2023 and love is in the air (and senseless violence)


Happy January! Through the first fifteen days I had somehow watched sixteen movies and I was considering splitting this post up. Probably for the best I did not.

I haven't really figured out what Letterboxd is for when it comes to me personally, but I'm going to experiment with making monthly lists. Discover if that might be it.



library dvd
What's Up, Doc? (1972)

I've never properly seen this. I sorta saw it on my cousin's tv on a terrible signal but that was far from ideal. And I'm not sure why I watched it now, but it mayve been because of an excellent essay I recently read on It's a Wonderful Life which, among other sentences, said these: "Throughout their strange, bittersweet courtship, it is she who chases him, as much as Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, or Barbra Streisand in What’s Up, Doc? George, for his part, is as outraged, as protesting, as ultimately helpless as any of his counterparts. It is a screwball chump-chase transposed into the register of drama, with George playing the part of the chump."

(Read the rest of the article, but one thing it did is convince me this tweet is true.)

Anyway, it's good. Viewing It's a Wonderful Life as a screwball allows for new readings.

THIS movie is pretty great screwball. It never stops being funny. I will say that the terrific car chace (which might be better than Bullitt's at showcasing San Francisco?) did feel a tad long and dry to me simply because I was missing the linguistic and situational car chases that had been the movie to that point.

Streisand is great (though she never doesn't seem like a New Yorker) and Ryan O'Neal feels like a discovery (no, I have not seen Love Story or Paper Moon), kind of a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant, and the supporting cast is kind of perfect. There are even a couple of borings in there so our eyes can occasionally rest.

Screwball. The greatest American genre?

Peter Pan Goes Wrong (2016)

We've been fans of the show for . . . three years now? But we haven't watched any of the movies, which I think predate the show. But I'm not going to look it up.

In some ways, this is darker than average. Quite a few serious injuries as things go wrong during this production, but we all laughed and enjoyed ourselves and that's what matters, right? I do enjoy watching a company take on different roles. I wish there were more of that these days.

library dvd
You've Got Mail (1998)

Somehow I've never seen this movie. It came out just after I became a big Greg Kinnear fan (his performance in As Good as It Gets was one of a handful of times a performance restructured film for me), I dug Sleepless in Seattle, in 1999 I spent a grea deal of time in an aparment where they watched this film over and over again (and I had a crush on a girl from that apartment who modeled her look after Meg Ryan) (and I later married another girl from that apartment), yet something about it just made me disinterested.

Then I learned about Shop Around the Corner and so of course I had to see that first and la de da de da I bought that on dvd and finally watched it a decade later and here we are! Finally watching You've Got Mail!

My wife kept quoting the movie as we watched it and wondering just HOW many times she had watched it. And I must say—it seems eminently rewatchable. And I like that the romance incorporates the complicated unpleasantness from Shop. I also loved the scenes that were the same but I also appreciated the changes. I thought the longer scope of time was an improvement, and I loved the time capsule. 1998 is . . . kind of a long time ago, isn't it?

Anyway, it was great. I should have watched it long ago.

library dvd
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

The poster is deceptive. And so is the story's Mike Mignola heritage. The look of this film is, in fact, classic Bruce Timm. Which makes it feel more kid-appropriate than it is.

It's fun to watch the characters thrown hodgepodge into this Victorian setting. Barbara Gordon is married to James. Dickie, Jason, and Timmy are part of an Oliver Twisty streetgang called the Cockrobins. Ivy gets killed right off the bat.

The villain is Jack the Ripper who is doing his dirty in H. H. Holmes's playground. Gotham is Chicago here, not New York. Or, rather, it's both Chicago and New York. Who's the killer? Hugo Strange? Harvey Dent? I'll admit it kept be guessing and uncertain until the end. And I should also mention that this villain outmatches Batman pretty much throughout. It takes luck and a Houdini reference to get the Bat outta this one.

The movie is frequently dumb with some cheap plot tricks laid out in seconds, but that's what happens with a 78-minute runtime, I guess.

My favorite innovation was the relationship of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Maybe my favorite version. In this universe, I have to believe that they would form a strong working and marital relationship. I doubt those movies would get made (and, if they did, I doubt the filmmakers would have the courage to put a healthy marriage at the center of their movies), but one can imagine.

library dvd
Batman Ninja (2018)

I hated this movie. Hated it. So I'm going to tell you what was good about it and then I'm going to complain until either I feel better or I just can't take thinking about it anymore.

So, first, it was visually wonderful. Once they get to Japan almost everything about it is cool. There are a handful of background and animation styles that are played with and almost all of them are great. This movie would be much better as a forty- to ninety-page book of concept art. That's its platonic form.

Everything else about this movie was intensely stupid. The plot is nonsense, its morality is incoherent, the voice acting (I listened to the English version) is grating. I mean—you have Tony Hale doing a Mark Hamill impersonation and the guy doing Batman (and who does a lot of Batman)? His direction seemed to be Kevin Conroy only if he really really really really meant it.

There aren't many female characters and mostly they just vamp. When Catwoman and Harley Quinn have their big final fight, Catwoman introduces it by telling us it's time for some girl-on-girl action. And Harley literally licks Selina. But hey—I like breasts too. So yay they were in the movie?

I had thought this was just some alternate Earth where Batman et al naturally lived in feudal Japan, but no. The gorilla built a time machine. And there are a couple explanations for how what happens next happens but it's all nonsense and I won't trouble you with it. But to give you a couple ideas, I'll say the following phrases: combining mecha castles, white savior, fulfilled prophecy, monkey made of monkeys—

I can't say more about that.

The movie doesn't worry one whit about time paradoxes (which might have been refreshing . . . if they had worried about ANYTHING), but perhaps we shouldn't be surprised since it eschews logic of all types, sorts, and varieties.

It is a big steaming pile of borderline-offensive nonsense.

But hey—at least it looked cool.

our dvd
Snoopy, Come Home (1972)

This is a curious thing. It has the brilliant use of colors and backgrounds and paint mediums that we associate with, say, A Boy Named Charlie Brown or the Halloween special. But the music is pure Sherman brothers—but the Sherman brothers are almost writing for The Monkees. And one of the songs reminds me of another Disney songwriter, George Bruns's love theme for Robin Hood. But regardless, there are songs in this movie that are part of my permanent jokebox—including one without words—even though I've only seen this movie maybe at most half a dozen times in my life. And they're a very different vibe than Vince Guaraldi.

It's also peculiar because it starts off with the gang all at each other's throats. When Snoopy leaves, it's totally reasonable to imagine he ain't coming back. There's a lot of harshness sprinkled throughout. And poor Woodstock has never flown worse.

But it is a good movie. It's sticky. My 6yrold daughter last saw it over a year ago and she remembered beats like you would not believe. Don't sleep on Snoopy, Come Home.

Rialto Elmwood
The Fabelmans (2022)

I wish I hadn't known about the final cameo casting before watching the movie because it would have been even more delightful if I'd had to scramble to figure out who I was looking at. Still.

First, of course it's not a blockbuster. It's too long. Honestly, in 2022, that's a four- to six-part tv show. Although I get the irony in saying The Fabelmans should have been a tv show.

That said, I loved it. It was moving; it mixed media delightfully; it threw in maybe the most meta camera move I've ever seen to end the film; when it was funny, it was very funny.

One of the weirdest things for me though was how old Michelle Williams is. I mean—I know she's about my age, but I can imagine her even looking thirty, let alone as old as I, alas, am. One of the weirdest things for son #1, who saw it with me, was the Riddler being a nice guy. Weird.

Escape from It's a Wonderful Life (1996)

Don't know if I should count this since I accidentally skipped the second act, but hey! This is a Winderful Life parody made by the Upright Citizens Brigade (so you see names like Jay Martel and Amy Poehler all over the credits).

The schtick is George Bailey is sick of playing the same movie in reruns year after year and wants wither a raise or new roles to play. He's got a killer idea for a science-fiction film where he plays an alien named Number Three.

It's moderately funny and not terribly long.

our dvd
North by Northwest (1959)

It's been a long time since I've seen this. My memory was that it is one of Hitchcock's purest and most excellent entertainments, but not one of his strongest films artistically.

Now I'm not even sure about that first part. The screwball and the thriller seem, at times, to be working against each other, either slowing the other down. And the entendre is so far from needing doubling that one can only blink.

And so I'm no longer as sure of what I would have happily said a week ago (and did, in fact, earlier today) that North by Northwest may be the best entry to Hitchcock. I just don't know. It's fun and smart and it has the greatest suit in film history and by no means do I want to be perceived as knocking it, but . . . it's second-tier Hitchcock for me. And sure, second-tier Hitchcock is still above many directors' best work, but it seems to me to have more in common with the Bond films it inspired than the best films ever made.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

I only picked up with this movie after the Nazis arrive so maybe I shouldn't count it, but I'm agonna anyway. Because I love it. And, apparently, so does Daniel Craig, who appeared with Angela Lansbury in her final film.

Son#1's been wanting to show it to the youngest for a long time. It's one of my few childhood favorites that I passed onto my kids such that it became one of theirs as well. He finally started showing it to her last night while Lady Steed and I were off watching North by Northwest, then they finished it after school. And I came it a bit after that.

And so my comments are largely about the final scenes.

1. The effects still hold up. Very few changes need to be made for it to be 2023-caliber. 2. The WWI veterans—are they actually from earlier wars? Because they're about the right age not at WWII but at the time the movie was made. The fellow who signs up to fight the Nazis at the very end is about the age of a WWI vet. 3. I really love all three kids. I know they didn't act more, but I hope they had great lives. I wonder if they're still with us?

library dvd
Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2019)

Lady Steed wonders if the movie would work if you had not read the book. I can't speak to that. I will say it was not as funny (though funny!), and not quite as complex or layered, and the organization of the plot was occasionally clunky, but still: I enjoyed it. I thought it was fun and moving. Cate Blanchett was excellent and so was the kid. Billy Crudup was fine but he was so prefectly cast in The Morning Show, it is now difficult to see him as anyone else.

I would call it a successful adaptation, but I know it wasn't received great. And if I'd seen it when I came out and the book was fresher in my mind—or if I'd never read it at all—perhaps I would have liked it less. Who can say.

library dvd
What's Up, Doc? (1972)

Since the youngest boy was so sad to have to leave the previous viewing (see above) halfway through, I didn't want to return this dvd until we could watch it again. And that also gave another brother and the sister a chance to watch it as well. Which was great! because this is an all-ages romp.

I noticed this time that one of Judy's first actions is grabbing some carrots, establishing her as Bugs Bunny even before she says, "What's up, doc?"

There is one important difference between Judy and Bugs however, and that is that Bugs never brings the chaos before someone wrongs him but Judy doesn't wait for that. But she does have a simple want and this really is best viewed as a live-action cartoon. Even though most of the direct references are to Warner Bros. films of the nonanimated variety.

Anyway, I hope things work out for them.

library dvd
What's So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968)

Don't remember exactly when I first heard about this. During the pandemic. Perhaps still when we were locked down? Maybe I heard the This American Life episode. Maybe I saw the trailer on YouTube. Regardless of what was first, the movie wasn't streaming.

But a couple weeks ago I was at the library and happened to see two (two!) copies sitting next to each other. So I took one.

It's a fascinating movie to watch in covid times. I suppose any pandemic movie would be, but this is a pandemic copy and it does a bunch of things I would not have expected. I knew there would be people wearing masks, but I didn't expect to see a type of mask I'd never seen before 2020. I expected some weird correlations with our time but I didn't expect jokes on politics and medicine that are just as fresh today. I expected somethings to be weirdly long-ago, but I didn't expect it to give me pro-diversity and anti-women's-lib in equal measure. And it's hilarious to see music cues that make no sense in a post-punk era. And that's without mentioning fun choices like the opening narrations and the bird's mind.

In short, it's a trip. And it's still funny. Even the teenagers likes it.

My mind is percolating with pedagogical uses....

Joe (1970)

First, I get why Peter Boyle was both surprised and upset when people see his title character as a hero. He's not a hero. He's all kinds of racist, his morality is suspect, he takes glee in violence, etc etc. The movie's also weirdly classist and anticlassist simultaneously. In other words, he's the sort of character I thought was extinct pre-2015 (pre-Trump) and now know is depressingly common. Even though there are some cool filmmaking aspects to this movie (the opening credits are worth checking out), anyone who tells you it's a favorite should be immediately suspect.

Susan Sarandon doesn't get much to do in her film debut, but her eyes are HUGE and one imagines she would be lovely if she weren't doped up.

I found this movie because a student is reading Tarantino's new book and wanted to know if I'd seen it. I hadn't.

And now I have. Though I watched it on doublespeed, which would be my recommendation if you must.

library dvd
Woman of the Year (1942)

You've Got Mail had a little special feature about some of the classic Hollywood matchups (with the thesis that Hanks/Ryan are a rare modern example) and, of all the films they clipped, for some reason this is the one I out on hold at the library. Perhaps it was the only one that attracted my eye that wasn't streaming somewhere convenient and thus didn't get added to some watchlist on Prime or Kanopy or something. Anyway, it arrived and we watched it.

And I have very mixed feelings about it. It does a lot of interesting things with the reversing of gender roles and such, but the ending I did not love. Spencer Tracy's character simplifies into simple pettiness for the final act and Katherine Hepburn's risks becoming nonsensical in the last ten minutes.

We leared from the Criterion edition that this was not the original ending, written or filmed. That ending's now lost (though the scripts exists) and it sounds like a better ending. The reason it was axed is uncertain but it likely was either women in test audiences wanted Hepburn to fail more spectacularly or that the studio heads were uncomfortable with her character's power. Take your pick. 1942, amirite?

In terms of plot, it starts off romantic comedy and turns comedic melodrama. (It has to, since they're married by the end of act one.) There was one point, halfway through, where he gives her a phrase as she's writing (they are both newspaper columnists), and I hoped they would come to be involved in each other's work, now that they are married. That's what the lost ending would have given us. I would have liked that better.

But this hasn't scared me away from more Hepburn/Tracy movies. I'm ready for more.

ADDENDUM: I couldn't stop thinking about this film after I went to bed, and why it I found it both terrific and terrible, and I wanted to add one other moment to the they-will-write-together-seeming moment mentioned above: their wedding night. Which devolves into international and domestic chaos but seems to end with them reaching an accord, with their presumed consummation and symbolic evidence.

The movie kept giving me more believable moments of Finally! they understand one another! than the final one, which follows Tracy's act-long pettiness (that he does not repent for) and Hepburn making some poorly defined compromises (that seem unlikely to last).

But what I think is happening is that the last 80 years have shifted the culture away from this movie in a manner that makes it more foreign than many other movies of its era. But I dunno. If you're a fan, I really want to hear your take.

library dvd
What's So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968)

We watched it again with the commentary by a couple of film historians. They did say some interesting things about the movie, but mostly they talked about the historical context. They would go off on long tangents about an actors entire career while the movie played on. Which isn't what I want from a commentary.

I should mention that 90% of the talking was the second guy. The first guy hardly got a word in once he'd introduced the second. I wonder if he regreted it.

Fascinating that a movie can completely disappear for over 50 years like that, then reappear and actually be pretty good. Must be some lesson in that.

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Interesting to imagine what these Italians were thinking as they made the films of this era. They'd seen so much brutality in life and so much propoganda pasted over it. No coincidence, I imagine, that the father in this film is paid to pate posters onto the walls. It's appropriate.

His happiness and his relief at getting that job is so palpable. But, boy. That's not what life has in mind.

I love the title. And it's an excellent movie. And I'm not surprised it has such acclaim. And it's says so much about family and fate and economics that I would like to show it to my kids. But how eager am I to see it again, I wonder?

our dvd
Babe (1995)

This movie is literally the greatest. I mean—what other movie makes you cry for joy? George Miller is a freaking genius, James Cromwell deserved the Oscar (I don't you wish he won instead of Kevin Spacey?). He and Magda Szubanski are one of the great screen couples. The joeks are funny, the relationships are rich. It has some of the best use of chapters and narration.

Everything is perfect.

Previous films watched













Initial thoughts on Wednesday


I decided long ago not to write comprehensively about television the way I attempt to do with books and movies. In part because when do you write (episode? season? entire show? —what if I don’t finish?), in part because I don’t watch a lot of tv, in part because tv viewing can be incidental in a way sitting down with a book cannot be, in part because I just don’t take television as seriously, etc etc etc.

This does mean I haven’t written about show I could say much about (Ted Lasso, Tales from the Loop, Mrs Maisel, Severance) but it also means that when I do actually watch tv (not that often, alas) I don’t feel any pressure (which means I didn’t have to talk about how terrible Loot was). It remains meaningless in a way I’ve lost with books and movies. Don’t get me wrong—I LIKE writing about all books and movies—but I am more intentional there.

I love Charles Addams and his kooky creations and I love most of the first half of Tim Burton’s career, but if it weren’t for a couple “surprised” reviews of Wednesday, I would have assumed he was just falling deeper in the hole of cliche he’s been digging the last twenty years.

But here’s where the fact that it’s television works in its favor.

So by request of the 13yrold and the peer pressure he feels, we have now watched the first four episodes of Wednesday and I am loving it. The world has entered my dreams every single night since we started. I love the aesthetics and the sets and the acting.

But I realized recently that I probably would not like it if it were a movie. The show does go against some of my perceived rules for the Addams Family universe and it does engage, lightly, in some of my pet peeves re stories about teenagers. It takes some shortcuts with characterization and it can be sloppy with geography and this and that and th’other things—stuff I would likely complain about and would ruin the Time Burton movie called Wednesday but which roll off me like water since it’s “just” television.

I’m not sure what the moral for me is here. I mean—we all need some candy in our diet, so I don’t feel like I need to up my tv game. I watch so little compared to most people and I’ve been disappointed by pretty much every Marvel show so I’m still capable of being snobby (perhaps the end of Wednesday will ruin it the same way the ends of WandaVision, Loki, etc, lessened those shows for me).

Maybe it’s just that the Addams Family is so deeply nostalgic for me that I can forgive minor failures as long as the whole rings true for me. I dunno.

But I’m loving it and I hope that continues.



Step right up and try your luck


Hey, everyone! Only two books this time—a Steinbeck comedy and something that inspired me to make a game for you. Enjoy playing! (Unless you're Edward Ross, in which case, sorry!)


006) The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck, finished January 18

I'd never heard of this before finding an old paperback—which I didn't take long to start reading because I had no idea Steinbeck wrote purely comic fiction.

And it was good! A heavy percentage of the jokes haven't survived the journey into the new century, but enough did. The wisdom is intact and the characters are still fun to visit.

And, when you learn the only way to be a good king is to be worthy of the guillotine, well. It is Steinbeck. Is that how it will end?

It may not be top-tier Steinbeck but it's aged better than most comic novels and I recommend it.

Also, click on the image to see more cool covers.

perhaps a month

007) Filmish by Edward Ross, finished date

I'll spend most of this review complaining about all of Filmish's failures, so let me start by saying that if you've never read any film criticism—particularly of the medium itself—this is a pretty decent first dip. By which I mean, if I ever get to teach the high-school Writing about Film class I want to teach, this would make a good textbook. (For the first two or three weeks. I would still want something like ______ for the semester.)

That said, the writing is a bit amateur. It feels like a longish undergrad essay adapted to comics. For instance, Ross spends a lot of time in the first two and last two chapters talking about things like the hegemony of straight white men but from page the first to page the last, most of his examples are of straight white male actors performing writing by straight white male writers as directed by straight while male directors produced by straight white men. And he doesn't seem aware of this irony.

In short, the films he knows well enough to draw on are the exact films he says it is dangerous if they're all we know. Or, in other words, this is the classic absurdity of young white liberals who say the world should be better for people other than themselves while unironically reveling in every privilege the world-as-it-is delivers them.

The book itself is modeled after Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and its sequels. Ross even dresses in a plaid overshirt. But he doesn't understand his subject matter as well (unfair; who does?) and his scholarly quotations often simplify what's under discussion in order for him to hit all his talking points.

But the most glaring failure of the book is Ross's inability to draw faces.

Don't understand me! If he were making a work of fiction, he could make various faces that were distinct from each other, but what he cannot do is draw real people who are recognizable as real people. Every once in a while he draws a Kubrick who looks like a Kubrick or a Woody Allen who looks like a Woody Allen, but we're talking about movie stars here. You need to be able to draw a Brad Pitt who looks like a Brad Pitt. And if you almost make an Uma Thurman who looks like an Uma Thurman, she better almost look like her in the next panel as well.

So let's play a game! I took images of white male movie stars who appeared in the book, tried to blur anything identifying in terms of costume or set (probably unsuccessfully), and I'm now inviting you to match the face to the name. Just to mess with you, one person appears twice.

Good luck! Leave a comment or reply to this email (get the emails) and let me know your guesses. Some of them are reeelly hard.

Charlie Chaplin, Daniel Craig, Tom Cruise, John Cusack, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Godzilla, Jeff Goldblum, Ethan Hawke, Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Sean Penn, Joaquin Phoenix,  Guy Pierce, Brad Pitt,  Arnold Schwarzenegger,  Kevin Spacey

about a week