Three songs, Barbie edition


Remember the glory days of the Disney Renaissance? One thing we regularly saw then was Disney's animated features getting multiple Oscar nominations for best song. Twice (Beauty and the Beast [1991] and The Lion King [1994]), they racked up three nominations!

Let's use The Lion King's feat for our discussion as it's the clearest example of what I have in mind.

The three nominated songs were "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," "Circle of Life," and "Hakuna Matata."

"Can You Feel the Love Tonight" was the big winner. We all knew that would be the case. The big love ballad. The song resung by a popstar over the closing credits. The big radio hit. It was going to win.

But in my opinion, it should not have. The win should have gone to "Circle of Life" which was the thematic core of the film (and, in my opinion, the superior song). My thinking is that voting should be biased in favor of songs that engage the entire movie, that pull it together, that are the engine for its plot and/or the explanation of its characters and/or explicative of the film's ultimate message. Not the one that Elton John got on the radio.

(I've been annoyed by this Oscar for thirty years.)

Anyway, these coming Oscars seem to have the best shot at a three-nominee in ages with Barbie. I think the likely nods are, in order of appearance, Lizzo's waking up song, "I'm Just Ken," and the Billie Eilish number.

Although the early buzz is with Ryan Gosling, it's Billie who's gone to number one and so that seems, according to 90s rules, the likely winner. I genuinely don't know if those rules still apply, however.

I do think her song is a strong candidate by my rules also. It first appears at arguably the emotional climax of the film and helps make that moment really work. At that time it, again arguably, clarifies the thematic purpose of the film. And then we get to hear it (I think the same version?) over the closing credits. So it's checking both boxes.

But I'd encourage you not to sleep on Lizzo's "Pink" which is genuinely funny and is reinvented when reprised to show how Barbie's reality is changing underneath her. It's doing interesting things.

But, bad news, this show down can't happen. After twice in the Nineties, one-movie-three-song-nods happened twice more, to Dreamgirls (2006) and Enchanted (2007), neither of which won.

I can only guess as to the Academy's motivation as to what happened next, but I'm assuming they felt those movies both should have won (what they lost to: Dreamgirls, Enchanted) but their vote was too split. I'm not sure that's true, though. Sure, the songs Enchanted were what "should" have won during the Nineties when Disney dominated, but, I mean, don't you think that Once song is more deserving? I do.

Anyway, the Academy was unhappy and made a new rule: a movie can only earn two Original Song nominations. So we'll never know if a third would otherwise have qualified.

I'm interested to see how Warner Bros pushed Original Song when it's for-your-consideration time. My guess is Billie and Ryan will get the push. And that's fine.

But dang.


Barbie is an endowment film


The latest episode of Face in Hat talks about my favorite movie this year (so far).

Listen on PodBean, Apple Music, Spotify, or I don’t even know where else.



The sex-and-metaphysics Venn diagram


What good times we are having in Reading Land! Silly gorilla! Sex of all sorts! Wild science fiction! Metaphysics! Baby, it does not get better than this.


087) Banana Sunday by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover, finished August 2

I've bumped into this husband/wife creative team before. This was their first outing (newly colored and reprinted) and it definitely feels like a) a first work and b) work by people who will find their greatest success writing for younger teens. (That's not a slam.)

Girl has to bring talking monkeys to school. Chaos ensues. That's all you need to know.

several days

088) Falconer by John Cheever, finished August 3

Crummy upper-middle class guy addicted to heroin kills his brother and heads to prison (the Falconer of the title) where he hears many, many stories, gets clean, stagnates, gets clean, takes part in a revolt that does not happen, falls in love, and finally has a classic midcentury epiphany of . . . something, to close it out.

I'm not sure I've ever read Cheever before. Best known for his short stories (though you can find people who will call this his masterpiece and of course it is, that's why he wrote it, only novelists get to have masterpieces).

It's well written and a fine (if essentially plotless) novel. It's loaded with unpleasantness (the sex, the violence, the guards, the drugs, the rich people, the poor) but somehow I never found it nihilistic, which is a fancy trick.

under three months

089) Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, finished August 3

I've been told to read Tom Robbins for almost twenty years now and I totally get why. He funny. And the games he plays with language are akin to the games I play—I've just spent a lot of time building a governor. But I absolutely loved watching the man break everything. This is the book you can write when you're the hottest thing going (this came out in 1985).

Part of the reason I haven't read him is that I find his name intensely forgettable. Somewhere on Thutopia I've written about a paragraph from Even Cowgirls Get the Blues which I would link to know except certain posts Google just chooses to ignore for unknown reasons and that's one of them. Should you find it, you'll see me being unimpressed by some writing Lady Steed was appalled by. And out of context, his writing is, essentially, nonsense.

But it's fun to read, even when I feel he's being too cute by half.

He also takes great delight in writing about sex in new and fanciful ways. And that is frankly more interesting than aliens or travels inside Camel packaging or explosions or anything else that happens because sex is famously difficult to write about interestingly. So good on him making the effort and largely succeeding. (Although repeating peachfish and placing a peachclam on the same page of one may be evidence that creativity can only get you so far.)

One thing about the authorial voice in this book is how it allows for lots of riffing on theme (eg, love) but also riffing on literally anything (eg, blackberries, cocaine, mongooses, pyramids).

Get one for the horny/comedic redhead in your life.

two years, more or less

090) Homunculus by Joe Sparrow, finished August 5

I picked up this and a companion Sparrow volume earlier this year. Can't remember why. But this short tale about an AI that survives the apocalypse is simple and charming and maybe even beautiful.

one sitting

091) Cuckoo by Joe Sparrow, finished August 9

This longer story improves on the skills we saw hinted at in Homunculus. In this one, a girl has an interaction with an alien in her backyard and years later, certain effects begin to take place. The story is aesthetically fascinating and plays some old alien games in delightful new ways.

I honestly don't want to say much more than that. Better to let you discover it on your own.

saturday and wednesday

092) Fatal by Kimberly Johnson, finished August 16

Johnson's book composed on the occasion of her husband's death consists of poems alphabetized by letter, each of which begins with the letter F, interspersed with alphabetized forms of American death, also beginning with the letter F (eg, fatigue), from the year 2001, the year her son was born and "suddenly, the whole world seemed fatal" (79).

The poems are individually successful, a few trends of form or content make veins through the collection. Although there were hints throughout, it wasn't till "Funerals" that the (then) pending death of her husband took control of the narrative. I think that poem is the keystone of the collection (though perhaps this metaphor is off as it appears so near the end), providing the strength that turns all the other poems toward its power.

One poem that seemed particularly timely to me, having just seen Oppenheimer and as I am currently reading a John Donne biography, was "Fission" which discusses Oppenheimer and how Trinity's name was inspired by Donne. One section of the poem, in fact, is an erasurelike poem created from Donne.

under a week

093) The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier, finished August 17

The style of art, the youthful protagonists, the cross of fantasy and pirates—all that, I admit, led me to have low expectations for this graphic novel. And the book hit everything I expected but it delivered each at such a high level that it just amazed me. This is a great book!

three days

094) The Infinite Future by Tim Wirkus, finished August 22 

This could have different covers and attract different audiences. Some cool pulp cover with people approaching a mountain cabin while in the background a star battle rages. It could be a list of names (eg, The Infinite Future / starring Irena Sertôrian / in Household Tales of our Sertôrian / by Gretjen (?) Bombal / in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Sister Úrsula / by Sister Úrsula / by Eduard Salgado-MacKenzie / as created by the Cooper siblings / translated by Danny Laszlo / in The Infinite Future / by Tim Wirkus) in a delightful and pushy font treatment.

It's a complicated book. But it largely has the conviction of its complications. Most of its run time is an introduction (by Laszlo) to a science-fiction story (by Salgado-MacKenzie) which makes up the last, oh, 40% of the book. The intro is largely designed to suggest that, for those who have eyes to see, Salgado-MacKenzie's work is brilliant, potentially life-changing. If you have eyes to see.

It may take a while to sink in but I suspect I do not have eyes to see. I like the games Wirkus is playing here and the individual pieces are good but the introduction is simply much more enjoyable than the recovered text it introduces. The afterward works at crosspurposes to the intro, suggesting that those who find intense value in the text are probably wrong.

This isn't me trying to tear the book down. I loved Wirkus's first novel and I'm glad he's still stretching himself, whether I loved it or not. Much hay was made in MoLit circles about the Mormon Studies character and rightly so. She's a terrific creation. And the characters all are generally well constructed and lovely to spend time with. The science-fiction notions are wildly creative and delightful. I think if the surrounding text had spent less time both building them up and tearing them down they could have stood just fine on their own feet. In a way, this is like a Vonnegut novel chocked full of descriptions of Kilgore Trout novels and then the last, oh, 40% of the book had been a Kilgore Trout novel. Vonnegut made Trout a bad novelist. Wirkus made Salgado-MacKenzie a possibly great one and that's tough to do. How do you write something better than yourself?

I know, I know, it's really only supposed to be different (and because Laszlo wrote both, it doesn't have to be that different). Although Laszlo's afterword seems to swing far from the voice we've experienced throughout.

Anyway. It's ambitious and interesting and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Who cares if it's not a masterpiece?

And seriously. Put it in paperback with a hella pulpy cover and see what happens!

three weeks maybe

095) Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell, finished August 23

I love John Donne. I wouldn't say I've spent much time reading him recreationally, but the times I've genuinely looked at him, so great. This book told me so much about him I didn't know. We can call it a biography, but each chapter is about one of his identities (eg, student, husband) arranged basically chronologically (obviously, identities don't start and stop; they overlap).

Anyway, it's a good read (Rundell, in addition to being a Renaissance scholar, is a YA novelist; this doesn't feel like YA, but storytelling skills be storytelling skills). It's the first book about Donne I've read (there are many! including new ones!) but I dug it. Easy recommendation to make if you like Donne or are the least bit interested.

certainly less than a month


Previously . . . . :


A sacrament meeting talk about trees and Jesus and stuff (a svithe)



This was a short-notice talk and I had to write it the same week I had two concerts, the same week our son turned fourteen, and the same week I went back to work. So it’s not as polished as I would like. Plus my laptop’s in for repairs which means I’m using the backup whose N key doesn’t work well. I hope I’ve placed all the missing ones.

A bit of priestcraft and litcrit and excuses before we start.

The poem I quote I found on Instagram. (Buy the book.) When it came time to type it up, I discovered some typos. And since I was already fixing those I decided to change some other things (like the nonce compounds) to make it easier to read. But the more time I spent with the poem, the more I discovered structural flaws. The poem is often in accidental conflict with itself. And since it wasn’t handling its ambiguity well, I ended up editing it down and making changes for clarity. All these are marked with ellipses or brackets, but I want to draw attention to my edits now as they could be interpreted as me bowdlerizing the “shocking” parts of the poem. But that wouldn’t be accurate. I just needed it to be more coherent for my purposes.

I don’t have the book, but I’m assuming it features a later draft that holds up better to rereading. I hope so because my first read of the poem was thrilling.

I should also mention that my chronology of the Peter story is sketch. Although the feed-my-sheep bit does immediately follow the fish story, John makes is clear that the fish is appearance two and the sheep is appearance three. I borrowed my reading from an excellent book which makes the same point I’m making only more forcefully. I think the point stands, regardless, which is why I’ve adopted it.

Finally, given the circumstances, this is probably a bit sloppy. Some missing ns, no doubt. But here’s the talk:

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


When I opened up my notebook to start the first true draft of this talk, I first had to turn about fifty pages to where I'd left off writing whatever I'd last been writing. As I turned them, I saw previous projects—some cartoons, a mouse story, Mormon Socrates—and I also saw a three-word note: "ministering as TREES," "trees" all in caps. Which made me pause. I didn't know what I'd meant, but luckily I'd also drawn a little image accompaniment, three stately trees, their roots and canopies interlocking. Which seemed like something worth adding to this talk. So I will. In a minute.


♫ Jesus said love everyone
treat them kindly too
If your heart is filled with love
others will love you. ♫

I don't think Jesus said that second part, incidentally, but he certainly did say ♫ love everyone ♫ —and in several different ways.

We often act like Jesus saying ♫ love everyone ♫ made him radical. But not really. When that guy asked him what's the greatest law and Jesus said, "love God, love your neighbor," that wasn't some new idea. Jesus was quoting Mosaic law. They'd all heard it before. The shocking part was the story about that dirty Samaritan who actually ♫ love[d] everyone ♫ — even his enemy.

It's telling, in the story, that when Jesus introduces the first character, he doesn't give him an identity. He just lets his audience assume he's quote-normal-unquote. Sort of like how in contemporary American fiction, if you don't say what color your protagonist is, readers are apt to assume he's white. Jesus knows how our minds work. And he uses that to lead us not back to the words "love God, love your neighbor," but to the idea behind the words. The radical thing about Jesus is he means it. When ♫ Jesus [says] love everyone ♫ , that's exactly what he means.

And he means it every day. Every hour. Even when he's tired and just wants to lay down below decks and take a nap.

Here's a poem I bumped into last week. It's called "Primary Jesus" and it's by Heather Harris-Bergevin. I've cut it down a bit.

Maybe the real problem is
we believed it all,
from trying to be like Jesus
to kindness begins with me.

We spent decades teaching
in primaries, singing I'll
walk with you and I like
to look for rainbows, [singing]
that you, too, are a child of God.

We practiced sacrifices...
[and listened] to pious storymonies
[saying] that if we only will try, again,
a little harder...
God will open up his arms and tell
the nice old men who love us so
that God sees our suffering sufficient,
that Christ's Laws can be restored,
that revelation, story, poetry, scripture
can be one and the same.

Then we could see
Samaritans serve dark-skinned foreigners
on the border, refugees, poverty, a
restoration of miracles we helped create
with our own hands.

That when we swear
each week to Mourn, to Comfort, to Bear
we intend our covenants to follow
that good Christ we learned.

When we hold up our hands and swear
we will give everything
to further the kingdom of God, that means...all
the soft songs we teach children
are somehow ours to fulfill...

Maybe we are worried, not because we love
Jesus less...but rather [because] we believed
that [the] Jesus
we were taught, that we taught [for]
decades and decades in Primary,
was True....

[ B E A T ]

Peter and his buddies were fishing have having a lousy time of it when a guy on shore told them to try the other side. They'd had good luck doing what weirdos on shore told them in the past so they did it and got way more fish than they needed. And thus they knew the guy on the shore was their friend, the resurrected Messiah. Peter was delighted to see him and asked what Jesus wanted of him. You know what Jesus said. "Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep." We usually talk about this as Jesus sending Peter off to teach the gospel etc etc, but let's not forget that Peter is, at that moment, sitting on a hundred and fifty-three fish (less what they'd just eaten). And—

♫ Jesus said love everyone
treat them kindly too ♫

Peter. What do we do with fish, Peter? We feed people.

Peter, the guy who holds the keys in all the paintings. Peter, the ur-Christian. Peter, the one Jesus trusted with this planet filled with God's children, had a hard time remembering that job #1 is to ♫ love everyone ♫ .

Why would it be any less so for us? or for our leaders?

♫ Jesus said love everyone ♫

And he said it over and over again. Because even Peter forgot.

The first line of that poem was "Maybe the real problem is / we believed it all, / from trying to be like Jesus / to kindness begins with me," but no! The problem comes when we forget. And we all forget. All of us. The Saint you respect the absolute most forgets.

This is bad Aramaic, but when Jesus said "suffer the little children" part of what he meant was that little children are insufferable in how clearly they can see. But, us adults? We're great—great!—at making excuses, explaining away our need to love a Samaritan. We're great at building communities around exceptions. Entropy is always eating away at our goal to ♫ love everyone ♫ and it takes energy to keep us anywhere close to Jesus and his Really Meaning It. This is why he said it over and over again. It's why he had to tell Apostle #1 that miracle fish are for feeding people. We all forget. Up and down the chain we all need to be reminded that the important commandments are to love. Ev ry one.

Which brings me back to trees.

We're learning more about trees all the time. We're learning how, under the soil, trees hold each other up in heavy winds. That healthy trees send nutrients to weak trees. Tall trees send photosynthesized sugars to shorter trees below the canopy. There is all this chatter below the soil among the roots.

We were at the Exploratorium a couple weeks ago and I went and sat in a dark room and listened to recordings of nature.

One set of recordings was done not far from here in the Sierras. A logging company had argued that it was possible to take trees from an old-growth forest without changing the ecosystem. Just one big tree every few dozen yards. To the human eye, the forest remains essentially unchanged.

Anyway, one recording of the soundscape was made before the logging. And one recording was made a year later. The first is chockful of birds of so many species and so many sounds it's hard to distinguish them. The second recording is dead silent. Then one solitary bird sings a snatch of song. And then it tries again. And that is all.

Every community is a forest. But our forest is a metaphor so I don't know who the old trees are and who is a bird or a beaver or a butterfly. All I know is we are a forest. And we hold each other. And that Jesus said love everyone. Treat them kindly too.

Jesus said: love everyone.

What does it mean to "love" "everyone"?

How many people in this room know the name—and birthday—of every other person in this room?

But I think that's what I meant by "ministering as TREES" (trees in all caps). Each tree connects to five or a dozen other trees, each of which connects to another—partially overlapping—five or a dozen trees, which connect to another five or a dozen trees of their own.

If your ministering group is functioning: five or a dozen.

If you go to book club or park group—five or a dozen.

If you're in the Young Women's presidency or a Primary class, if you did a March Madness bracket or came to the ice-cream crawl, if you got a Relief Society birthday card in the mail or helped with a move, if you asked for a prayer or sat next to someone new or gave a high five to a Sunbeam coming up the stairs—all these fives and dozens, these ones by ones, bind us as a forest, allow us to send nutrients to someone way over there whose name we're unsure of and whose birthday we don't even know.

When the forest is healthy—and here's where it's being only a metaphorical forest comes in handy—all those logged trees may hear the call of Primary Jesus, the Jesus we aspire to worship, the Jesus who demands—demands!—we give our fish to the hungry and love everyone—♫ treat them kindly too ♫ —and help us build Zion under the forest floor, to keep us all standing.


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

previous svithe on thubstack
previous svithe on thutopia


Barbenheimer and friends


What a delightful month for movies this was! Plenty of Buster Keaton, the biggest theater moment in ages, a second helping of some fresh Wes Anderson, some old favorites (some in new packaging) and more more more!

Join me, will you? And, as always, I'd love to hear your opinions as well. Let's roll that film!


Sherlock Jr. (1924)

The 6yrold has become quite the Buster fan. We've watched most of the short ones and some of the features. She chose this one on her own after watching "The Boat."

A lot can be said about this wonder of comedy, but I just want the mention that the portion of the dream sequence where Buster's fighting the ever-changing environment is, sure, a great sequence, but also it's a bit of pure surrealism; I'd love to know how it was seen at the moment it came out, both by the general public and by self-styled Surrealists. The info must be out there. I . . . guess I should look.

Anyway, the extended dream sequence allows for a lot of gags that he generally didn't allow in the features, so it's almost a hybrid of the two-reelers and the features. Which is, obviously, awesome.

Century 16 Hilltop
Asteroid City (2023)

Just got back from my second viewing. This audience laughed much more so no need to shush me (but I was there with son, not wife, anyway) but I actually laughed less. Not because it was less funny but because I was deeper in the weeds of thinking it through as it was happening. I'm at a point now where, if I had the film in front of me, ready to quote, I'm ready to start writing, to figure out what I think it's all about.

One point—or family of points, rather—is that the film captures the act of creating a work of art. How much do you explicitly explain within the art? How much do you leave to the audience? What is the artist's responsibility to himself, his crew, his consumer? It's no accident the playwright dies. The author has always been dead.

Anyway, I have other ideas if you wanna chat. I'm around.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

I don't know what all the whiners are complaining about. This is a great movie! It's so much fun. I'll grant it pushes the action scenes as hard as it can but, in 1981, the critics complaining? This is what they complained about.

The only time (I could find) that I conversed about the film on Twitter, people hadn't gone back to watch it. I saw it at the (much lamented) California in Berkeley and enjoyed myself. But I never went back to cement my own impressions so I was swayed by the general opinion which calcified negative. Frankly, I think they're wrong. Maybe the fridge would have turned him to jelly, maybe the ants are an exagerration of real ants (barely) and maybe the monkey scene is silly, but come one. It's a movie, people! And of course Indy survives everything! He's the human version of this dimension's Planet Earth!

Plus, it learned the lesson of Indy 3 and engaged in familial relationships. I wouldn't say they are as successful in the previous film but they are starting from scratch in one case and with a long gap in the other. But there's nothing like danger and age to bring things into focus. It works fine. Haters gonna hate.

I was reading recently about Jim Carrey's take on the Dumb and Dumber sequel:
There’s no putting the mask back on. The closest I ever came to putting the mask back on and reacting to what the audience thought they wanted was Dumb and Dumber To, and I think we did great stuff in Dumb and Dumber To. It was super fun being with Jeff [Daniels] again. But it proved to me that the collective ego doesn’t know what it really wants . . . They’re saying for years, ‘Dude, Dumb and Dumber 2—where’s Dumb and Dumber 2?’ And then you did it, and it was good, and they go, ‘Oh, O.K. Well, all we really wanted was for you to do it,’ to show that we had the power to do that.
He's talking about you, people who have made the last two Indy films disappoint at the box office. I hope you're happy with yourselves.

Related: The little I know about Indy 5 makes me think it ignores Indy 4 which . . . I'm not pleased about.

Still excited to see it though.

Go West (1925)

Brilliant. Makes you realize that a lot of the Western tropes were already tired before the sound era even began—else how could he be making fun of them? There's also a great metajoke where Buster is told at gunpoint to smile. What will happen if he does???

I wouldn't call it my favorite, but I think I am in desperate love with this variation on getting the girl at the end.

We laughed all the way through. And that's what matters, right?

Century 12 Hilltop
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

What is wrong with you people. Why is not a huge hit? It's terrific! I'm not going to directly spoil things in the following paragraphs but I'm not going to hesitate to indirectly spoil them. So you've been warned. Second warning: expect no organization from these thoughts.

First, I'm glad that the film didn't disregard Indy 4 as I'd feared. In fact, it embraced it in a lot of ways. Though you have to wonder if Disney is out out out of the Shia LaBeouf business. But, at 71, Karen Allen is still a beautiful woman. She looks old, sure, but she's lovely.

One of the things that bugs me is I've heard some online discourse about how Phoebe Waller-Bridge's character is a quirky gal with no action competence who has to be rescued in constant and antifeminist ways. What? Are you kidding? That's nonsense. What movie did those people watch?

The de-aged Indy scenes are vastly better than what we saw back in Rogue One but it still didn't work at every angle. The more Indy moved, the more likely it was to trigger my uncanniness alarm. They're getting close but they ain't there yet.

Every return was welcome—even characters we don't remember from other movies. Antonio Banderas (whom I was not expecting) fit in great. Although he was just one of what felt like an unusually high body count, both of redshirts and slightly larger characters.

Although I see what they were up to thematically, a better movie exists where Karen Allen plays a much bigger role.

(And where they didn't feel the need for a huge body count. The CIA agent and the Spanish sailers? Really? You didn't really earn the emotions you aimed for. The emotion we feel is betrayal.)

Hafta say: Indy's bones must be in great shape for a man his age. Good for him.

I like that the movies have been trying new things with these late additions, and I feel they work well. I call this movie a win. In my final rankings:
Top tier: 3
Second tier: 1, 4, 5
Third tier: 2

our dvd
Singin' in the Rain (1952)

I was just thinking as we were watching it this time how Jean Hagen is absolutely brilliant as Lina Lamont. Brilliant! I was thinking she deserved an Oscar so I looked it up and she was nominated (rightly so) but lost to a melodrama (some things never change). The craziest thing about looking it up though was to discover hers was one of only two (two!) nods the film got (the other was Best Scoring of a Musical Picture—which it also lost). That is wild. The only movie among the Best Picture nominees I've seen is High Noon which is excellent—and lost to what's often considered one of the worst movies to ever win Best Picture.

Anyway, back to Jean Hagen, not only is she hilarious, but her hilarity has layers. She's not a simple dumb broad—there's a lot going on behind her forehead! Plus, she did the actual rerecording of The Dueling Cavalier's "Kathy Seldon-voiced" dialogue and songs. She makes the movie work. I mean, don't get me wrong, the three leads and the deeper supporting cast are also great, but the film needs a villain and Lina Lamont, whether accidentally or intentionally, provides that fuel.

Anyway. One of my all-time favorites.

Oh! I also noticed that the moment when the dialect coach catches Cosmo mimicking him? They use a Jackie Chan cut! I've never noticed that before! That's how well they did it!

Freaking masterpiece.

(UPDATE: Jean Hagen does the speaking vocals for The Dueling Cavalier but the singing was done by none other than famous unfamous person Betty Noyes.)

library dvd
News of the World (2020)

When I think "Paul Greengrass" I think shakycam action movies. I think Dramamine. The trailer for this movie certainly led me to expect an action-packed western. Instead, this film is mostly quiet and meditative. The action scenes are mere savor. The movie's paced more like something sold as an art film. It's a good movie, make no mistake, but it's not the edit the trailer promised. Shoulda been twenty minutes shorter and tight-tight-tighter.

(It was weird the occasional moments of cg. The cg vistas were solid, but the moments of things shifting in and out of cg? Hm.)

But it worked for me.

Especially the last couple scenes where we get our first h**** and s*****, the emotions really sing.

library dvd
Free and Easy (1930)

After Singin' in the Rain I suggested to the little girl that we next watch Buster's first talkie and she was for it and so we did. Now look: I know all of Buster's MBM talkies made money and I know this is considered one of the better ones but . . . it's a mediocre movie. It has very little internal coherency (Buster's character goes from an idiot who can't get one line right to a comic genius who can do complicated routines and choreography, for instance) and the film-within-the-film takes a sizeable percentage of the run time. There are some terrific moments but no full scene is terrific. The whole thing's sort of confused. The editing is bad. A few shots desperately needed another take. The dialogue isn't great; even when it is comedic, it really needed another draft. The framing often didn't emphasize the comedy. The film-within-the-film had the most creative elements but that film doubled the incoherency of the frame (though at least the film is aware of it, in that case).

But, all that said, the movie's denouement was excellent. A fabulous extended shot of the sad clown without any commentary. That, at least, they nailed.

library dvd
So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM (2004)

Nothing here I didn't really now, but it's a great primer for anyone who doesn't know the strange, sad story of Buster Keaton's meaningless successes and great falls while a player at MGM. It's hard to think about this era and how many wondrous movies might have been made if only the suits had trusted him to make his own films.

Sure, it's possible the drinking might still have gotten in the way, but we'll never know, will we?

It's also nice to see some of those Great Scenes that appeared in some of his dumb movies. I think I'd like to see Doughboys now, for instance.

library dvd
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

Gotta love it when a movie you just can't have high expectation of lives up to its hype. I freaking loved this movie. I loved the clumps of characters both individually and in interaction. I watched it on too small a screen to fully appreciate the fun they were having with the animation but I can say that mixing styles can be used, for instance, in making action scenes easier to read. Hyperreal in every frame can be counterproductive and get in the way of what animation is good at.

The voice work was excellent, but I do want to particularly shoutout Goldi and the Three Bears as notably good.

And I loved the way the magic worked in this movie. Not a lot of time was lost explaining things but there was coherency in the worldbuilding. The Shreklike nonsense was grounded with a depth of feeling and logic that held the thing together in a way I don't remember from previous movies in the series. Or at least, you know, of the ones I've seen.

Anyway, very cool!

UPDATE: Watching the bonus features, when they got to the bit about the voice acting for the Bear family, even that made me cry. That's how much those four got under my skin.

Link+ dvd
Teachers (1984)

I saw a couple clips from this film in an accreditaion class back in 2007 and they've stuck with me enough that I finally had to watch the movie. Unfortunately, it streams nowhere and not many places carry the dvd. The one library that would ship it to mine? It'c sopy was pretty battered. It crashed VLC over and over and over again. A few minutes here and there we had to skip, keeping up through a crappy copy of the script.

Anyway, the movie's fine. It's a melodrama that maybe should've let the satire drive. But the cast is good and the script it okay (it has issues with the passage of time). It takes place in the '80s when teachers definitely still did things like smoke and talk about students' asses, but I don't know if schools were really like this. Like I said: it could've been stronger if more purely a satire. The satirical moments are the best parts of the movie. And the MESSAGE of the melodrama is pretty shallow. "Schools are for kids"? That's your big insight?

Anyway, glad I finally saw it. I'll fondly remember Ditto (who is what made this sixteen-years-late viewing happen) and the rest will slip away. But if you want to see a young Laura Dern AND a young Crispin Glover AND another version of 1984 Ralph Macchio, this'll do it for you.

Incidentally, Siskel and Ebert agree with my take but arrive at the opposite solution.

Great poster, though!

Century 16 Hilltop
Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part One (2023)

It's macguffins all the way down!

Don't get me wrong—this is an intensely fun, exceedingly well made movie. An intensely fun, exceedingly well made, deeply silly movie. That fridges a woman. Just to piss me off, presumably.

One thing I find interesting is, given how humorless it tends, how it's diving into the comedy toolbox, from dropping a piano to that old standby, ripping off Buster Keaton. I mean, I did laugh in astonishment, sure. And speaking of astonishing, I'm almost glad I didn't see it in IMAX because I probably would have falled out of my seat when he went off the cliff. Even though I've seen it in a dozen ads, it was vertigo-enducing.

I love the first movie and I've seen all the others once and liked them all except #2. But they are all kind of the same thing only more amazing. So I'll keep watching them. But please don't expect me to remember these silly silly plots. (That reminds me: the film's technobabble also made me laugh. It was . . . intense. And it's always dangerous to have an invincible enemy. Good thing it's impossible to know what invincibility means in this movie!)

library dvd
Invention for Destruction (1958)

Amazing, astonishing film. Woodcuts come to life. Hilarious details and sufficient story to carry us a long. But even if the story were poor, 80 minutes of this is hardly enough. (Click on the film's date to visit IMDb and check out the included images, from amazing posters to stills from the film. But while those stills with astonish, there nothing compared to this world when it moves.

I've seen stuff like this from filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson or in strange shorts, but I've never seen a feature so fully adopt this aesthetic. And it's incredible. Like a lovely old book coming to life.

It's a couple years younger than the color feature of his I've watched before, but the beginnings, the explicit references to Jules Verne, are strikingly similar. The man loved Jules Verne and I can't imagine a better filmic rendering than this one here.

Wish I could remember how I first heard of it....

library dvd
King Lavra (1950)

I wish this had been more fully restored. Many of the scenes were so dark as to be difficult to read. But then again, would it be worth it? It's midcentury-doll animation and wordless (as is popular in animation, in part to ease internationality, but here it makes the story moreobscure than it needs to be), but it does pack a lot (a lot!) of story into it's short runtime. We see multiple executions, we get some comedic donkeys, etc. The themes of the film are kinda tough to parse, there at the end, but whatever.

I'm more charmed by Karel Zeman's longer works, thus far.

Century 16 Hilltop
Barbie (2023)

I didn't realize I was wearing a pink shirt until we were approaching the box office, my wife in a pink cardigan. So I guess we dressed up!

Anyway, loved it. And I'm certain it's a movie that'll be better on the second viewing. I even know which parts I'll like better next time because I've seen enough movies to know myself.

After the movie premiered Thursday night, the internet came alive with buzz about Ryan Gosling's terrific, comedic, Oscar-worthy performance. And he's good, sure, but this is Margot Robbie's movie through and through and she owns it. It's kind of an impossible task she's been given, but she rises to the occasion and carrying this existential absurdity on her shoulders. The other performances are great, but what makes it anything other than a camp corporate joke is Robbie's performance.

This is not to take away from Greta Gerwig who is my absolute favorite. Her writing is terrific (and she makes her husband a better writer, imo) and her direction is solid, and those seem to be her true loves. Which is graet for the state of cinema but, dang it, she's a brilliant actor two and I miss her on the screen.

Back to Barbie—the movie contained everything the trailers and interviews promised us, but it did not always present them in the context expected. And the sum of their parts (and all the other parts) was not what I anticipated. I came in anticipating a lot (#gretagerwig) but what the film did was shuffle my expectations and deal me an entirely new future.

The point is: go see it. It's hilarious and I cried at weird things and it has things to say that need to be said and it can be explicit and nonpreachy all at once.

It's a good movie.

AMC Metreon 16
Oppenheimer (2023)

I know I've already complained about my IMAX experience, but don't let that color your opinion of the movie itself. I'll be trying not to as I write.

Because it's a good movie. It's three hours long but doesn't feel long. And the credits are short because there's no CGI!

What Oppenheimer is however, is superduper Chris Nolan. It plays with time, for instance, with its two point of views (one color, one black and white) and with sounds and images from one moment appearing elsewhere.

Incidentally, I think this is why the sex scene is as explicit as it is. By having it recur at another place and time, I think the script is trying to make Mrs Oppenheimer as important as Mr Oppenheimer. It fails, but that's my best guess. Otherwise, it's just a one off; all the other examples are related to The Bomb. So my other guess, and this is even a bigger miss if it was the goal, was to align our old buddies sex and death. If so, woof.

I'm having a hard time writing about what was a very good movie without detouring into everything that's wrong with it because, first, it is a very good movie and, second, there are things wrong with it.

As sometimes happens, this new good movie has crashed the IMDb's top 250 list as everyone brings their enthusiasm to the ratings party:
I question its worthiness. It's a good movie. But I'm not sure we're always going to think it's great. I expect a backlash as people realize its flaws (and that those flaws are largely due to Christopher Nolan doing Christopher Nolan things). And then we'll get over the backlash and we'll see how good it actually is. The question to me is with the backlash arrive in time to prevent it from winning Best Picture?

I'm not a voter so that doesn't matter to me. It's a good movie and it's selling a lot of tickets which is good for cinema. I look forward to watching it again at home with the subtitles (see that anti-IMAX post from earlier). There were several moments I genuinely loved. There were some things that were a bit too clever or fingerpointy (we know who Kennedy is; and if we hadn't, his full name would not have helped). The acting was stellar and the casting worked (though I'm not sure everyone had to be famous). I'm a bit mystified to learn some people are calling this a horror movie or that it is giving them bomb-related nightmares. My guess is these are very young people who did not realize what world we're living in? I don't know. But if so, good. People should be worried. We can never stop worrying. That's the choice they made for us.

I should, before stopping, say a tad more about what I mean by "Christopher Nolan doing Christopher Nolan things." For instance, almost everything says in justification gets repeated to him. The tight parallelism between his and Oppenheimer's experiences is great and all, but it's so tightly aligned that the structure is at constant risk of becoming the point of the movie. And there are lots of things like that. Things that must have felt so good on the page, but turn the movie more into a wondrous watch than a turning of souls. And that's why, although it is very good craftsmanship, I'm not sure it's a great movie.

I am, as always, open to being argued with.

Prime Video
Jim Gaffigan: Dark Pale (2023)

Fun show! The fact that magats are losig their minds over it is mindboggling. Imagine taking yourself so seriously.

My wife laughed most and hardest, but the boys laughed too. It's an equal-opportunity jokefest.

The ending felt abrupt, but I guess we can get over that.

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