Category: movies

On Being “Well Watched”

We’re still working our way through the movie list I made for Daniela, but I just wanted to pause for a minute and say again how happy it’s making me. It took away all the stress of “which movie will we watch”, empowered everyone to be able to decide what they wanted to do on their own, and it’s gotten us watching a really wide array of films. Daniela’s been there for all of them, enthusiastically watching them and then discussing what she liked and didn’t like about them after they’re over.

What have we watched so far? Risking some judgement by admitting to how many, here we go:

  • WALL-E
  • Rear Window
  • His Girl Friday
  • Field of Dreams
  • Ghost
  • Interstellar
  • West Side Story
  • My Man Godfrey
  • 12 Angry Men
  • Roman Holiday

The best thing is that 4 of those movies are black and white. Almost all of them are quite very old by any modern standards. I don’t know why, but being “well watched” has always felt as important to me as being “well read.” In fact, it’s probably felt more important to me, ironically. Probably because I can knock out a classic film in under two hours, whereas getting through Les Miserables in print took me a good two weeks. (But it was totally worth it!)

The fact that my kids are taking interest in the same sort of thing? Tickles me pink. It’s not different from them watching my favorite movies. I mean, as much as I think UHF is a classic, I don’t necessarily think it makes you a better person to have seen it. (But it might help you understand me . . .) But watching movies that are recognized as important and noteworthy helps you evaluate and understand all the other movies you encounter in the future.

The movies we’ve been viewing right now have been heavily skewed to “Hollywood classics,” mainly because I’m limiting myself to films we own first, because money. But films like Spirited Away or Seven Samurai are coming. The list is light on international movies, however. (Probably because I drew heavily from AFI’s lists, which are all American, but also because Daniela’s only 12, and I didn’t want to overwhelm her all at once. I wasn’t sure how some of the older movies would go over with her. At this point, I’m pretty confident we’ll do a second list once we’re through with this one. Yay!)

Anyway. I know I’ve posted about this multiple times already, but these days I have to take my victories where I can get them. I think we might add on a few impromptu additions to tackle some of the racial issues that have been coming up in current events . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Fighting Quarantine Doldrums: Making a Movie List

Here we are in June, and things have long since blended together into one everlasting day. We’ve all done things to try and break it all up a bit. I started the family sprint challenge. Daniela worked her way through all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. MC has been reading anything in print in the house. But there comes a time when you have to keep pushing yourself to figure out a way to keep yourself occupied.

Daniela had been feeling kind of restless ever since her MCU binge was over. We just got KK Slider to join our Animal Crossing island yesterday, and it’s as if all the big “To Do” items were getting crossed off the list. I was feeling pretty blah in the evenings as well.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and I had a bolt of inspiration hit me out of the blue. Daniela had been really good to go when I gave her the list of MCU movies in order. She happily went down the list, checking them off one at a time. What if I came up with another list? A list of great movies she should watch?

I didn’t want to go through the trouble of making a list if I didn’t have buy-in, so I approached Daniela with the idea. She loved it. The two of us sat down with IMDB’s top 250 films, as well as many of AFI’s film list, and we ran through them. We wanted variety, and we wanted movies Daniela hadn’t seen before, and we wanted them to be age-appropriate. After about an hour, the list was done: 150 movies all told.

I printed it off and failed to save the file (because I’m a bonehead, I guess), so I can’t easily share the list here, but I actually think the act of creating the list was an essential part of the equation. Most of the movies on the list are ones I’ve already seen, though there are some on there that I have yet to come across. (I’m very weak in Miyazaki movies, for example.) Sitting there selecting the movies from a pool of films was a fun thing to do, and it makes the list seem more personable than one you just cut and pasted from online.

Why 150 movies? Why not. At least we’re pretty future-proof for the quarantine. If we finish all 150, then . . . I guess I’ll make another list. But so far, things have been going swimmingly. We watched WALL-E, His Girl Friday, Field of Dreams, and Rear Window. It’s a pretty broad list, which is good. We debated making it genre specific, but it’s more fun to mix things up. Tonight Ghost is on the slate. (Oh, and I alphabetized the list to remove any sort of preconceived ranking or genre grouping.)

The biggest problem so far has been deciding what movie on the list to watch next. Daniela solved that by having me mark down which of the movies we had access to for free right now (41), and then she had our Amazon Echo pick a random number between 1 and 41. Let me tell you: when you already have a list that’s agreed on, and you pick a random movie from that list, then all drama over what to watch next ceases. You announce to the family what’s on the slate for the evening, and they decide if they want to watch it or not.

Beautiful.

So if you’re trying to come up with something to do, might I suggest this as an option? I’m also having Daniela rate the movies as we go through. So far her favorite was Field of Dreams, followed closely by His Girl Friday. She’s going to be so well versed in film history by the time this is done! (Because of course I can’t help but give her a bit of an overview of the movie’s history and why it’s important before and after we watch each one. She’s learning about classic film stars and genres, directors, techniques. The works!)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

2020 Oscars Review

Another year, another Oscars. This time around, I’d seen most of the movies that garnered a slew of nominations. I also just barely panned the movie that won best picture, Parasite. So first, a response to that win.

Some asked me if Parasite’s win means I need to change my review of the movie. Of course I won’t. I stand by my feeling that this is an Emperor’s New Clothes sort of a win. Don’t get me wrong: I was happy to see a non-English language movie gobble up some awards, and I think that’s something that’s been a long time coming. I just wish it had happened with a movie that was better than Parasite.

As I’ve read the many good reviews of the movie, I keep seeing people say they loved it because it was “such a ride.” They had no idea what would happen next, and they just enjoyed the whirlwind twists and turns. I actually felt that was a gimmick of the movie, and not anything to write home about. There’s a fine line to walk to make a plot unpredictable but still rewarding. I mean, you could start a movie out with Mary Poppins and then have Russia nuke Cherry Tree Lane about a third of the way through, turning the rest of the movie into a Mad Max-ian rush through a horrific wasteland, as Mary tries to save Jane and Michael from child slavers. No one would see that “twist” coming, but . . . so what? The unpredictable plots I love are the ones that I kick myself for not guessing. Where the underlying hints are there for what came later, but it’s still surprising when it happens.

That wasn’t Parasite.

I personally worry that now that it’s won Best Picture, many more mainstream people will watch it, and it will become another example to them of why Oscar movies are stupid, and foreign movies are as well. Which would be a shame, because both statements are patently untrue.

But anyway. This post isn’t intended to be another critique of Parasite. There’s plenty to say about the rest of the awards ceremony. I’ll handle that as a series of bullets:

  • There was no host again this year. I know this is a new trend happening with a number of awards shows. I didn’t miss the host last year, but this year . . . I thought the show really meandered quite a bit. It’s like they didn’t want to pay for a host, but still wanted the host elements in place. Having Steve Martin and Chris Rock do a standup schtick at the beginning felt tacked on (and not very funny). The opening musical number was rushed, and then dragged, a strange feeling for a strange number. All in all, the whole evening felt like it had been thrown together by Frankenstein, and it gave it all a haphazard feeling I didn’t like.
  • The Best Song numbers were also all over the place. Elton John’s was . . . fine. I don’t think I’m going to be listening to it again. Randy Newman’s song had all of two verses, but it felt like it went on for ten. I enjoyed the Frozen II number with the multilingual Elsas, but then again, I was a linguistics major. The song from Harriet was moving and well done, but it just highlighted how weak some of the other presentations were. I know many wondered why Eminem of all people showed up, but to me, that was a stark reminder of songs that were actually good and impactful, and how far most of the others were from that standard. I thought Eminem’s surprise visit was one of the highlights of the show.
  • Overall, I got 15/24 of my picks, which is a good sign in my book. It means (to me) that the awards aren’t all going according to what people guessed would happen. (Though then again, this year I let my personal opinions of the movie sway me, which might be a reason I did worse than usual. Not sure about that one.) But all told, I like it when no one movie sweeps the show. Parasite won four awards, but that’s as close to a sweep as we got. Yay.
  • I really wish they would mute the audience when they do the In Memoriam. I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it. Clapping for people who have died is tonally wrong, and I hate how it also turns into a popularity contest for those who have died the past year. (And as a side note, why in the world did Kobe Bryant get a spot in the segment? I look him up on IMDB, and he did produce a TV series, but movies? Surely this segment shouldn’t just turn into “people we liked who died this year, even if they have nothing to do with movies,” should it?) ***EDIT*** The illustrious Justin Longhurst pointed out that Bryant actually won an Oscar for an animated adaptation of his poem “Dear Basketball.” It’s totally fine to honor previous Oscar winners at the Oscars (duh), and I officially withdraw my critique.
  • I’m not a big fashionista or anything, but can we all agree that Kristen Wiig’s lasagna dress should never be repeated? I mean, I couldn’t remember who wore it last night, and all I had to do was google “lasagna dress: to find out I wasn’t along in my opinion . . .
  • Acceptance speeches were all over the place. I enjoyed Laura Dern’s quite a lot, and I liked the slew of Parasite speeches. Joaquin Phoenix’s speech was . . . unique and rambling. And a reminder that people feel impassioned about all sorts of causes.
  • We didn’t do a full blown party this time around. It was too close to Groundhog Day to really feel the need for it. But I did make brownies and buy a slew of toppings, so we had an impromptu Brownie Sundae Sunday, which went over well with the kids. I won the Oscar the Grouch hat by a mile this time. DC was closest to me with 8. Poor MC managed to somehow get none of her picks right, which I actually think takes a knack. I mean, most of the categories had 5 nominees. Just picking at random, you should get 1/5 of your selections right, which would put you around 4 or 5.
  • I dream of them actually sticking to an 11pm finish one of these years. You just can’t tell me it’s not possible to hand out 24 awards in 3 hours. I was plenty tired by the end of the show, and I just wanted it to be over.

All told, I didn’t find the night to be too compelling. Like I said, it lacked unity, and with its deconstructed nature, I started to question which things they decided to keep and if they were all really necessary. That said, I still had a nice evening. What were your thoughts?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

“Classic” Movies are Now “Ancient” Movies

Last night I decided to show my kids a classic movie: To Catch a Thief. Cary Grant. Grace Kelly. Alfred Hitchcock! This was one of the movies I’ve always labeled “Cabin Movies” in my head. Movies that my family had on tap at the family cabin, which were often watched again and again, year after year.

Sure, it’s a bit older now, but that doesn’t make it any worse. And as we’re watching it, Tomas observed, “Wow. This is actually a pretty decent movie for being done in 1955.”

My first instinct was to say, “Well, duh.” But I didn’t say that, because parenting. But then I began to wonder just how old a 1955 movie would seem to me when I was his age. To the math!

To Catch a Thief came out in 1955. If I first watched it when I was 15, it would have been 38 years old then. For Tomas, an equivalent would be for him to watch a movie that came out in . . . 1981.

Folks, if this were an SAT question, it would be phrased like so

Bryce : To Catch a Thief :: Tomas : Raiders of the Lost Ark

For those of you who don’t know how to read those (and that’s probably a fair number, seeing as how I just discovered the SAT ditched that style of question in 2005, 14 years ago), Tomas views Raiders of the Lost Ark the same way I viewed To Catch a Thief at his age.

I’m almost sure I’ve written a post about this sort of thing before, but I guess this is something that just constantly amazes (or depresses) me.

Of course, the next question to ask is how would I have viewed a movie as old as how Tomas views To Catch a Thief? The answer is simple. The movie is 64 years old to him. When I was fifteen, my dad would have had to trot out a movie from . . . 1929 to be the equivalent. 1-9-2-9!

We’re talking Charlie Chaplin territory here, people. Early Laurel & Hardy material. So when I trotted out To Catch a Thief last night, it would have been like my parents telling me to watch The Cocoanuts.

And yes, I’m now good with appreciating early cinematic efforts, but when I was fifteen, if I’d been asked to watch a Marx Brothers movie, I think I would have probably said, “Wow. This is actually a pretty decent movie for being done in 1929.”

Score: Tomas 1, Me 0.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Mary Poppins: When the Movie is Much Better than the Book

Mary Poppins, the movie, was always a favorite of mine growing up, and it continues to be a movie that resonates well with me today. The music, the story, the characters, the whimsy. It all comes together in a fantastic combination. There’s a reason it was nominated for 13 Oscars and won five (including Best Actress).

So of course I’ve been drawn to other Mary Poppins-related works. I watched Saving Mr. Banks and thoroughly enjoyed it as well. I loved the concept expressed in the film that Mary Poppins hadn’t come to save the children, but rather to save the father. And that line stayed with me after I watched the movie, kicking around in my head until at last I wondered why in the world I hadn’t ever read the original book by PL Travers?

When I saw the book on sale on Kindle, it was an easy purchase.

Having now read the book, I believe I will trot it out often as a prime example of a time where the movie adaptation is much, much better than the book. People love to say that all the time: “The book was better than the movie.” And having studied adaptation for my English masters thesis, there’s a ton I could say on the subject. Often, it’s just a matter of a person expressing their preference of literature over film. Often, they’re right. Books can be much more nuanced than films.

But it’s not always true.

In PL Travers’ version, there is no real plot. Mary Poppins arrives because the last nanny left. Not because the children were necessarily horrible (though you could infer that in places), but just because she decided to leave. There’s no grand line of nannies out front. None of them get blown away. More importantly, Mr. Banks has almost no role to play whatsoever. He’s a background character. Bert makes a single appearance in one chapter. The family isn’t “broken”. Mary Poppins isn’t there to save anyone. She’s there to have a series of whimsical adventures and then get whisked off by the wind when it changes direction again.

(The original also had serious problems with racist depictions of characters, to the point that a chapter was revised twice in an effort to solve them. Whoops.)

So what’s actually in the book that made it into the movie? There’s a talking penguin at one point. The scene where they all go floating in the air for tea is there (minus Bert). Bert and Mary go into a picture (sans children). And Mary leaves at the end. (Spoilers!) Other than that, the only thing left is the sense of whimsy of the book. Even Mary’s character is quite different. She’s fairly self-obsessed in the book, and not very nice throughout the story, despite how much people seem to adore her.

I love the whimsy, but the lack of a plot and any character development was a huge disappointment. True, perhaps my expectations here higher because of how it had been depicted in Saving Mr. Banks, but even without that, the book is a let down. The things that made the movie so remarkable are absent in the book.

I’m not sure how well the novel sold. Clearly well enough to inspire four sequels before the movie came out, and then three more after that. But I would definitely contend that the character Mary Poppins would have long ago disappeared from pop culture had it not been for the remarkable film.

Is the book worth reading? Sure it is. It takes all of an hour or two to get through it. But I just gave it a 6.5/10. It’s fine, but nothing to write home about. And yet I’ll recommend it to anyone the next time they insist books are superior to movie adaptations. There’s no hard, fast rule to adaptation. In this case, Disney took the character, the basic premise, and then altered accordingly, leaving really only the whimsy of the original intact. So is it “faithful”? Not to the plot or characters, certainly. I can see why Travers was upset by the changes. It wasn’t her book anymore.

But if anyone ever adapts one of my books and brings the sort of quality and shine Disney brought to this one? I would sing their praises.

Just sayin’ . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.



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