Category: movies

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.



A New Tolkien Super Fan

Over the holiday break, I had one main goal: watch the entirety of the extended editions of both Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. (What can I say? My wants in life are simple.) I watched them in what I feel is the best order: Hobbit first, followed by Lord of the Rings.

(A quick aside here. I realize the Hobbit trilogy got a fair bit of hate from the geek community, and rewatching them just barely, I feel like this hate is unearned. Are they as good as LOTR? No. But not everything can be “Only Fantasy Movie to Ever Win Best Picture” good. That’s okay. People criticized it for having an Elf/Dwarf romance, though LOTR is full of an Elf/Human romance and we’re all cool with it. Yes, I realize one was “canon” and the other wasn’t, and I realize many of the gripes with Hobbit come down to it exploding a simple child’s book into an epic trilogy o’warfare. But I believe if you look at it as a prequel to LOTR and not as just a Hobbit adaptation, it works wonderfully. And if you watch it first as a lead up to LOTR, it all meshes together great. I love all six movies. Period.)

This time through, I let my older two kids watch the movies. Tomas is 14, so it was a no-brainer to let him watch, but DC is just 10, and I debated some before giving her the green light. (She’s watched plenty of Marvel movies, so it wasn’t much of a debate, but still.) Both of them enjoyed the movies, but I was really surprised to see who ended up loving them the most.

DC became a huge Tolkien fan the moment she saw the Elves. She’s started writing stories about dwarves and elves. She’s learning how to write the Tengwar alphabet. She’s halfway through listening to Fellowship on audio. (She says it’s the best thing she’s ever read, including Percy Jackson, her previous favorite.) She asked if we could watch all the “making of” documentaries, and she’s enjoying all of them.

She’s a big, big fan.

It’s been fun watching her catch fire for the series, and great that there’s so much for her to dive into. She’s working on learning Elvish grammar even. I’m not sure if this fire will continue to burn, but seeing as how we have 6 movies’ worth of special features to get through, I imagine it’ll last at least a few more months.

Everyone needs to find the things they love on their own. Some things I’ve trotted out for my kids and been a bit sad when they didn’t love them as much as I did. But every now and then, you have your kids end up loving stuff even more than you do.

And that’s a great feeling, speaking as a librarian. I think a lot of us got into the business because we like connecting people with things that are perfect for them, whether it’s information, books, movies, or music. With DC and LOTR, I hit a home run.

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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.

What are Your Favorite Westerns or Steampunk Movies?

Since I’m writing a steampunk western now, I’m in “immerse myself in the genre” mode. I like to watch different films that intersect with what I’m writing. I’m not all that up to date on steampunk movies. I’ve seen a smattering of them, and I like the general vibe of them, but they’re mostly an unknown to me (from what I remember.) Westerns are something a bit better versed in, dating back to watching them all the time as a kid. (One of my favorite college classes was on film adaptations of westerns. That was a fantastic class.)

So I’m up for any and all steampunk movies. (And yes, before you ask, I’ve watched Wild Wild West. Hopefully I end up with something better than that . . .) I mean, I’ve seen steampunk movies, but none are really standing out in my head as movies I’d like to return to again and again. Maybe they’re just eluding me.

When it comes to westerns, I’d love recommendations as well. Here are my top 10 westerns:

  1. Shane
  2. Unforgiven
  3. High Noon
  4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  5. True Grit (Coen Bros adaptation)
  6. Silverado
  7. Rio Bravo
  8. The Magnificent Seven (old version)
  9. The Searchers
  10. Tombstone

To get on this list, I have to be able to remember the movie well enough to tell you what it was about, as opposed to all the other westerns I have seen. So I’m looking for something that sets it apart. But more than that, I’m looking for a real western. So Blazing Saddles was out, even though I love the movie. Same for Maverick, honestly. It wasn’t Western enough. Too funny. (Though I’d like this book to have some humor in it.)

I’ve seen many more westerns. (Yes, The Good the Bad and the Ugly), but these are the ones that I’d be most eager to watch again at the moment. Feels like there should be some Eastwood up there, though. Pale Rider? Outlaw Josey Wales? I’m happy to talk Westerns all the time, so it’ll be an interesting process to write one and see what comes out.

In the meantime, what made your top 10 list for westerns? Please share.

For a great overview of another list, check out this one by Cinefix. I love these:

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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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