you may not make the connection between her, the title, and another character named Sir Brindille. All of which the book assumes are plain to you. So . . . shoddy work.

one night

109) Shelterbelts by Jonathan Dyck, finished date

1. My copy is apparently not the one that is normal. Looking around, it appears the book's chapters had been published in more than one form. Perhaps individually, then in volumes, then as a whole. My copy is the full thing but it looks like volume one as seen here:

2. Off and on for a few years I spent some time looking for a smaller branch of Christianity with a thriving literature all it's own ala the Latter-day Saints. I tried real hard to find a Jehovah's Witnesses literature to no avail. One Adventist writer and no more. Ends up I should have been looking at the Mennonites. This is a comic or strong literary merit. Plus, one of the characters is the librarian in her mostly Mennonite town and spends most of the budget on Mennonite romance novels because that's what the people want. Jackpot.

3. The art is simple, in the sense of clean lines and dot eyes, the only colors black and white. But Dyck makes strong use of where he spreads and does not spread his ink. He's creative with his perspectives and layouts. All the simplicity is put to work in the creation of depth. Read more about that here. Or screw theory and just check out some samples here and here.

Anyway, I found this book moving and fascinating, both accessible and alien, and thoroughly admirable.

this week


Previously . . . . :