Rejected Books: Mexican Gothic
Why must I be wrong?


I mean---I'm fine being wrong. I know people love this book. I'd intended to love it too. It's deliberately following a trail laid down by Wuthering Heights and Rebecca and "The Yellow Wallpaper," and it's not short on interesting ideas and characters and places with potential, but egad it's sloppy. Where are America's editors?? I feel the way the way I felt reading Twilight: like a writer with potential is not reaching her potential because no one is helping her grow. At least Silvia Moreno-Garcia hasn't blown up to such a size that everyone knows her name and most of them feel obliged to hate her. So maybe there's still hope.


This book takes place c. 1950 in Mexico City and (mostly) a house at the top of a mountain next to an abandoned silver mine. That house is inhabited by a pale and fallow English family and our protag is a wealthy young dark-skinned Mexican socialite who is visiting to check in on her once-vibrant cousin who has been wasting away following her marriage to this family's heir. Promising stuff.

Noemí is that main character and she's a checklist. In addition to being wealthy, a good dresser, beautiful, witty, a skilled flirt, etc; she is also a polymath who can rattle off precise facts in multiple fields and possessor of a Green Lantern-level of will. I don't mind this level of Mary Sueing, but somehow this pampered Daddy's girl also has the capacity to spend all day polishing silver and to do it well. She, though wealthy and privileged, has deep connections to and comfort with people at all levels of society, servants for instance, but also poor villagers whom she seems never to have seen before this trip. And they (at least the non-English ones) seem pretty accepting of her, too. Okay.

The old house has very little electricity and not enough lightbulbs so we are forced to use candles and oil lamps (#atmosphere) but at the end, when a tiny, barely visited pantry needs light, there's a functioning lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Which pantry only exists because we walked down a back staircase, suddenly revealed when our characters suddenly need a previously hidden back staircase to exist.

And here we get to an embarrassing admission. I had such a hard time reading this book that the day of the faculty book club I'm still not halfway through so I skipped to the end and read the conclusion. I was hoping that the conclusion would inspire me to go back and read the rest (some people always read books this way which I, I just, I can't...), but no. The people still didn't talk like people. They talked like a parody of silent-film intertitles.

Other complaints include the abuse of what's pretending to be third-person limited, and the addition of details because probably the audience is too stupid to recognize, for instance, the effects of colonialism when they see them.

The book did not do well being read alongside my classes reading Pride and Prejudice. Austen famously wrote that she did "not write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves." And when you read Austen, yes, you feel respected. You feel like she expects you to be smart and if not, well, you can still enjoy the happy ending.

Mexican Gothic felt very much like it was written to dull elves. You have terrific potential with your setting and characters, but then you write a book afraid your audience isn't bright enough to see what cool things you have. And so your book is like a series of Instagram posts---cool little bits, one after another, instead of a coherent novel filled with rich characters we care about who grow and develop and discover and earn their happy ending.

I'm so bummed.

But here's a maybe-a-bright-side:

Perhaps what we have here is evidence that some publishing houses are sticking with authors while they learn. The fact that this author's books sell makes me doubt that. But I hope it's not entirely untrue.

But what I think is more likely is that this is part of the YAification of adult fiction. I don't mean this as a slight against YA fiction, but it makes sense that fiction aimed at a YA audience would do more handholding. But there is so much YA fiction now, that it's possible to be an avid reader and yet make it to adulthood without ever exhausting your library's YA holdings. And so you never leave that corner, which, for all the good stuff on those shelves, let's not pretend isn't limiting.

One thing I appreciate about Mexican Gothic is the author wears her influences on her sleeves. It's such a love letter that some books (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre) are even mentioned within the novel. So I hope that it takes readers to the Brontës and beyond, and that we start to see that reflected back in new novels.

Anyway. The point is I hope I'm wrong about this book and that you all vehemently disagree with me.


2024 × 10 = Bette Davis being Bette Davis


Nobody cares about this but me, so skip this paragraph unless you'ld like to hear me note that I've simplified the formatting of the books posts to ease their transfer from Thutopia to Thubstack. We'll see if it makes life easier / makes for a prettier newsletter. If you notice such things, let me know.

Lotta comics to start off the year, including kiddie space opera, Sandman, and Peanuts so you know it's definitely me writing this. We also have a fascinating work of Mormon lit from last year, a look at Siskel and Ebert, a terrible science-fiction novel by a beloved mystery author, and the best thing about Bigfoot I've ever read.

001) Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished January 1

I found a copy in a Little Free Library and remembered liking it so I grabbed it for the youngun and then reread it myself. It charms but it is just a reshuffling of cliches. And having read this immediately before, well....

a beach sit


002) The Complete Peanuts: 1977 – 1978 by Charles M. Schulz , finished January 6

I'm building a Peanuts book for us with my sophomores. So far its all essays, but I need to start collecting strips as well. The secret to that is to continually enjoy reading the classics, baby.

a couple weeks or so


003) The Sandman: The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman et al, finished January 10

This is the longest of the Sandman books but that's not why it took me the longest to read. I should never have read the introduction. It told me things I did not want to know. Which is a shame because a) the is the second time in this reread that I've read a volume I've never read before, and b) I liked it a lot. It might have my favorite art so far, but the way they assigned credit for the artists makes it impossible for me to say who did what.

Anyway, this is the climax, I assume, of the whole run. Big things happen. Lotsa stuff comes together. I'd rather not say more.

over a month

004) Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished January 17

The 7yrold's been carrying this around and "reading" it more or less constantly. So when she asked me to read-it read it to her, I felt I had to. She loved it.

two or three days

005) Touched by Walter Mosley, finished January 19

I hated this novel. And I resent it especially because it's my first Walter Mosley novel and I've been wanting to read him for a long, long time.

It is my own fault, of course. I own a couple copies of Devil in the Blue Dress and my wife's cousin who's a huge fan just recommended Gone Fishin' but instead I picked a short science-fiction novel off the new shelf.

Always be cautious reading science fiction by someone who comes to it late in their career. Read what they're known for.

Touched starts of intriguingly enough but the novel is lost. It has no idea where it's going or what it's point is. The main character / pov character forgets his dream that is motivating the plot. Other characters "remember" but you get the sense the author has forgotten as thoroughly as his hero.

It's starts out as a dystopia  but forgets that. Has some comic elements but can't figure out how to integrate them into the plot. By the end, I was just angry. Angry that a book like this got published. Angry that Mosley's editors did him dirt like this. Angry that he didn't pause when he realized he had no idea what he was doing. (I'm assuming a write of his caliber did realize.) Angry that I picked it up. Angry it was short enough I didn't feel like I could just stop reading.

It's a terrible book. If I had someone to sit down and debate with (see next book) I would happily get into more reasons why (let's talk about familiars! let's talk about vocabulary! let's talk about the use of sex and death!) but frankly it doesn't deserve it. If your daily paper needs a review, let me know. I'll be happy to pan it in more detail.

a couple weeks but only because I got sick

006) Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever by Matt Singer, finished January 20

I love Siskel and Ebert too. I wish I'd seen them more often as a kid. After Siskel died in 1999 (at age 53!) I spent at least ten years, whenever an interesting or particularly promising movie was about to drop, wondering what he would've thought of it. I still wonder that every now and then, even though Ebert too is now a decade dead.

I knew Ebert better because his column was carried in the Bakersfield Californian, but I was always wishing I could stay up and watch their show. Singer talks about doing that will a little tv he had in his room from a much younger age than when I started really watching it (late high school).

It's a tragedy to me that none of their show's incarnations are easily available. Some crappy prints appear on YouTube and elsewhere, but I think there's a Bob Ross-like market for old episodes. Just no will to bring them to the public, no doubt because, the suits imagine, who cares about those movies anymore?

Anyway, I loved this book, too. I rushed through it. I found it compelling and fun and fascinating. I learned a lot I didn't know and found their journey a delight to join.

There is an appendix of twenty-five movies that never really caught on but both of them liked. And here Singer quotes Siskel waaay more often than he does Ebert. Which I find fascinating. It suggests to me that ultimately he finds Siskel's opinions more persuasive. But it could also be that while he had a chance to work with Ebert, he never met Siskel. And so that hole may be what led him to make that (probably subconscious) editorial decision. I dunno. But it's interesting.

I was also persuaded by the broader impact Siskel and Ebert's shows had on the culture.

Anyway, it's a quick read and a fascinating look at the first quarter century of my life as lived by two of the most unlikely (but deserving) tv stars of the era. I wish you were here to debate this with me.

three days

007) Evergreen Ape: The Story of Bigfoot by David Norman Lewis, finished January 24

This book is short and intoxicating. Easily my new favorite in bigfoot media. It taught me a lot of history I didn't know and managed to get someone (me) so utterly sick of anything bigfoot to turn page after page after page.

It's clear he's skeptical of bigfoot's existence, but he also admits the bits of evidence that are difficult to (honestly) explain away.

Even more compelling is his sharing of the history of actual wild men like John Tornow (the Wikipedia article is worthless) who returned to the wild in a serious way. He also tells stories about Ishi that I'd never heard before and which helped me understand the ones I had.

In the end, his biggest thesis is that bigfoot tells us more about white America than anything else. In particular the Boomers.

If you have the least interest in the bigfoot phenomenon, this is the book. Plus, it ends with some wonderful sounding hikes where people like to see sasquatch. Although he does suggest once that an animal you can actually see in California's Humboldt County is the grizzly. I don't think so.

Other than that (and the fact that there is no bibliography) I found him a trustworthy host. Even if he does apparently dress like this.

one day

008) What Falls Away by Karin Anderson, finished February 1

I want to start by saying that I found the denouement of this novel absolutely beautiful, moving, wondrous. I want to say that because as I write about it I will make many complaints and I don't want those to take away from the novel's successes which are significant.

A couple years ago I read a funny and charming and happily Mormon and seemingly angst-free essay by Karin Anderson England and I wondered whatever happened to her, only to discover that she is the same person as Karin Anderson following a (I hear) rancorous divorce and a bitter falling out with the Church of her upbringing. I already knew Karin Anderson through a book she edited and I appeared in, and her manner of presenting herself was as the still-angry post-Mormon editor to balance out the faithful editor. (Her weirdly strident pride in heresy made a big impression on me.)

Wild that they are the same person.

But I wanted to read more of her writing and she had a new book. I successfully talked my local library into buying it and now I have read it. (It also started raining while I was reading outside and so I may end up paying for it anyway.)

Our main character, Cassandra, grew up in a high-mountain Utah valley. A beautiful place. Idyllic. But it really sucks the way small towns in faraway places can really suck.

After decades away, Cassandra is forced home by circumstances (her estranged mother's decline) and I had a hard time telling whether our hero is an intentional self-caricature of a strident heretic or a realistic portrayal of a person who, um, plays like a caricature of a bitter, angry, hateful, damaged, unforgiving strident heretic. Every Mormon character was absurd—but was that because they were absurd or because we only see them filtered through Cassandra's bitter soul?

Generally, as a reader, I am skilled at divorcing my thoughts about an author from the narrator or the text. But I had a hard time doing that with What Falls Away.

Eventually we get flashbacks of the series of events that led to Cassandra's expulsion / fleeing from Eden, and they are suitably horrifying. And believable. I lived in a town much like this town until I was ten and I've always believed that was a good time to leave. The place is still "home" as much as any place can be, but I am glad that my coming of age happened somewhere else.

Still, I have a hard time believing in youths who do the sort of things that the youths in this book do at their various camps and such. I know that I would've been the last person to know, but still. A Boy Scout circlejerk? Really?

Anyway, the horrors of her past let us understand Cassandra a bit more. The basics of what was had long been clear, but walking through the experience with her made her soul more accessible.

There are still plenty of wild and unlikely characters to come. For instance, the main villain, whom we barely see, makes the villain from Magdalene seem like a pretty chill and stable bloke. An additional problem is that Magdalene is proudly overthetop genre while What Falls Away positions itself a something more staid and "literary." I mean—this dude's crimes are outrageous. And his justifications are more outrageous still. He is the novel's apex of religiosity and masculinity (two things regularly conflated), and even with his rare appearances, this colors all other forms of religiosity and masculinity.

(One could make an argument that Cassandra's father is the actual apex, but I'm not writing a dissertation here.)

Which isn't to say there aren't other human options on display as options. But every intelligent woman's allegiance to the faith is self-admitted to be soft. And the kinder (less blowhardy) a man? Same.

One problem with the novel is it has a really, really hard time being sure how angry it is and about what exactly. This is like it's primary p-o-v, of course, as Cassandra's ability to cope with her family and with the Saints and with [etc] is limited by the damage she has undergone. She has regular moments where old trauma overwhelms the now. I do not mean to minimize what she's been through and it's an interesting artistic choice to have the narrative at large experience the same limitations. But it also makes it harder to see the larger themes of overcoming and forgiveness and redemption that I think (pretty sure) the book is ultimately about.

Perhaps we should consider it more honest that the moments of light are often short or interrupted or overtaken. The book ends with Cassandra's mother dying as Cassandra's own motherhood is restored. Shouldn't that basic structure make the point that the emotionally crippled main character and novel cannot?

But, as I said, the end—a funeral—crashes all these elements together. Some aspects of that final scene don't make sense (why did the children of that guy choose this funeral to appear at?) and Cassandra falls into another of her panic attacks, but it's also the first time she's with the whole family and the children will not let the adults fail to finish effecting her/their redemption. And it's lovely.

Cassandra's about twenty years older than me so I won't know pretend to know the truth of such things, but some of the horrors (the halfway house for instance), while within the realm of the believable are also just not believable. Again, is this because it's coming through Cassandra? Or is this Anderson's way of revealing a Dickensian horror I'm ignorant of?

But we run again into the earlier problem that the projected genre of the novel does not easily accept these over-the-top elements.

I liked the novel. Overall I can say I liked it a lot. But it had a hard time letting me believe in it for a hefty percentage of the pages.

But that very pushing-me-away is part of what makes the whole thing work. As much as I often found Cassandra unlikely, I just as often found her absolutely enthralling and attractive, as only the greatest fictional characters can be. Oh, how I wish to see her draw.

about a month maybe

009) Peanuts Jubilee: My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 3

This book was published for the 25th anniversary of Peanuts and the last words in its final essay are "I hope very much that I will be allowed to do it for another twenty-five years."

He was. And we are glad.

Anyway, the book is three essays by Schulz, a bunch of Sunday strips (in color—and Frieda is blonde??), a timeline, and a bibliography of every book to that point that involved Peanuts, from collections of strips to books that only used, say, a panel for illustration. That last one is very cool. I've often wondered if even the museum knows every book out there. I still do, but it's nice to know they've been on top of it.

My favorite part is the essays. To read in Schulz's own words is great. The first essay was autobiographical; the second is a history and commentary/philosophy of the strip; the third is about production of the strip (mostly) and ancillary stuff.

He's a thoughtful and self-aware fellow (not surprising) and I'm glad I went through the hassle of finding this book. I'm surprised the essays haven't fallen across my path before.

maybe a couple weeks


010) Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, finished February 3

Having enjoyed one so much we went to the library for two. Next we'll head to the library for three.

Anyway, this one introduces new characters and conflicts but it also feels more settled in. So it's a nice volume two.

a few days


see all the books since 2007
at last year's final books post
only on Thutopia


A new year of mostly not-new films


I needed a title before I knew what was coming this month. Including a lot of time in bed with nothing to do but movies and a lot of rule-bending in terms of letting nonfeatures on this list. So . . . depending on how you define "not new" this may or may not accurately describe what's below. I mean, there are 13 movies from the 2020s.....

That said, what a great month. So many good movies. And the kinds of movies watched are all over the place. I feel well-fed.


our dvd
Krampus (2015)

It's funny. It's startling. It's a PG-13 horror movie. And spoiler alert, the ending seems to be one thing then another and then it finds a way to make the whole thing work, right there at the end.

It's just okay.

But it is okay. Worth at least one watch.

library dvd
Wayne's World (1992)

This is my second time seeing Wayne's World; I'm not sure when the first time was—high school? post-high school? post-mission? Certainly I was still living at home. I don't remember being that impressed, but who knows. I think it was before I discovered "Dreamweaver" on my own and I got "Bohemian Rhapsody" through people younger then me playing it in their cars (assumably because of this movie?).

It's all . . . a long time ago now.

Anyway, Lady Steed's been wanting to show it to the boys and one of them took us up on it tonight and he laughed and laughed and said he thought it was too old for him to get half the jokes. We did explain a couple as they came up (eg) but he certainly got his money's worth. He about died during the product-placement scene.

our dvd
Mission: Impossible (1996)

Of course, not only is this the only M:I film I've se en multiple times, but I've seen it way more than a couple. So perhaps it's not fair to not really believe any of the others are better. But De Palma's style, man. Can it be bested?

We watched it because the 7yrold (?!?!) requested it. You can thank her first celebrity crush, Mark Rober. That video also brings up Ocean's Eleven, which I also love (do these two films have the best it's-way-harder-than-you-think heist planning sessions of all time?) and Entrapment, which I haven't seen in ages and cannot vouch for.

Anyway, much of the movie was too much for her, but she managed to see the scenes she needed to see and said she liked it. So there you go.

library dvd
A Man Called Otto (2022)

We've checked this out from the library twice and kept it the full nine possible weeks plus overdraft each time and only today did anyone finally watch it. And it is so good.

The international wildness over the novel gave me the wrong impression, perhaps; I was expecting sentimental claptrap. And I suppose a cynic could say that about the second (ie American) adaptation but screw you, cynic. This is a beautiful film. I laughed loudly and regularly and wept almost throughout. Hard to say if it would have taken the top spot for 2022 had I seen it in time, but it would have been competitive. I absolutely loved this movie.

It's not exactly a new story but that's not why we consume story. It tells an old story with truth and feeling. Tom Hanks was great; Mariana Treviño was incredible. Mike Birbiglia is such an a-hole I didn't even recognize him for most of the movie.

Sometimes the cat is cg, and that always annoys me. In a couple scenes, Tom Hanks and Peter Lawson Jones are de-aged, but thankfully we only had to see that briefly.

There's a carcentric scene my father must see. I had no idea there was so much suicide content, which in an age of trigger warnings is astonishing.

Just me and the 7yrold watched it and we both thought it was great.

It's so good, you guys.

The Death of Stalin (2017)

A very funny movie. A very horrifying movie. Not at all a comforting movie.

Delighted to share it with (willing members of my) family this time. (Last time.)

The Dark Truth of Peanuts, or One Must Imagine Charlie Brown Happy (2023)

Although I had enjoyed what I'd watched, after the first hour yesterday, what I'd written of this review in my head was largely takedown. So much to disagree with and mock in the first hour even though it is well researched and well thought-out and well understood. But then the second hour deconstructs all the brilliant stupidity of the first hour and reveals is as a parody of stuff like this (which is often near self-parody anyway, delightful though it may be).

I've said many times that Peanuts will prove to be one of the most lasting artistic creations of the 20th century, and I stand by that, but while criticism is trickling out from university presses, most popular criticism is either too shallow or too look-at-me clever. The last hour of this video is a takedown of the nonsense, a heartfelt personal exigesis, and a genuinely helpful set of critical tools to use going forward.

Plus, it's really enjoyable. Even the first hour is filled with sterling insights, and the combination of great art and earnest consideration makes for a frequently emotional experience. And it's frequetly funny as well.

There's a reason our host buries the subtitle at the end of the film and in the shownotes below. It's because if we know that we're going somewhere real, we might not take the journey. We'ld rather have gotchas and fun facts and did-you-knows rather than real meaning. But real meaning is there. And he had an honest take on just what it might be.

library dvd
D.O.A. (1949)

Such a great idea for a movie. The main character has been poisoned and has at most a week to live. So he may just have time to solve his murder. Excellent.

Bits of it are a little silly, a little b-movie (that slide-whistle wolf whistle), but overall this is a taut thriller. Only 81 minutes and it does not feel rushed at all. Its pace is methodical. The mystery compounds and compounds and then—there it all is!

We laughed a lot at some of the choices (the science, for instance), but none of that got in the way of a fine entertainment. I'm curious if any of the remakes match its heights.

Also, I loved seeing Frank Cady in an early uncredited role, doing what Frank Cady does best.

Self Reliance (2023)

It's about as much fun as the trailer promised, with the added wrinkle of is-he-or-isn't-he, crazywise. I'm not sure I loved that wrinkle, but I'm satisfied with how it was resolved.

Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick are great leads and the supporting cast is just as strong. The danger (he is playing a game in which people are trying to murder him, remember) isn't nearly strong enough. A couple more rules about allowable weapons and so forth could have helped.

But all in all, a pleasant enough evening.

Cryptozoo (2021)

You can tell by how short the end credits were how cheaply made this was. And so you see cost-saving manuevers like we all know from 60s tv animation and indie animation from a couple decades ago. The rotoscoping is very much of the film's genre, and the main cryptid fueling the plot is clearly inspired by Fantastic Planet.

The title doesn't show up for twelve minutes, but until that point we see a couple hippies walking in the woods, stripping, having sex, climbing a fence. Then one kids murdered by a unicorn and the other kills the unicorn in return.

The movie spends a lot of time screaming that it's an allegory but it's not at all clear just what it's an allegory for. Racism? Animal rights? Something less concrete?

Anyway, it was fine.

Mandibles (2020)

One thing that's annoying about Kanopy is they frequently send the credits at a much lower resolution. I assume this is to save on bandwidth, but I hate it.

Anyway, imagine if Lloyd and Harry were French criminals. Got it?

Now imagine they find a fly the size of a corgi. What happens next?

That's exactly right. That's exactly what happens next.

I watched this on my own but I highly recommend watching with people who enjoy laughing. I suspect you and they will find lots to laugh about. Solo, an hour seventeen felt much longer, even though it was pleasant enough all the way through.

I appreciated that the fly was a practical effect. There was only one point I though could have been digital, although I suppose some digital cleanup may have been used throughout. But it's just a puppet. A disgusting puppet.

And when you have a giant fly, there's always the chance that what you're watching will turn into a horror movie. I like how this movie played with that threat.

So I guess my advice is: find the right crowd and settle in.

Dr. Jack (1922)

According to the studio, Dr. Jack is the greatest comedy ever made, providing not only "tidal waves of laughter" but "sound[ing] the depths of the human soul" as well "in the intensity of its pathos."

I don't know about that, but certainly it's a very funny movie.

Harold Lloyd plays a smalltown doctor who can't make money because he's too good a guy, spending more time curing souls than bodies (don't worry—the bodies are already healthy; we don't see a single sick person in the entire movie). His goodness leads him indirectly to the Sick-Little-Well-Girl whose father is paying a fortune to a quack who claims she is ill.

The good doctor had already met her once in a cafe so they had a quasi-romantic interest before he became her doctor, so I'm not sure what the ethical standards are here, but a faulty footstool will get him to cross the line clearly and thus get him fired. Only an extended comedy routine can save the day.

Silent comedy and cartoon comedy both understand that the inherent irreality of their medium is a feature. This film gets away with things that don't work once foley is part of the equation, for instance. But other aspects are just parts of film, fullstop, and modern comedy could be better at incorporating the frame and cuts etc.

Anyway, if you watch this on Tubi, be aware that the music was selected entirely and completely at random. But that's kinda cool because it forces you to realize how affected we are by music.

Also, there was one shot where I suspect one of the Black actors was replaced by someone in blackface? It's hard to be sure, but I wonder if they had to go back and reshoot that reaction shot and it was cheaper just to put one of the hands in her costume? Just a guess.

The two Black characters are as full as most of the other characters in the film, but I wonder if they're based on old stereotypes? I suspect so, though I don't know them well enough to say.

Palm Springs (2020)

Took us long enough, but we've finally screened it and nope. Not shoing it to the kids. But we liked it.

As time-loop movies go, it's no Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow, but it's solid enough and does new things I at least haven't seen before. I like the solution and I'm surprised it's new to me.

It's funny. The characters are strong and they are given interesting opportunities to grow.

Solid little movie. And with a $5 million-dollar budget, easy to justify. They should make more movies like this. Or, if they do, they should be better at marketing them to me.

Linoleum (2022)

First, having seen it, I still have no idea why it's called Linoleum. It's a terrible title and someone should have talked him out of it. Absolutely unmarketable.

But it's not an easy movie to honestly market anyway. Spoilers from here on out, guys.

Over 95% of the film takes place in a mind adled by some form of age-onset dimensia. Nothing is as it is. His wife and his daughter are the same person, for instance.

And this is all being done with tools usually associated with short fiction (novels too, I guess) and the stage, but adapted to film with reasonable success. It's weird, and not in any of the ways I'd expected. I'm not surprised to read he loves Aronofsky.

I think Lady Steed liked it more than I did. Anyway, she was more moved by it. (I suspect because she had done less figuring-out-of-what's-happening than I had. See, I had noticed Cameron never called his dad Dad and it made me wonder what Tony Shalhoub was on about.)

Also, if Barry Keoghan ever needs someone to play his American litte sister, Katelyn Nacon, folks.

But serious.

Why is it called Linoleum??

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023)

So I loved it. Maybe if you don't already have a deep appreciation for Wes Anderson and a love for Dahl (and in partcularly "Henry Sugar") your mileage may vary, but by the end I was moved. I was a little bummed the makeup artist didn't get more play but it was clever how they fit in as much as they did. Both Lady Steed and I enjoyed the doubling by the actors. Of course, it helps that they are wonderful actors.

I also love this way of just making a film the book. A huge percentage of the actual text is simply recited and I love that.

Anyway. I've said "love" a lot and so, though I don't usually do write-ups of short films and the rest of this series falls short of my half-hour cutoff, but we may make an exception. Especially if they happen this month.

The Swan (2023)

This is one of the most upsetting works of fiction I read as a child. And so part of my appreciates that this is the most hermetic, visually, of the four films. Must more is left to our imaginations. The two Watsons even do most of the show's actions of the bullies—when they are shown at all. Some of the changes are purely symbolic (changing to black clothes). On a first watch, this was the least affecting of the four films. (Second watched, fourth written about.)

But still the most upsetting.

The Ratcatcher (2023)

Although we watched this film third and I am writing about it third, I have seen all the movies as I write. And I think it's fair to say this is the most entertaining of the three. Ralph Fiennes is a terrifically weird ratcatcher. Rupert Friend is as charming and as watchable as he was in Asteroid City. The story has the most visual pizzazz, I would argue, with the animated rat, but even when they're just miming animals it's visceral stuff, "The Ratcatcher." I had thought, entering this watchfest, I had only read two of the stories, but I was wrong.

Even when the title and plot have fallen away, you do not forget a Dahl.

Poison (2023)

Dev Patel might be the most successful of the narrators. Or perhaps it's just that by the fourth rendition, I realized that these films are showcasing storytelling. They are bringing the art of storytelling to cinema. Of course, all four of these pieces have been doing that. And it's nothing new: Gonzo as Charles Dickens is a successful example. As are many of Wes Anderson's own narrators. But narration is still not quite the same thing as storytelling, and these stories really rely on what storytelling is all about. A good storyteller is merely providing paints and a canvas for the audience to tell their own story in their own head. In Henry Sugar a few choices were made that I thought were mistakes. Because the visual representation did not match the narration. But these weren't mistakes. Because that was not narration. It was storytelling.

So again, I don't know if Dev was the best at this or I simply (finally) figured it out, but that's what these movies are about. They're about the child you get when you marry storytelling and cinema. Which is not the same thing as marrying theater and cinema, or journalism and cinema, or novelism and cinema, or poetry and cinema, or whatever. It is it's own thing. And we now have been blessed to see it done very well indeed.

(Incidentally, it's interesting having Dev Patel play this narrator as the other Englishman's racist rant at the end plays differently when his friend too is suchawun. It's been sad, of late, to learn more about Dahl's own racism. Particularly when so many of his stories know better.)

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

I read an article a couple months ago about how well this movie's holding up.

Lady Steed thought maybe since we'd just watched a Lonely Island movie (Palm Springs), we should watch another.

We'd never watched it because we thought it would probably be gross.

It was.

But it was also hilarious.

And it's final moment got an enormous reaction out of me. I'm sick enough, I'm not sure I was ever going to breathe again.

Film (1965)

I don't usually write about short films here but I already made an exception for Wes Anderson and so I will now make an exception for Sam Beckett.

If you haven't heard, Film is Beckett's only film and it is one of Keaton's last films. Keaton wasn't sure what the heck was going on and, frankly, neither was anyone else. And neither are we. The camera is a character and, at least to some, terrifying. In the end, it's Keaton. Whom we have not been able to see face-on this same time. Why? I don't know. To either question.

The film is intensely silent. I expected that, coming in. It is a silent film after all. And I was doubtful there would be music. But this is a world where humans could make sounds if they wanted. Early on, one says, Shhhh!, and that shh makes the rest of the film so much more quiet than it otherwise would be.

The film does do a few interesting things with silent vocabularly (if you will), but in the end it's only an exerise. It belongs more in some dark nook of an art museum than in a cinema.

If I were a student and had to, I could easily write something intelligent about Film. What's with his horror of eyes, for instance. What does it mean that in one photograph we can see the photographer. Why does his have a cataract.

There's really only one bit of Keatonian comedy, a bit with a kitten and a puppy. It's filmed to prevent it from being actually funny, but it does amuse.

One imagines that if Beckett had made this earlier in his career, instead of scratching an itch it would have made it all the itchier. And then we would've got some weird stuff!

Instead, I'm left trying to decide which character in Godot would be best when played by Buster Keaton....

(Beckett wanted him as Lucky in the play's American premiere, which is the obvious choice but I'm not convinced the best.)

Oh! One last thing. The modern media Film reminds me of most is videogames. You can switch p-o-v from behind the lead to first-person. You go to a room. You wander around, see what you can pick up. Can you close the drapes? Cool. What if we get rid of the kitten? What if we get rid of the puppy. Hang on. Oh, wait—you have to push the down arrow. Got it. Now what.....

Quiz Lady (2023)

If we hadn't picked this on impulse based on what was on the top page, I doubt we ever would have watched it. But I'm so glad we did. It's a terrific movie and it's working well on multiple levels.

It's a great sister/buddy film. Sandra Oh has apparently become Jennifer Coolidge and no one told me. Awkwafina is like in The Farewell but funnier. And their dynamic is excellent. I love them as sisters. And I love how this established relationship develops through new experiences and new understanding of old experiences. That's what films like this need to do.

I love the small roles from favorite actors doing just the right amount with what they're given, notably Will Ferrell, Tony Hale, and Jason Schwartzman (who always plays the same guy yet somehow is sometimes lovable and sometimes inspires absolute hatred; amazing). And props to Holland Taylor who finally has forced me to learn her name.

The film also has my now alltime favorite where-are-they-now sequence. It started in a too-expected fashion but I think that was the right choice given the beauties it gave us as it continued onward.

Anyway, it was awesome.

This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)

This is a beautiful and charming with with a terrific cast and . . . it's not totally confident that's true. What I mean is, it's not sure if it's something magical or wondrous like Amélie or Paddington or something kinda like that but ultimately a work of realism, like About a Boy. I mean—it knows what it's trying to be (magical) but it's not quite sure how to do it. Some of the relationships don't make even magical sense and our romantic lead is supposed to be quirky and cute and charming and twee . . . but is also kind of an ahole. The passage of time doesn't allow things to develop quite as they should and so we're just supposed to believe in it because the colors are saturated and our hero has a wonderful wardrobe. Which is okay and I did like the movie quite a lot but it never quite succeeded at what it was attempting.

I suspect this might be budget. They wanted flies buzzing so they threw in the sound but we saw no flies. At one point it's raining everywhere but just one bit of the screen. I think there wasn't money for enough shots and so the edit didn't quite work. Combine that with a not-quite-finished script and there you go.

But I'm a sucker for this kind of thing and if you loved it and wanted to watch it again, I'd watch it again. And I'd do so dearly hoping I was wrong.

our dvd
Office Space (1999)

We were flossing a couple weeks ago and I watched a video about Office Space and all the boys gathered around, mesmerized.

Then we all got covid but today we all spent the evening in the same room again and watched it before son#1 heads back to Montana.

It was not what they expected, but they loved it. Watching it this big for the first time, I noticed some details that in 2024 would be listed in the credits, like a cover of WIRED and a Cathy comic. But not in 1999, apparently.

I still really want to know what alternated ending Mike Judge wanted but Fox wouldn't let him shoot. I wonder if he even remembers.

library dvd
A Night at the Roxbury (1998)


This is a pretty dumb movie.

It was fun to see 1998 Jennifer Coolidge.

MAST: Small Screenings
Ninety-five Senses (2023)

Jared and Jerusha Hess directed this short animated movie which is now nominated for an Oscar. It took a while to understand what the movie was actually about and it never shouts even after we come to understand.

Incidentally, this has turned into a month of me writing about a lot of short films! I don't think I've watched more than usual, or at least not many more, but so many writeups. And it would be kind of wonderful if this and "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar" win, bringing the Hesses and Wes Anderson their first Oscars in the same year. (Also, how upsetting Asteroid City received ZERO nominations. Ugh.) Note: I don't think the Hesses would get the Oscar. I believe the Oscar goes to the producers. But would be happy to be wrong.

Anyway, back to the movie. Tim Blake Nelson did an excellent job as the sole actor carrying the movie, and the young animators brought game to their segments.

Link+ dvd
A Man Called Peter (1955)

In the span of a couple weeks, on disparate locations on the internet, I had this movie recommended to me as one of the greats not once not twice but three times.

It was a bit challenging to run down (at my chosen price point of zero), but I did, and, um, okay?

It's a nice little hagiography of a guy I'd never heard of based on the biography written by his wife.

The actor playing the minister essentially does cover versions of what I assume are the man's greatest hits (sermons). The flow of time is confusing and the first act has gaping holes one assumes must've been covered in the book.

It's a pleasant enough journey but it's never clear exactly what the point is. It has a very 50s civic-religion vibe, but I'm not sure that's it. It has a lot of casual sexism, but I'm not sure it can see it. It tries to push some liberal ideas but it just says, it never argues. The character we see most affected by his words, a senator, appears not to be a real person.

So yeah. It was nice but I don't get it. Perhaps when it came out and the book was fresh in people's minds and his preaching still rung in folks' memories it worked, but here he almost seems to preach from a glass jar and other than more people showing up to see him it's not quite clear what difference he's making.

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Ever since I saw the trailer I've been anxious to see this film. Same writer/director as Death of Stalin above (though I don't think I'd seen that when I first saw the trailer) but my cheapness made this difficult. It wasn't in theaters. The library decided not to buy the dvd even after I filled out a polite request. It wasn't streaming anywhere we were paying for. And then, tada, here it is on Hulu after we go for the buck-a-month deal.

But Lady Steed wanted to wait until she'd finished reading Demon Copperhead. Which seemed fair.

And now here we are. We've watched it.

Lady Steed enjoyed the filmmaking but felt it was just too rushed. For me, the joyous filmmaking made it okay that we were skirting over characters and maybe not coming to feel for them as much as we might otherwise. So that didn't bother me. I enjoyed the movie just as much as I expected.

And now I really want to read David Copperfield. I had an abridged version I read many times as a child, but it's time, I think, to read the real thing.

Previous films watched