April ends with what you see here


A fun little month of film. I should say that I watched more quality short films than usual, from Cops (and a bunch more Buster Keaton) to Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe to A Date in 2025 to more more more. But they don't get counted! No matter how many there are!

So on to the big ones.


library bluray
Easter Parade (1948)

So this is the number-one boxoffice smash of 1948. Which is wild to me. The story is barebones and the romance is dumb. I guess people just liked singing and dancing and accepted the big stars because they are stars and these are their roles? I dunno.

Don't get me wrong. The songs are Irving Berlin in the best way. I'll humming at least the title track for a while (and it wasn't even my favorite). But

Can we talk about the romance? Or romances, rather? Because they're dumb. I know that stars fall for each other in movies, but Fred Astaire's both a little weird looking and almost a quarter century older than Judy Garland. It doesn't make sense! Especially not when there's a really nice guy who is age- and face-appropriate who's also really rich right there pining for her. Why does that guy exist? It's not so he can marry Fred's former flame. He doesn't want that and we don't want it for him. It's like the movie was following some playbook and forgot how many plays they'd booked. So many complications are put into place and then the final couple scenes conveniently forget all about them. Love conquers all, I guess. Even love that makes no sense.

(This was, of course, the MGM way. Using playbooks, that is. Piles of writers all trying to do salary work on the same movie.)

I'm no musical expert, but I do wonder if this movie is either typical of the time (I suspect this is true) or extra-huge (I suspect this is also true), but sometimes it seems to be the direct target of Singin' in the Rain's satire. I wonder.

library dvd
Gates of Heaven (1978)

I largely know about this film and have wanted to see it because of Roger Ebert's enthusiasm for it. It's a fascinating time capsule, but that also makes it a bit more distant. I'm not sure I can experience or appreciate it as, say, Roger Ebert or Werner Herzog did in 1978. By which I mean it feels less about us and more about them. But maybe that's also an aspect of watching it alone, not sharing it with an audience.

The film has no narration and I find this a compelling technique. Every one just speaks for themselves. No one is between us and the subjects but the editor.

I'd like to attempt a film like this. Even before he mastered his technique (getting people to stare into the camera, for instance, see Fog of War), he knew how to let people talk and just share.

In other words: I will watch more.

Venus (2016)

Interesting to watch this one right after Gates of Heaven. The opening is all about the filmmakers and what they want. Part two is them interviewing women from Copenhagen about sex and sexuality, and the filmmakers are still doing a lot of talking. Finally we edge into more Errol Morris-y filmmaking with the women just talking with very little interjection from the filmmakers. Then the final portion is portraits of the women as nude as they are willing to get. This is silent. Like the marble nude in the opening shot. Which is a way to bookend, I guess.

Although this film was made by women, with and for women, and did foreground women's stories and left me, as audience, feeling like I had genuinely heard women, it also felt like a crass calculation: sex sells.

Also, may I say, Copenhagen is most certainly another country.

Century Hilltop 16
Paint (2023)

I know Rotten Tomatoes is cold on it but if you liked the trailer, I say go for it. I liked the trailer; I liked the movie.

I'll agree that it's not one of the greatest movies in the tradition of the Hesses or Waititi, but it's a solid piece of work. It understands that no matter how your characters fail, you still have to love them and respect them. That's the secret of this kind of comedy. And so while there are a few stumbles, the care of the writer/director and the skill of the actors holds it together.

I wager the details about PBS are wrong to the point of silly and the throwback vibe likely creates a more absurd Vermont than Napoleon did Idaho, but seriously: if you love this kind of comedy, it works.

I also loved the old-school soundtrack (since I was utterly 100% alone in the theater*, I could sing along with Don Williams over the credits) and, yes, I was burned (delightfully and deservedly) by the bread-bowl joke. You see, we went to the Musée Mécanique today and, while we usually avoid such touristy things, before we walked back to the ferry, I got myself some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. And it was delicious. Doesn't make Paint's burn any less worthy, but hey—well played.

* Watching a movie in a theater alone is kind of awesome! Especially since I could laugh at jokes that maybe no one else would find funny. And perhaps also especially since people on average are apparently not loving the film.

Their loss.

library dvd
The Mermaid (2016)

Stephen Chow never fails to amaze. No matter how bonkers he's been, he'll find a way to surpass your expectations. And although there is plenty of visual madness in this film, the funniest bit must be a series of simple drawings. You have to love it.

That said, I'm astonished this film was such an enormous hit. Americans aren't interested in such broad farce, even if they are also special effects extravaganzas. The film, in short, is utter nonsense with a series moral message delivered with gruesome, over-the-top clarity. I mean—we see people kiling mermaids with Taiji-like efficiency. That's not typical comedy fare, to my mind.

The movie is intensely entertaining, but it's mix of comic styles and interjections of brutally serious point-making turn it into something I'm just amazed did big box office.

Sad it took so long for it to become widely available, but now it is! Make your own judgments.

library dvd
Annie (1982)

Mike Nichols put this on Broadway so you might be surprised he didn't direct this as well. But I guess when John Huston is available, you go with John Huston? Did he do any other musicals?

The movie didn't do great critically in 1982, but it was on tv every year so I saw it plenty of times so maybe it, as much as Sound of Music or The Wizard of Oz, just forms my prototype and what I expect. Because I still enjoyed it.

It is true that Daddy Warbucks's bodyguards are a pair of racial stereotypes and that the choreography provides lots of glimpes of lady's underpants and Bernadette Peters's cleavage, but the movie's charming. There are enough good songs and Aileen Quinn's shall-we-say thorough performance (which is exactly right for the character) and strong supporting performances and just the right amount and variety of thrills for a kiddie-based audience come together for a fun musical ride.

I'm not embarrassed to discover I still like it.

library dvd
Last Days in the Desert (2015)

Somehow I completely missed this movie when it came out. Either that or the impression it made was washed away by the very next wave. So I only finally heard about it through a friend's top-100 list. I picked it up from the library last summer, but we never got around to watching it. So I put it on hold again, asking for it in time for Easter. And here it is, Holy Saturday, that this is what we are doing.

I guess I had expected an arty and drawn-out but ultimately literal take on those few verses of temptation at the end of Jesus's fasting in the wilderness. All I had picked up from my brief reading was that Ewan McGregor was playing both Jesus and Satan, so a one-hander. Or a two-hander starring one actor? Something. But no. It's doing something else.

I could string together an explanation of how this is the "actual" story that those verses are metaphor for (in fact, I have done so), but I think that's giving the ambition of the film short shrift. I'm not sure exactly what it IS trying to do, but the ambiguity doesn't feel like lazy substitution. The filmmakers are definitely up to something. I think it's supposed to be, sort of, a more intimate Tree of Life starring Jesus, but it's really a film that'll need to settle in my body for some time before I'm really sure what I think about it.

our bluray
Sullivan's Travels (1941)

Actually, I watched this twice, back to back. First alone with the commentary, then with my family and the proper audio track.

As the commentary began and Michael McKean and Christopher Guest introduced themselves while mentioning what was happening on the screen, I worried we were in for another pointless commentary. But not so! Noah Baumbauch and Preston Sturges expert Kenneth Bowser joined in. Bowser seemed to be the ringmaster, but it was choreographed well enough he either had little to do to keep things on the rails (even with Guest's improvised nonsense) or the four of them were just great at passing the mic. Regardless, lots of interesting observations and history. And also some utter nonsense whenever Christopher Guest opened his mouth.

The movie only gets better each time I see it. (The previous time.) And I'm left flabbergasted to realize I've still seen a mere three Sturges films.

our bluray
Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (1990)

Wonderful documentary catches several of Sturges's closest associates in their final years of life. It's a fine biography with solid insider insights and some good criticism. It's patient enough to include some longer samples of his work and the late-80s grain of the interviews really brings those old people to life.

It's just over an hour and a great introduction.

Alamo Drafthouse
New Mission
Renfield (2023)

I knew for certain I was going to love this film when the info dump put Nic Cage and Nicholas Hoult into what appeared to be the actual film that brought us Bela Lugosi's Dracula. Such a good choice. And they pulled it off so well. Everything else was about what I expected from the trailer only a couple degrees finer and some nice social commentary and so so so much creative gore. In short, with the right audience, absolutely brilliant experience.

And while the cast is great, names on the other side of the camera that I already respect and clearly deserve credit are director Chris McKay and story-by-guy Robert Kirkham (and the writer proper whom I did not know but has a solid resume) and the whole team. Makeup, costumes, editing, sound, you name it. Just a terrific piece of entertainment.

library dvd
Vernon, Florida (1981)

I have a suspician Stephen Root's O Brother accent was in part inspired by the turkey hunter.

It's hard to know what to think of the various dollar amounts you hear. A house for $2200? A possum for $1500? A van for $5000? Is that a real economy?

I tell you though, I can't watch these Errol Morris docs without fantacizing about making my own. What kind of mics do I need to do open-air interviews with my wife's iPhone, I wonder?

I read the liner notes about a month ago and so I was expecting at least a hint of the amputation brouhaha, but nope. It's a quieter movie than that. It doesn't need scandal. And it certainly doesn't need to tell you what to think. I imagine the movie plays like a rorschach test.

library dvd
Paprika (2006)

I've been wanting to bounce this off a class for a long time and now that I've finally done it . . . I'm not sure it was worth it.

It's been a long time since I saw it and if I had remembered the nipples I never would have shown it. I mean—they're not a bit part of the movie and this is a cartoon, but still. But the bigger problem is that for kids with a lot of anime knowledge—most of it post-Satoshi Kon—the film just isn't as strange or remarkable as it was for me.

Even for me, while I still like it, I'm not certain it's as excellent as a first impression made it seem. That said, who knows what a sixth viewing might reveal. Regardless, it is still a wild and generous movie.

my bootleg dvd
V for Vendetta (2005)

Weird how a movie can be a box-office disappointment yet have major cultural impact. It's now long enough since a bunch of internet was wearing Guy Fawkes masks that today's high-school student isn't touched by that, but the movie still works and it a solid piece of both entertainment and intellectual fodder.

And maybe it's just because I saw Renfield earlier this month, but it doesn't seem nearly as acrobatic or bloody as I remembered. Huh. #exposuretheory

Previous films watched












I'll be on a panel about genre in under an hour


7pm Mountain (6pm in Zion)


Mormon Genre Literature: Current State & Possible Futures
William Morris will moderate Dave Butler, Theric Jepson, Annette Lyon, Joe Monson, Jennifer Quist

Given the nature of my otherwise excellent laptop’s camera, you may have trouble seeing the semicareful display of books I have arranged. And so:

I don’t want to take from you the joy of figuring out the covers for yourselves, so you’ll have to click the link (mostly affiliate links, so long as I could find the same cover) if you want to know for sure what something is:

A: https://bookshop.org/a/8076/9781536209785
B: https://archive.org/details/eliasepicofages00whit
C: https://bookshop.org/a/8076/9780345513991
D: https://amzn.to/3VgxP1e
E: https://bookshop.org/a/8076/9781642780147
F: https://amzn.to/3n9rLe2
G: https://amzn.to/3Nm5Hro
H: https://bookshop.org/a/8076/9780765368546
I: https://bookshop.org/a/8076/9781599903736
J: https://amzn.to/44dUhvJ
K: https://www.ebay.com/itm/2554697744…
L: https://amzn.to/40HHQ8x
M: https://amzn.to/3LAO8T3
N: https://amzn.to/3Vhy5gq
O: https://amzn.to/3LebfSe
P: https://amzn.to/3oTqpF2
Q: https://www.ebay.com/itm/1747825…
R: https://amzn.to/3LcBrN6
S: https://amzn.to/3LBd7Wi
T: https://bookshop.org/a/8076/9781094825724
U: https://amzn.to/41LoS22


From Lolly to Elias


Two novels, an epic poem, three kinds of comics. Variety is the spice of life? Perhaps. But it is the core nutrient of reading life.


038) Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, finished April 17

I'm glad I held of off reading my copy's introduction until after finishing the book because it spoils everything I'm about to spoil here, now. So if you too don't like things spoiled, leave after the following paragraph. (Unless you are as forgetful as I am. Recommended this book by a friend, I read enough of its Wikipedia page that much of the book should have been ruined but luckily I either forgot it all or mixed it up with the other two recommendations.)

Laura Willowes begins as a young lady of privilege and the countryside and book calmly, pleasantly allows us to explore that world over the first few dozen pages of the book, even though the opening pages told us this time in the country would come to an end. Thus, the rest of part one and most of part two are of her role as Aunt Lolly, live-in aunt, useful to her brother's family.

After which something sets her free and she sets back to the country alone.

The back of the book suggested that a supernatural element would eventually arise but given how calm things were, I expected something barely there. Like spooky ghostly things that probably aren't anything at all—that sort of thing. But then the book did go quite supernatural and somehow, even though we are deep in the book once stuff starts to happen, it all makes sense.

In short, without fully realizing she is doing it, Laura sells her soul to the devil and becomes a witch. And every time you wonder if it's all in her head, the book suggests it is not. It is not. And the whole thing is a powerful metaphor for what society is doing to women. Not just women, but especially women.

Satan, at least as Laura sees him, is not so much an embodiment of evil as a someone benign, moderately trickster, nature god. A Pan or something, just without all the rape. At least, without the rape in the 1920s.

It's a thought-provoking book and a lovely read. And short! All notes in its favor.

just over three weeks

039) The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, finished April 19

Yes it's fifty pages shorter and the type is bigger, but I did not anticipate reading this book so much more quickly than Lolly Willowes. Data point!

I've felt a mild obligation to read Brandon Sanderson for a while, but he just keeps cranking out books (many of which are very long and part of very-long-book series) and plenty of other people dig him, so he hardly needs me. But when Liz Busby and William Morris both agree that one novella is the right novella for me, well, I owe them to get it at the library.

When I started reading The Emperor's Soul, I could feel my bad attitude creeping in, the same bad attitude that made it impossible for The Shining to impress me and that makes me leery of liking possible things. I think it's an instinct to reject popular opinion and to see a thing as it really is, but it's a difficult instinct to calibrate and can result in me disliking things like a hellbound hipster.

I'm relieved to say the book did win me over. I can't call it a masterpiece or anything, but it was a solid piece of entertainment threaded with strong ideas about art and honesty and creation and purpose and self-image and relationships and politics and ethnicity. Which is a lot for a little book with not-small type clocking in under 200 pages.

Does it make me want to read more Sanderson?

I don't know.

We have two of his novels lying around (Elantris and The Alloy of Law) and they're not huge, but they're not short either. Gimme another novella maybe, then we'll talk about breaking the 300-page barrier.

two days

040) Beware the Eye of Odin by Wager/Odland/Madsen/Dukeshire, finished April 19

I only heard about this after it was nominated for an AML Award, but I know Tim Odland from past projects (his piece in Served is a kid in my ward's favorite) so for two reasons I was eager to check it out.

And it is brilliant fun. Norse myth pushed all the way to absurdity to make it funny but without compromising its adventure or sense of consequence. I got it on Hoopla so if your library plays along, you can read it without any risk!

Click the image to read an interview with the writer and artist. It'll give you a sense of what you're in for. (Although, Tim, you have done comics before!) His description of the trolls is right on. They reminded me of the cancerous messes from Treason, just hungry for human flesh.

one evening

041) The Complete Peanuts: 1965–1966 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 20

Great, as always. Peppermint Patty and Woodstock both make their appearances.

Incidentally, I just read (probably reread) this great defense of Snoopy. In case you need it.

(When I read it in 2008.)

Oh: and only a couple more incidences in this volume (what I'm talking about). So no great new trend, or anything.

about four months

042) A Wealth of Pigeons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, finished April 22

Mostly one-panelers, but a bit of the authors as in their next book.

part of an afternoon

043) Elias: An Epic of the Ages by Orson Ferguson Whitney, finished April 23

I read another booklong poem by Whitney in 2009, 122 pages in four days. This one? 144 pages in nine months. Yowza. Have I gotten lazy in my middle age?

Anyway, they are quiet different books. The different cantos sometimes are written in different meters (though mostly iambic pentameter, sometimes rhymed, sometimes not). And each canto takes us through the entirety of history write up to waiting for the Savior's return.

Unfortunately, I did not take notes as I read. Which is a shame because I had lots of thoughts. Many of which are contradictory. For instance, there were times when I thought, Wow! Whitney's a proto-anti-racist! And other times I thought, Oo, boy. Now that's some bonafide racism.

Which is great, really, because it just goes to show how complex people are and how we can have blind spots right next to our clarities.

I'm charmed by Whitney stating clearly that one of his goals was to write a textbook for schools. The explanatory endnotes are meant to help students grow their knowledge by explaining bits of history or scripture to those who cannot understand his allusions. I was mystified, at times, how he selected just what and what not to note, but whatever. It's your book, Orson!

While there are some marvelous moments in the book, most of it feels like a theological tome filtered through an attitude of isn't-it-so-wonderful-this-is-so-obvious, which has to be one of our worst traits as a people.

As a historical curiosity, or to get a sense of Latter-day Saint theology and ethnicity back around 1900, you can't do better.

As an entertaining Sabbath read, it ain't for everybody.

But I do wish it were for more of us. Just because we've evolved doesn't mean we can't appreciate what we were.

[Additional notes for convenience elsewhere:

[The term Elias is used to its full flexibility within the text.

[The forms of the cantos are as follows:

P,2,6,10 Spenserian stanza(s)
1,4,5,8,E — Blank verse
3 — Doubled common meter
7,9 — Heroic couplets

[It cool.]

nine months


Previously . . . . :


Unfinished Books: Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells



One of the people I became fascinated with through reading the Buster Keaton book was Robert Sherwood. The library didn’t have much on him, but I put stuff on hold. The play was great but what I was really interesed in was his film criticism which, arguably, he invented. So I guess it goes Sherwood–Agee–KaelEbert–TBD and so I needed to read the OG, right?

This book met that need (barely—all it has is a jokey essay about kids these days learning geography from movies), but holy smokes look who else is here: P.G. Wodehouse, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Douglas Fairbanks, Gertrude Stein, A.A. Milne, Edna St. Vincent Millay, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Noel Coward, Carl Sandburg, Jean Cocteau, T.S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Colette, E.E. Cummings, Aldous Huxley, Langston Hughes, Sherwood Anderson, Clarence Darrow, Ford Madox Ford, Walter Winchell, Theodore Dreiser, D.H. Lawrence, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., William Saroyan, Thomas Wolfe—and a bunch of other people I’ve heard of less but might be similarly interesting? I mean, I loved Syyed Shaykh Achmed Abdullah’s piece. And I tell you—it made me nostalgic for turn-of-the-century Afghanistan. Which sounds much hepper than today's. (?)

So while I can’t possibly read all of these, I just want to say that this is a book to get from the library and read 20% of. Hoo.

The first piece is by Wodehouse and it called me out:

A man who does anything regularly is practically certain to become a bore. Man is by nature so irregular that, if he takes a cold bath every day or keeps a diary every day or does physical exercices every day, he is sure to be too proud of himself to keep quiet about it. He cannot help gloating over the weaker vessels who turn on the hot tap, forget to enter anything after January the fifth, and shirk the matutinal development of their sinews. He will drag the subject into any conversation in which he happpens to be engaged.

This is essentially a thesis statement for this blog. Writing down every book I read? What a bore.

Believe me: I know it. That’s a big part of why I do it here. If you’ve subscribed, you chose to be bored by me!

At least I don’t write about every unfinished book!

Although, if I did, would have been able to link to Agee as well.



Lost Songs: "Hooch"


This is my first entry to Lost Songs since the opening of Thubstack (subscribe) and so perhaps it’s worth mentioning that a) all the previous entries exist at Thutopia and b) the original entry in this series is now over a decade old. Which, like most something-is-a-decade-old discoveries, is startling.

Anyway. We either get old or we die.

And I guess if I’m still hearing songs that I haven’t heard in over three years, I’m getting older and older still.


My internal jukebox is filled with songs that I haven’t heard for years and may not even like. Believe me, if I could swap out “Hooch,” I would. But I sing it at least monthly, certainly fortnightly, probably weekly, sometimes daily.

I’m going to assume that if you’re old enough to remember this song, you don’t, and if you aren’t, you’ve never heard it before:


I don’t think I’ve heard this song since the first half decade of the millennium. And all I remembered, before hearing it last Thursday, was the lines “Who got da hooch? Who got da freshy-freshy? Who got the only livin thing around?” and that, in information discovered by an intrepid Daily Universe reporter/columnist whose identity has, over the years, been combined with that of an erstwhile restaurant/movie reviewer at the Californian, the bassist or the drummer or something is/was Mormon.

Asides on the guy at the Californian who is, incidentally, still at work:

  1. I’m old enough to remember when the Californian decided it couldn’t afford its own movie reviewer anymore and moved entirely to syndicated columnists.

  2. I loved how, when the Californian would print pictures of their staff, he would wear a paper bag over his head to keep his identity secret from restauranteurs. I’ll bet that’s not tenable anymore.

Anyway, I heard the song last Thursday, as I mentioned, and everything else I remembered about the song was wrong. I missed the opening which, listening to now, I think I had right, but the instrumentation as a whole and the entire vibe of the song I remembered thoroughly incorrectly. It’s pretty chill stuff with some mellow sax and I think some organ and some other stuff that’s way more laid back and much less garage.

Also, I didn’t quite have the lyrics in the right order.

(And the ones I didn't remember are less dumb than I thought.)

And since it’s no longer a ubiquitous earworm and I’ve been forced (by two decades of experience) to accept its existence in my brain, I guess I can also be okay with it.

If you want to see them live, the band, with a deeply pre-Google name, is playing shows this summer.