First, a programming note: I’m going to be doing another month-long movie watch next month — 80s in August! I’ll be picking three genre films from each year of the decade, a fantasy film, a sci-fi film, and a horror film. I’m limiting my choices to the streaming services I currently have access to (Hulu, Netflix, the library, and the free ones) and will skew toward movies I haven’t seen or movies I haven’t seen in a long while. Hopefully a fun way to cruise through August.
Life of Crime
Year: 2013 Runtime: 1h 38m Rated: R
Director: Daniel Schechter
Writers: Daniel Schechter, Elmore Leonard
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Yasiin Bey, Isla Fisher, John Hawkes
Initial: Oh, hey! A movie based on an Elmore Leonard book!
Production Notes: Based on the novel The Switch. Several characters from that novel show up again in Leonard’s Rum Punch, which Quentin Tarantino made into Jackie Brown (1997).
What Did I Think: Yes, this movie has Elmore Leonard fingerprints all over it. Quirky, ambiguous bad guys? Check. Scheme that goes sideways without the quirky, ambiguous bad guys being utter idiots? Check. Set in the 70s? Well, that’s just bonus points I guess. Not as smart or funny as a film like Logan Lucky (2017), but enjoyable, if you like crime dramedies. And it occurred to me that I like Jennifer Aniston. She plays a great straight man here, handling her circumstances with a good deal of poise.
Year: 2020 Runtime: 2h 3m Rated: PG-13
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Writers: Jack Thorne, Nancy Springer
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin
Initial: I put off watching Enola Holmes for quite a while because, as much as I like the thought of extended Holmes works, they so rarely turn out well.
What Did I Think: Thirteen year-old me would have loved this movie. Forty-six year-old me finds it very…likeable. It’s well-made, a bit ridiculous, but almost tries too hard. You kind of have to be on board for the meta, fourth wall-breaking that is going to occur because what you see in that trailer is what you’re going to get. Millie Bobby Brown is charismatic and Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as her mother. I would also be in favor of some spin-off Henry Cavill Sherlock Holmes.
Bonus! YouTuber Jill Bearup tested stabbing a corset!
Initial: Too bad this wasn’t on my streaming platform of choice back when I watched Rocketman.
Production Notes: Speaking of Rocketman (and more comparisons are going to be made), Dexter Fletcher went on to direct that film after he had stepped in to finish Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was fired from the project.
What Did I Think: I like Queen. Obviously, it helps when watching a musician biopic to like the musician’s music. Rami Malek plays the hell out his role as Freddie Mercury (as do Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joe Mazzello as the rest of the band). I enjoyed the scenes of the band collaborating. I don’t know how faithful they are to real life, but I like the concept of art coming out of not just agreement, but criticism.
For example, in one scene (summed up): Band: *argues about writing a (gasp) disco song* John Deacon: *starts playing the bass line for “Another One Bites the Dust” * Band: “Oh. Well, if that’s what you mean…”
All biopics have to adapt real life to narrative. Sadly, Bohemian Rhapsody does it in a bland way. Here comes the big comparison: Rocketman sidesteps fidelity by cheerfully waving goodbye to the mundane and substituting the heightened reality of a musical. This works very well for interpreting Elton John. It allows for narrative somersaults to make everything Work Out in the End. A musical probably wouldn’t have worked for Freddie Mercury, but there had to be an alternative for the pretty straight (in more ways than one) storytelling of Bohemian Rhapsody. What would have worked for Queen? 80s rock opera, probably, though that would have been difficult to pull off and not be cheesy.
As I said though, I like Queen. This movie wasn’t great, but its 2 hours, 14 minute runtime wasn’t a hardship either. Yes, I watch through to the end of the credits.
I had read a few of Zen Cho’s short stories in the past, enjoyed them quite a bit, and added The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo to my TBR without paying too much attention to the story’s summary. As is, I often read a book’s blurb, decide whether the story sounds like something I’d enjoy, and then promptly forget about said blurb. All of the previous stories had some speculative aspect, so I was very surprised that Perilous Life does not. Mostly, this is something of a romance. Jade is a freelance writer in the 1920s who really wants to *live*. She gets into a few scrapes. Mostly she gets out of them. She’s a character I didn’t mind spending time with even if the plot wasn’t my usual thing.
This was a slump-buster for me and I fulfilled a prompt for #Trekathon: Nurse Chapel (Head Nurse) — Read a book with a face on the cover. Plus, book #7 for 20 Books of Summer.
This is the kinda-sorta account of Ray Bradbury going to Ireland to write the screenplay for John Huston’s film adaptation of Moby-Dick. I first read this book back in 2004, well over a decade before I ever read Moby-Dick, so one is not necessary to read the other, but I had a little more context this time and better understood the end of the book when Bradbury finally cracks the script. Like many of Bradbury’s books, this one is a tapestry of stories that eventually make a whole. Some of them would seem to be quite autobiographical. There was purportedly some friction between Bradbury and Houston and both are characters here. Other stories are quite fanciful, including one obvious fiction digression, “The Banshee,” which I swear has been anthologized elsewhere. Some of the portraits of Irish people are not entirely flattering. Then again, neither are the portraits of the Yanks there making a movie…
Two of my Deal Me In stories lately have been from PseudoPod, an online horror fiction magazine/podcast. I listened to “FFUNS” by Johnny Compton and “Allochthon” by Livia Llewellyn, both of which were very good and, uh, NSFW. I haven’t been reading too much hardcore horror lately, so these were refreshing.
Currently reading Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay for #Trekathon and just added The Flight of the Eisenstein which should count as a #Trekathon triple beam-up! (…It’s not that I’m not reading Heretics of Dune right now…Maybe if I watch the new trailer a couple more times.)
Not much. Honestly, Eric and I took something of a Minecraft vacation last week. Every once in a while, we try out a new mod pack. Eric sets up a server and we play in the world together. Much cheaper than traveling! Currently we’re playing Better Minecraft, which seems to be a fairly balanced experience.
As is probably stereotypical, Eric enjoys adventuring and I enjoy building, though we both do some of both. Our characters don’t do much together, but it’s just nice sharing the experience.
Let’s Talk About the Weather
Summer has been pretty normal this year. We had that super hot week in June, but otherwise highs are around normal and the monsoon storms are blowing through pretty regularly. I’m really trying to appreciate the normality since so much still isn’t.
Getting Back to It
I did send out the short story I wrote. I’m surprised that, in the years since I subbed stories last, some things (like manuscript form and cover letters) haven’t changed much, and some thing have. Most markets have electronic submission forms/services now. Also, the professional rate for genre stories is now 8–10¢ per word! If I sell this story to a pro market, I pay my rent for a month! (Because I have cheap rent…) I’m not getting my hopes up, really, but it’s fun to think about.
What Am I Promo-ing?
I’ve written two “One Ahead Mysteries.” These stories feature a fictional version of magician David P. Abbott, who was a congenial skeptic and debunker in early 20th century Omaha, NE.
Both The Case of the Sorrowful Seamstress and The Case of the Real Estate Revenant are available at Amazon, but if you’d like to read a short excerpt, those are found on my now correctly-working-again website.
I’ll probably write more of this series if I ever figure out another good mystery.
Yeah, it’s been a couple weeks and I’ve been flailing around with my reading. I started both The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes for #Trekathon, but I’m not getting along with space opera at all. So, I think I need to switch out a few books. My back-up for Nurse Chapel (read a book with a face on the cover) will be The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by by Zen Cho. After that, we’ll see what I feel like next. Still progressing on Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury and Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert.
I’m not going to participate in the CCSpin this time around. I’ll stick to my next planned classic, The Mysteries of Udolpho, for August.
Tales from an Unwieldy Library
I’ve finished adding my Kindle books to LibraryThing, though they are not very well tagged. I have 1,046 books in my library, 561 of those are unread. So that’s a few books. If I finish the books above, well, that will make it 559. (The Bradbury is a reread.)
Stars: Madison Wolfe, Imogen Poots, Sydney Wade, Rory Jackson, Zoe Saldana
Initial: From my random draw TBW list.
Production Notes: Set in the US, but filmed in Belgium and Ireland
What Did I Think: (possible spoilers ahead) Going in, I saw that this movie can go one of two ways: giants are real or giants are a metaphor. So, a big part of this film’s success relies on how it executes these possibilities. Unfortunately, there is never any true ambiguity between the real and the magical. It’s a little frustrating that the magical realism doesn’t quite seep into reality because the effects are nicely done. But I do appreciate that I Kill Giants doesn’t do any cheesy cheating.
On the plus side, there is some mystery to what is behind our giant-killer’s predicament. The end reveal, while more of a wrinkle than a twist, does reframe many earlier events and that is deftly done. It’s a lovely film and sad. You might want a Kleenex on hand.
Bill & Ted Face the Music
Year: 2020 Runtime: 1h 31m Rated: PG-13
Director: Dean Parisot
Writers: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine
Initial: Hey, look! Another movie everyone else watched a year ago!
Production Notes: There’s a nearly 30 year gap between Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991, which I saw in the theater with my sister) and this sequel.
What Did I Think: Bill & Ted Face the Music has a few basic things going for it for me. First, I have a soft spot for naive, enthusiastic optimism. A song can unite the world or save reality? With how wearing the real world is, I’m there for that sort of nonsense. Second, I’m in favor of the subversion of nostalgia projects: “You know those characters that you identified with when you were young? Yeah, they’re old now too…” (See also Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).) And third, I just sort of like the goofy, not-quite-parody-of-Doctor-Who* that is the Bill & Ted franchise. It’s an amalgamation of things that don’t quite work, but still exceed the sum of their parts. And, when I moved to Arizona, I was so stoked that there was a Circle K on the corner.
Face the Music is maybe not as clever, maybe not at well-put-together as the first movie, but it’s fun. Thea and Billie (the daughters) tread much of the same ground as the first two movies in the franchise, while Bill and Ted end up meeting future versions of themselves, which is probably the best shtick of movie. This was 90 minutes that flew by.
* George Carlin (Rufus in the earlier movies) would have made a great Doctor. Plus, a phone booth time-travel device that isn’t bigger on the inside is so much funnier.
This book was provided to me by Empress Wu Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix, edited and translated by Yi Izzy Yu & John Yu Branscum
In this collection, award-winning writers and translators Yi Izzy Yu and John Yu Branscum share paranormal and glitch in the matrix tales from across present-day China. Confided by eyewitnesses, these true stories uncannily echo Western encounters with chilling dimensions of reality and supernatural entities. At the same time, they thrillingly immerse the reader in everyday Chinese life and occult beliefs.
Zhiguai is an anthology of short, sometimes very short, uncanny tales, or “zhiguai.” These are different from ghost stories, being more personal and more reliant on wrinkles in reality. Time slips, doppelgangers, quick jaunts to parallel realities, glitches in the matrix, if you will, are the sort of strange phenomena covered here.
These are true narratives related by the people who have experienced these things. Most of the storytellers seem quite young. While some of the stories are disturbing, this anthology feels like the type of scares that I would have absolutely loved in high school. For me now, I wish these stories were paired with some from Yi Izzy Yu and John Yu Branscum’s other translation project The Shadow Book of Ji Yun, a collection of traditional zhiguai. I’m definitely interested in comparing the more traditional (which I’m unfamiliar with) and the modern.
That being said, this would be an absolutely perfect autumn readathon book: a spin-tingling fast read.