• Books,  Movies

    My Favorite Watches and Reads of 2023

    It’s January 1, so we’re all contractually obligated to post our favorites of the past year. (Don’t blame me–I just work here.) But if I’ve learned nothing else this year, I know I need to keep better track of what I watch and read in the future. That said, here are a few of my 2023 takes. Series and Films Reservation Dogs (Hulu and FX)Sure, Reservation Dogs started in 2021, but it ended this year, and I can confidently say it will remain one of my favorite series. On paper, it sounds like a good watch, but as a series, it lives and breathes heartbreak, humor, and joy. The entire…

  • Movies

    Being Excellent, and Other Lessons from Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan

    Tonight, I watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure for probably the thousandth time. There’s a little exaggeration in that number but not much. Over the years, since I first watched this flick with three friends in a San Diego cineplex, my appreciation for the way Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves triumphantly play these two dudes has only grown. Excellent Adventure is often dismissed as just a silly movie, and it is silly, but it’s also much more than that. It’s an adventure with a ton of peril but no conventional villain, and it’s a dangerous story in which no one gets hurt. From a storytelling perspective, that usually amounts to…

  • Books,  Movies

    A Few Thoughts About Doctor Sleep

    Mike Flanagan masterfully adapts King’s source material, and Ewan McGregor and Kyliegh Curran are perfect as Dan and Abra. Speaking of Dan Torrance, poor dude. What a life. McGregor inhabits him with sadness and heart. I like to think Abra will have a better go of it. Also, I’m always glad to see Cliff Curtis and Bruce Greenwood in anything, and they’re excellent in this one as Billy and Dr. John. And who’d have thought to cast Henry Thomas in the part he plays (no spoilers)? Not me, for sure, but wow. It isn’t for everyone, and some of the scenes, even as they faithfully serve the story and characters, are…

  • Movies

    The Man Who Invented Christmas

    For the first time in around ten years, I recently re-read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with a group of friends, and I was surprised at how much I’d mis-remembered or plain forgotten about it. Mostly, I was reminded how beautifully it was written and just how dark, powerful, and revolutionary a story it is. Dickens catches a lot of flack—rightly so, at times—for “padding” his stories, but A Christmas Carol is lean and efficient. Inspired by that re-read, my wife and I watched this movie tonight, The Man Who Invented Christmas, a somewhat fictionalized account of Dickens’ conception and composition of A Christmas Carol in just about six weeks. This…

  • Movies

    A Few Thoughts on Duncan Jones’ Mute

    Last night, we finally got around to watching Duncan Jones’ Mute, and today I’m still processing it. It was densely packed with narrative, beautifully shot, and deeply disturbing. So, in other words, a productive way to spend a Saturday night. I’ve read quite a few negative reviews of Mute, most of them citing slow pacing, overwhelming visuals, and a confusing storyline as negatives. I can see their points, though I don’t entirely agree. It’s definitely a film that demands careful attention, which doesn’t always go over well these days. A few observations: -I enjoyed all the references to Jones’ other film Moon, complete with Sam Rockwells (not a typo). Also,…

  • Movies

    A Few Stray Observations on Knives Out

    What a cast. With the exception of Blanc (Daniel Craig) and Marta (Ana de Armas), no one cast member gets an inordinate amount of screen time, but they all make their scenes count. Michael Shannon is always a little terrifying, even when he’s not really supposed to be. Captain America notwithstanding, no one plays an entitled jerk like Chris Evans. Once Daniel Craig is no longer James Bond, I look forward to the Benoit Blanc mystery movie franchise. I quickly lost count of the memorable lines, but I honk-laughed at Blanc’s comment about what the Nazi child was allegedly doing in the bathroom.

  • Movies

    Movies: Ghost Light

    Pulling off horror and comedy without resorting to camp can be challenging, but John Stimpson’s Shakespeare performance piece Ghost Light pulls it off well. When an irritated actor ignores the legendary Macbeth curse—never, ever say the name of the Scottish king unless it’s in the performance of the play—all manner of spiritual hell breaks loose. The horror here is mostly just jump-scary, but the comedy is laugh out loud funny. Plus, it has Cary Elwes, Carol Kane, and a great cast of other actors.

  • Movies,  Television,  Writing

    Stranger Things and the Value of a Well-Flawed Character

    Recently, I’ve read a few of the “We Need to Talk About Hopper” articles dealing with Stranger Things‘ Jim Hopper’s “problematic” qualities. Some of those pieces, I think, are designed to be clickbait–along the lines of the “Why Are Characters Smoking in Stranger Things?” and “Those Kids Need to Wear Helmets When They Ride Their Bikes” articles–but this sort of discussion always fascinates me because a large portion of my job is talking meaningfully about stories and the characters who populate them. Here’s the simplified version of that argument: Police Chief Jim Hopper is problematic because he’s angry and unruly and he drinks and smokes too much. He has Schlitz…

  • Books,  Movies

    In Search of Premium Illumination: Film vs. Book in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated

    There’s a feeling I get when I’m reading a novel and I know I’m in the hands of a master. No matter the destination, I know the journey there will be what stays with me long after I’ve shelved the book, or, since it’s a good one, probably loaned it to a friend. While I’m reading the masterpiece, the thought of putting it down makes me reevaluate my life’s priorities, and while I’m not reading it, I’m thinking about what deals I’ll need to negotiate to be able to be reading it. This kind of experience doesn’t happen that often for me, coming across a book that makes me feel…

  • Movies,  Television

    A Few Notes on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

    Tonight, just under the wire between 2018 and 2019, my wife and I got to watch The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Cohen Brothers’ latest flick. Once I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m sure I’ll write a more detailed review, but for now the short of it is I enjoyed it. Here are a few stray, spoiler-free observations: -This film has many messages for us, not the least being the importance of antibiotics, hot running water, and laundry detergent. -I’ll watch anything featuring Stephen Root and/or Tim Blake Nelson. -I now realize Tom Waits and Nick Nolte could easily play grizzled old twins. This needs to happen.…