2023 crashes to a close, filmwise


Special bonus writeup on the movies of 2023. Click the image to travel to Letterboxd.


Blithe Spirit (2020)

When the trailer for this film dropped, I was utterly delighted by it. Then the film itself dropped off the face of the earth without a trace, it seemed like. So when tonight as I went to Kanopy to look for a film to watch by myself and this was on the front page as a new arrival I figured why not?

Well, the why not is that it's just not that good. Even with strong performances by a good cast it just never comes together. Noël Coward is supposed to be brilliant but this and the 1945 version (which I saw at my grandparents as a child and don't really remember other than a couple images and a generaly vibe and a sense of not getting it*) are about all I know of him. Is the problem one of the screenplay (three credited writers)? Is it the direction? The editing? I don't know. It's an easy trailer to make with so many sparkling moments, but the film itself waters down those moments to a tasteless broth.

What a disappointment.

* One thing about having seen the film and remembering it (however vaguely) was it gave me the ability to get a joke on my favorite episode of my favorite radio comedy. I was given it as a gift (as part of a radio-comedy collection on cassette) in high school and I've hanging out with oldtime radio ever since. And I at fourteen (ish) got a joke about a fifty-year old movie, big at the time but not thought of much anymore. Thank you, grandma's house!

The Doll (1919)

I knew I was going silent last night because I wanted something that a) was short (this is an hour four) and b) wouldn't matter if I left my night filter running (is, black and white). Unfortunately, I was wrong about the latter as the film is heavily colored. Check it out. That link will also let you see some elements of the film I was excited to talk about, including the sets, the drawings, terrific characters, twelve disembodied mouths, etc. Definitely click that link.

I put this on my Kanopy watchlist about a year ago after watching The Shop around the Corner. I suppose it must have been some special features on the dvd that turned me onto Lubitsch's German silents but I can't recall anymore what they'd led me to expect. What I got was something delightfully nutty. It starts with Lubitsch himself putting together a dollhouse, then the dolls come to life and the story begins. Which is about a man who marries a doll in order to trick his baron (and barren) uncle out of a 300,000-franc dowry. Because he really does not want to marry a woman. (There's a lot of queer-coded stuff in the movie but, spoiler alert, being married to a doll lets this guy get used to the idea of women.)

This the ad that leads him to a doll in the first place:

(Sorry it's cut off—Kanopy makes it difficult to capture the bottom of a screen during a screengrab.)

Of course, the gag is that the dollmaker's doll is based on his troublemaking daughter and, through a series of mishaps (involving the very funny, fourthwall-breaking, Mickey Rooney-esque actor who plays his apprentice), he inadvertently sells his daughter mugging as the doll rather than the doll itself.


The doll's played by the enormously popular Ossi Oswalda ("The German Mary Pickford") who has a goofy innocence. The games her face plays remind me of Kirsten Schall; her costume and dolly movements give her lots of peekaboos up her skirt, which I suppose are just as thrilling as they would've been in 1919. They're shot such as to make wonder if they're happy accidents, but the poster I picked for Thutopia shows the kinkiness inherent in keeping a biologically accurate doll in your bedroom was always a feature.

Anyway, I really liked it. Maybe I'll watch it again—in color—someday.

Cinemark Hilltop 16
The Marvels (2023)

This movie only deserves its bad box office because a certain percentage of it is the Marvel bloat we're all sick of. But if you ignore that fat, the movie is absolutely delightful. The teaser was much more accurate than the trailer as to its vibe, and it managed to put together interesting and compelling character motivations/arcs for the leads, even the villain. (Though why was sisterinlaw missing?) Yes, there was a lot of lazy scifi nonsense helping the plot along, but it's a freaking superhero movie. If you stop to think about any of it it'll all fall apart.

In short, good movie!

But not so great that I'm about to get sucked back into Marvel completism.

I had wanted to see this when it came out but the final trailer and the fact that none of the kids wanted to go with me meant it didn't happen. But our Kia was at the dealer's to become less theft-ready so I had time to kill. Glad I did.

Cinemark Hilltop 16
The Boy and the Heron (2023)

Oh, hey. They still haven't finished the car. Could've waited an hour and then watched Napoleon. No regrets! This time, even though I expect to watch it again this week (maybe more than once), I picked Miyazaki over the new Trolls movie, Wonka, or Thanksgiving. No regrets.

Especially for this movie which I think will demand rewatching. What a strange, strange movie. It shares genes with lots of other Miyazaki movies but they're put together into entirely new forms. This is a work of art and I mean that in the it's-weird-as-heck sort of way. I'm sure it has all the keys needed to unlock it built in but viewing one does not prepare me to so unlock. I'm not sure I've been so bewildered by a movie since the first time I saw Miyazaki: Princess Mononoke, c. 2001.

The show starting as I stood there staring at my options was the dubbed version. It's quite possible that the subtitled version will offer some clarity. There is precedent for that, after all.

Can't wait to watch it again.

Prime Video
Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

Hard to say just how good a movie this is on one viewing. It's pacing is so peculiar that on this initial watch, once the story-telling part ended, I had no idea where we were, in terms of plot or structure or runtime. Add that to the ending and it's no surprise this wasn't a great it.

But it is deeply interesting and visually rich and I love that it's doing things I've not seen done before. George Miller's special, I'll tell you that.

I'm very curious how I'll remember this a few weeks from now, as my brain pieces it into a narrative I tell myself about having seen the film.

Prime Video
Merry Little Batman (2023)

A Damian Wayne more charming and cute than brooding and awful is left home alone Christmas Eve when a couple of Joker's cronies come to rob Wayne Manor of its Christmas presents. Naturally, by the end, Gotham is nearly destroyed.

The movie is funny and delightful, and it plays with the Batman mythos is some reasonably interesting ways without ever getting bogged down in lore or canon.

It's just over 90 minutes and it's fun Christmas whatever. We had fun.

Elf (2003)

I don't know why, but every few years, the third act of Elf just works. Most years, that final act is a slog. But some years it really, really works.

Art is so weird.

Really, the movie is mostly just connective material for Will Ferrell being hilarious and Zooey Deschanel being pretty and singing good. And that's enough, really.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

How far I've come!

Since rediscovering it as an adult, this has become a beloved holiday treasure (2020, 2021). Michael Caine's performance is excellent and Kermit's is so good it's hard to remember Jim Henson was dead.

Anyway. How often do you watch it, year by year?

AMC Bay Street
Godzilla Minus One (2023)



This may be my new favorite Godzilla film. Granted, there where a few moments in the middle where it dragged, but I suspect they won't on rewatch and, regardless, the payoff was absolutely worth it.

Like Shin Godzilla (the most recent, previous Japanese live-action film), the monster is not the main character. The American films attempt to have human-centered storylines, but it's hard to care about any of the idiot getting dollyzoomed in those movies. These films take long breaks away from the monster, this one with even more patience as it tells us about the people at the center of its tale.

Even with the movie down to one screen in town, the theater was packed and the audience was INto it. We had an awesome time. And since Lady Steed didn't get to go, perhaps I'll get to see it big again.

I'm up for it.

8-Bit Christmas (2021)

Another winning performance by Winslow Fegley, first praised here for Timmy Failure, and a hilarious, joyous Christmas movie. This, I can imagine, being added to the regular rotation. And not just because it's A Christmas Story for my generation. (I first heard about this on an A Christmas Story-themed podcast episode.)

Anyway, all ages loved it and certain moments got huge reactions out of all of us. it's one of those movies that is a manic delight to watch the first time and, I expect, mellows into comforting joy on rewatches.

Highly recommended!

123 Movies
Die Hard (1988)

I'm not sure how, but the kids seem to think this is a holiday tradition now. Okay.

As the credits rolled, they all expressed mystification that anyone could say it's not a Christmas movie. Subtract the violence and voila: you got a Hallmark movie.

Anyway, if you want a real review, click on that prior link. Or just skip ahead to Luisa's survey.

Previous films watched











Less than fifty hours left in the year so this could very well be it


And by "it" I don't mean the end of all things, though with a couple exceptions, this is a pretty solid final grouping of books, and were I to perish tomorrow, at least I don't need to be embarrassed (except, perhaps, by the amount of cannibalism herein).

December has treated me well.


130) Mr. Boop by Alec Robbins, finished December 9

I read about this in the Fantastic Comics newsletter and ended up reading the whole thing. I'm not totally convinced by the praise, but for as largely dumb as it is, it did end up being better than I expected most of the way through.

I'm also glad I read it online as it would've been sad to miss the videos.* Those might be my favorite part.

* Although I may be wrong.

before really starting my day

131) The Unseating of Dr. Smoot by William Morris, finished December 10

It occurs to me as I sit to type this that, like it or not William and I are probably tied together for good. We're about the same age. Both Mormon writers. We've worked together on A Motley Vision, multiple books, AML. We have similar interests and although I wouldn't call our aesthetics that similar, the categories in which our aesthetics are likely to be placed heavily overlap.

This came to mind because this novella (and the two predecessor stories included) all star Mormon women. And I too am deeply interested in using fiction to understand women, as my recent novel attests.

Anyway, Dr. Smoot (whose last name otherwise does not appear in the tale) spends a few days in Utah Valley, the novella beginning and ending on her plane ride from/to Madison, Wisconsin, where her tenure has just been delayed two years.

The time in Utah will allow her to reconnect with friends, observe the passage of time in her niece's adulthood, consume nostalgia and debate whether a diet of nothing but may be healthy, delight a BYU audience of a hundred or more and a UVU audience of one room of peers.

One thing I find remarkable about this novella (perhaps especially since I was just at BYU a couple weeks ago) is how perfectly William (who is not an alumnus) has captured the ambivalence of loving BYU. Of feeling deeply attached and happily separate—the pull it has on you, and how that seduction is both deeply desirable and frankly terrifying, almost abhorrent.

It's a very byucky feeling (one might say), and I grew up with a father who abhorred BYU and yet let me drive around Provo one middle-school summer when we really needed to return to California as I hunted for just the perfect BYU baseball cap.

(Didn't find one. Ended up wearing a Yale cap from a Clovis mall.)

BYU doesn't have the religious significance of Mecca but it has a weirdly similar pull anyway. One might say the same of Utah. Now, I don't know that this is a universal fact about Latter-day Saints, but it is real and the gravity is captured better in Unseating than just about anything else I've read.

The ending of the novella is must more short story than novel and I resented it a bit for that, but that will pass. It will be the sticky milieu that remains with me. Not the physical setting, nor the characters that inhabit it, nor the conversations which were lovely, but the feeling. A feeling I associate with a place and with a people and with language, but it is feeling first. And that is what The Unseating of Dr. Smoot delivers best of all.

two days for the novella, a day off, two days to reread the two stories

132) Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, finished December 13

I loved this book. I didn't expect to end feeling that way as the first half was dreary. It's famously an example of every-first-novel-is-autobiographical and in the first half I wasn't sure the author was aware of her protagonist's failings. Agnes, in her first job as a governess, is simply no good. In fact, she is bad. And sure, much of that is due to external constraints, but still.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sympathetic. One reason so many teachers leave the profession early is because for all the lauded enthusiasm of young teachers, we do most everything wrong. Moving after my first year to a new school was a great relief, frankly.

It's remarkable to me that early critics failed to see the cutting societal criticism in Agnes Grey even as they recognized the depth of accurate observation that informed the novel.

I had thought, perhaps because of the stereotype of Anne, perhaps because of its early trajectory and the protagonist's own expectations, that I knew what shape the novel would take.

I was wrong.

But I wasn't sure I was wrong for a long, long time. And this caused me great worry.

It doesn't help that Agnes is one of the most accurately anxious characters I've ever read.

But Anne does something with a dog that I absolutely loved (and is so much better than the horrors inflicted on just about every other animal) and it allowed me to embrace the novel's new destination, which filled me with deep joy.

AND the book's under two hundred pages. So there.

I read the Barnes & Noble Classic version which was an excellent size and shape with readable typography etc etc. But many of the notes by Fred Schwarzbach were asinine. The one that went to the bottom of the page were fine but most of the ones that went to the back of the book, excepting those that noted parallels between the lives of Anne and Agnes, were notably stupid, such as explaining something that Agnes herself had just explained. C'mon, man. Your notes need to add value or why bother? I did enjoy the other added features, although reading Charlotte's take on her sisters it's hard not to feel that she didn't really get Anne's work even as she lifted from it wholesale. (Which is not to say she did not love her.) But skip Schwarzbach's "introduction" until you've finished the book. One of the pleasures of a classic most of us know so little about is getting to read a classic without knowing it's major turns or conclusion. Preserve that for yourself.

i suppose a bit over two weeks

133) Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Adventures (volume one) by Evan Dorkin, et al.; finished December 18

It starts with an adaptation if Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and then continues the story from that point. I'm happy my 16yrold loved this (and the follow-up volume) but I found it exhausting. They're always yelling and the madness never stops.


a few weeks

134) Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (translated by Sarah Moses), finished December 23

I think what we have here is a literary emperor's-new-clothes. This books is so foul, so disgusting, so appalling, that people are somehow tricked into thinking it's saying something interesting. But that's a stretch.

I was hesitant to add this to the list of dystopias my students can choose from but I was talked into it by a student who had read it. And since then, three or four groups have used it for their project and found interesting things to say about the book and the world we live in. But that's because the readers are clever, not because the book is. It's like—and I mean this as pejoratively as possible—torture-porn YA.

If you don't know, here's the set-up. A virus (which may be real or, more likely, was a government conspiracy) has led to all animal flesh being poisonous which led to a market for cannibalism which led to humans being raised for slaughter.

About forty pages in, as I was hating the book's endless gruesome descriptions, I realized that my complaint could be made about the opening of Brave New World as well—characters explaining things to people who probably don't need it explained so we the readers can be impressed with / horrified by the worldbuilding. Brave New World goes on to do interesting and provocative things with those opening pages of exposition. Tender Is the Flesh gives us a not-rape-but-very-rapey blowjob in a butcher's shop as human blood drops onto our protagonist's penis.

That was the scene where I decided that I was unlikely to find anything so excellent as to overcome my qualms about serving this special meat to high-school students.

And nothing in the last half of the book made me think otherwise.

So even though every student who has read the book has said, in more or less the same words, "if people can get over their disgust, they'll find lots of good stuff here to discuss," I'm cutting it.

I already know what's taking it's place. (Hopefully it doesn't disappoint me a few years from now.)

a couple weeks, maybe three

135) The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Cary, finished December 28

First, I loved it. It's four hundred pages of nonstop fun. Plenty of intrigue and danger and mystery. It's been a while since I ran through a book this quickly and while there were some external reasons I wanted to finish this before the new year, it wasn't a hard ask. I just kept reading. Pages piled up the way they did when I was a kid.

Melanie is our primary protagonist. She's, ah, different from most kids. As becomes clear immediately, as she's locked in a chair and wheeled from her cell to her classroom and back, five days a week. That ain't normal. But why this is takes a while to resolve. I'm glad I didn't know any more about the book than when I started. Somehow. It's a bit amazing, considering the book's been on display at my local Barnes and Noble for a decade.

Anyway, I really liked it. And great cover! I'd picked it up so many times. I finally bought it a year ago. And now I've read it. I can't mind that it took so long.

(And compared to the last book I read, this one deserves all the highfalutin blurbery on its cover.)

four days

136) Fragments of the Cross by Scott Hales, finished December 29

While a little short to technically qualify for this list, it was too large an experience to be left out. Thirty-three short poems (frangments) with evocative illustrations and thoughtful pages of postscript. Scott's playing with things that approach and veer away from traditional forms, tossing in some internal rhyme and other fun things as he goes, but the poems themselves stop a mere delighted running on to the next poem. Several I needed to reread, sometimes more than once.

A moving work of devotion.

Sadly, unavailalbe for purchase. Though many of the pieces appear in places like this.

one unstoppable burst


Previously. . . . :


Evil Smiley Face, et al.


You never know how things will fall down. I would not have guessed my new batch would be nothing but comics or books aimed at children, but so it is. And I have no regrets. Everything here is of good report and praiseworthy, and some of them I even liked!


125) The Sandman: Worlds' End by Neil Gaiman et al, finished November 28

This is the one I thought maybe I hadn't read before. When I got into Mike Allred's stuff I discovered that he'd done an issue of Sandman and I could not recall the weird smiley-face guy who came up in searches.

And I was right. I have not read this volume.

It's a Decamerony sort of book, travelers trapped by storms at the inn at the worlds' end come together and tell stories. Brian Talbot's muddy art bookends each issue, with another artist telling the story itself. Allred's is based on a character I had never heard of before. My favorite story might have been that of the girl sailor drawn by Michael Zulli, but Mike's art's my favorite art.

Incidentally, in Gaiman's afterward, he talks about picking Mike Allred for his art, his "clean and simple shapes." Which is crazy because the story digs into many of the theo/cosmological concepts I associate with Allred's later work. I would need to see exactly where this falls among all the Madman comics, but my gut tells me Gaiman's straight up predicted where his artist was headed with his own tales.

(This'll back me up.)

Anyway, just four more volumes to go! Wonder if I'll read any more for the first time.

a week

126) Boys Weekend by Mattie Lubchansky, finished November 29

The Washington Post turned me on to this book and luckily my library had it. I put it on hold and it came right away. And it was . . . fine.

I like many things about Boys Weekend: I liked the weird near-future setting, I liked the mundanity of trans experience, I liked the color palette, I liked the pacing, I liked the dumb jokes.

But there were things I did not like as well. For instance, that near-future world was a bit confused. Is this our new future? The protag was born in 1999 and she's, what, thirty? Maybe thirty-five? So this is ten years from now? Not likely. So maybe it's some other world? Honestly, before I saw the birthday, I was assuming this was a hundred years out and my main complaint then would have been that surely the current awkwardnesses between trans folk and their cis friends would at least have evolved into something new. But it feels pretty 2023 to me.

But Theric, you might say, this is a satire! So of course it's really about our current world.

Sure, but you see: near-future is my jam. I care very much about its execution. I can't help it.

My other big complaint is the character design. I feel like this look, new so recently, is deeply overdone by now and I'm over it. I suppose this may be petty. But it's how I feel. Sorry.

Anyway, someone whom I thought had begun transitioning perhaps a decade ago (revealed late in the book to actually be less than a year ago) is invited to Las Vegas on a floating island (everything's legal!) to be the best man at her college-era best friend's weeklong bachelor party. Self-discovery ensues as we pass through satires of tech, techbros, capitalism, morality, and more more more!

Again: lot to like. I do believe lots of people really like this book. Alas that I am not one of them. (Insert sadface here.)

in bed one night

127) Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang, finished December 15

I've seen this book at the library before. it's hard to miss. It's a bright orange basketball of a book. And although I love Yang's work this is a long one. And it looks like a bright orange basketball.

But I finally picked it up which I needed to stand next to the shelves it was on for an extended time and I started reading it and, no surprise, it's excellent.

It's the true story of Bishop O'Dowd's 2015 run for the state championship / the end of Yang's teaching career / the history of basketball / dozens of other things small and large. The book is also about its own creation. But it takes the endnotes to really get behind the process of how the artist sculpted reality into a story. I recommend the endnotes.

And I recommend the whole dang 446 pages. It doesn't take that long to read and you'll be glad you did. A lot of pages gives an artist of Yang's caliber the room to stretch his muscles, to create meaningful motifs and expound themes. Sometimes a longer book is the right choice.

And maybe he'll even do to you what he did to himself—make you like basketball.

since Friday

128) Ramona's World by Beverly Cleary, finished December 6

We did it! The almost-eight-year-old and I read all the Ramona books! Behold:

Ramona and Beezus
Ramona the Pest
Ramona the Brave
Ramona and Her Father
Ramona and Her Mother
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Ramona Forever
(links to Blogger only as that's where I have anchors for better linking)

And now Ramona's World in which, by reaching age zeroteen, she is a teenager.

Ramona continues to grow. She makes new kinds of friendships and desires new kinds of responsibilities. She becomes better capable of empathy but also is moving into an adolescent capacity for embarrassment. Not everything is resolved (her dad, for instance, still hasn't been able to get a job as a teacher) but in life, not everything is.

This was the last novel Cleary published. It came out in her early 80s, and though she made it to juuust shy of 105, she never wrote another. Her skills are still strong in Ramona's World but, well, she'd earned her retirement.

Frankly, these eight books are a terrific accomplishment and we here enjoyed them very much. They're the real stuff.

Thank you, ma'am.

perhaps two months

129) A Child's Anthology of Poetry edited by Elizabeth Hauge Sword with Victoria Flourney McCarthy, finished December 7

This is anthology of poems that work for children. Not necessarily for children. There is some children-intended verse, sure, but there's also a lot of Blake and Frost and Dickinson and Yeats and the like.

This was originally published in 1995 and I don't think a new book making a similar attempt would make some of the same choices. For example, it includes Countee Cullin's "Incident" and one might say rightly so. I forget when I first read it, but I was not an adult and that poem changed me. I think all my understanding of racism and its ugliness can be traced to reading "Incident" in my youth. But it's not going into a book for kids in 2023. And I'm sympathetic to why not. But I can't be sure it would be the right choice. Because changing you—may that not be a primary purpose of poetry?

Of course, a, ah, "funny" thing about leaving incident out in our imaginary 2023 volume is that this is something the left and the right would agree on in almost identical language.

The great thing about a book like this is that no matter how late it is, we still have time for a poem. Even if there's no time for a chapter of Ramona, there is time for a poem. And so reading a poem is now an expected certainty for the almost-eight-year-old.

I know what we're reading next.

let's guess a year and seven months but really that's just a guess


Previously. . . . :