Pretty much as soon as I posted last week, Still Just a Geek came off hold from the library. I vaguely remember putting it on hold, but I don’t remember when. Before making up my 20 Books of Summer list? Probably. (If I do anything late at night when I’ve had too much to drink, it’s putting in hold requests at the elibrary.)
So, Wil Wheaton’sStill Just a Geek and Persuasion by Jane Austen are this week’s selections. I’m still more or less on track for 20 Books of Summer, even though I didn’t read much over the weekend.
Deal Me In, Week 25
Q♣️ – “And Yet” by A. T. Greenblatt (link) I’ve been loving what recent authors have been doing with haunted house tropes. “And Yet” might be my favorite thus far, a Nebula nominee from a few years back.
I try to not binge shows, but I had a pretty bad night of insomnia last week and watched the whole of The Bear in one evening. Granted, it was only eight episodes and many of them only a half hour in length, but still . . . I’m also catching season 8 of Endeavour on PBS.
This week: Wimbeldon!
Writing & Entangled Tomes
Last week, I decided to go through my folders and figure out just how many projects I had in progress. Turns out, around two dozen. Among those projects, I found a flash fiction piece which is pretty much finished. I’m going to rewrite it and find potential homes for it this week.
No Beat the Backlog progress due to library books.
I recently set up a spreadsheet with a randomizer and all the movies I want to watch. I’ve made a pact with myself to watch whatever movie is chosen if I have the ability to do so. Plus, other films that I decide to watch.
Year: 2019 Runtime: 1h 33m Rated: G
Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Stars: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin
Double Feature Fodder: The Right Stuff (1983)
Initial: I don’t remember adding Apollo 11 to my TBW, but I’m a sucker for space stuff, so it’s not that surprising.
Production Notes: This documentary uses only archival footage, uses only archival recordings for dialog, and features a score composed on instruments contemporary to 1969. Since some of the footage was shot by Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin, they earned honorary membership to the American Society of Cinematographers, which makes them just that much cooler in my book.
What Did I Think: The footage is downright amazing—and not just the moon stuff. This is “history” on film being presented clearly and colorfully. I stopped the doc about twenty minutes in and wondered how much recreation was being used and was surprised that the answer is none. I was also impressed that Miller could keep the tension up even though I *know* how this bit of history ends. This would have been great to see in IMAX when it came out.
Year: 2012 Runtime: 1h 35m Rated: R
Director: Pete Travis
Writers: John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Alex Garland
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Double Feature Fodder: Annihilation (2018)
Initial: Ended up on my TBW because I’d heard many assurances that Dredd is actually pretty good.
Production Notes: While credited as screenwriter, Alex Garland and Pete Travis co-directed/collaborated on the film.
What Did I Think: Enjoyment of Dredd depends on giving yourself over to the aesthetic of the movie. The setting is wonderfully grungy semi-cyber-punk. The music is spot-on. The Slo-Mo scenes are beautiful and remind me of Garland’s Annihilation (2018). Lena Headey knows how to command a balcony (though I occasionally found her teeth distracting). Karl Urban is almost too frowny, but Olivia Thirlby and Domhnall Gleeson give the plot some heart and eccentricity, respectively.
I’ve heard that the plot is very much like The Raid: Redeption (2011). I would have watched The Raid (an Indonesian film directed by Gareth Evens), but the only streaming version available is dubbed. I couldn’t do it, reader.
Year: 1981 Runtime: 1h 25m Rated: R
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery
Writers: Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery
Stars: Willem Dafoe, J. Don Ferguson, Robert Gordon, Marin Kanter
Double Feature Fodder: Wild at Heart (1990)
Initial: Inspired by previously watching Sam Raimi’s Crimewave, I decided to watch Kathryn Bigelow’s first film (and maybe the rest of her filmography as well).
Production Notes:The Loveless is the feature debut of Willem Dafoe.
What Did I Think: The Loveless is a slow movie. There is a lot of set up of characters and situations, but very little action occurs until the last twenty-ish minutes of the film. Bigelow’s next film, Near Dark (1987), has this problem too, but the early part of the film has more hi-jinks. While the bikers in The Loveless are obviously not good people (early in the movie, Dafoe’s character robs and assaults a woman after changing a tire for her), their fairly rudimentary methods of wrong-doing are juxtaposed with the institutional corruption of the town. The dialogue is clunky, but Bigelow is going for the feel of 50’s biker films. In any case, I’m very much in favor of bring back the phrase, “everything’s jake.”
Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear by Jim Steinmeyer
Hiding the Elephant is perhaps the polar opposite of Psychic Blues. Jim Steinmeyer loves stage magic. He loves the history of it and the nuts and bolts (sometimes literally) of how tricks work. He’s also a good writer, able to present both things in tandem. Which, by the way, if you are a reader who does not want to know how tricks are done, this isn’t the book for you. Hiding the Elephant presents some magic history through the lens of one trick: Harry Houdini’s disappearing an elephant in 1918 at the New York Hippodrome. A lot of cabinet mysteries are described in detail. While many of these tricks are on the older side, we are talking about magic from the turn of the 20th century, some of the concepts are still used in modern magic.
This is the second book about stage magic that I wanted to reread this summer, as a magic refresher. It was one of the first magic history books I’d read back in 2013 and it was fun to revisit it after reading a dozen or so more books about “golden age” magic, including Steinmeyer’s book on Howard Thurston (The Last Greatest Magician in the World).
Monday Miscellanea, a look back at the stuff of last week.
Finished Hiding the Elephant yesterday. I plan on posting about it tomorrow. I was a little undecided about what I wanted to read next. There’s been some consternation in my corner of the internet over the upcoming adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which I’ve never read, but I think I will now (with the requisite change to my 20 Books of Summer list). And in contrast, I might start reading a story or two from The Devil and the Deep, edited by Ellen Datlow. This will be the first time this summer I’m splitting reading time between books, so we’ll see if I stay on track.
Deal Me In
4❤️: “The House Wins In The End” by L Chan (link) A story about a haunting that probably deserves a second read-through. From my Eugie Award list.
Writing & Entangled Tomes
Didn’t get as much done on “Vegas Noir” as I intended, but more than I had in a while. I suppose I’ll keep at it.
No new word on “Colors of the Sea,” but it did move up two positions in its current queue.
No Beat the Backlog progress since I’ve been rereading and checking out books from the library.
It’s officially been 4 days since I last acquired a book.
I recently set up a spreadsheet with a randomizer and all the movies I want to watch. I’ve made a pact with myself to watch whatever movie is chosen (if I have the ability to do so).
The Card Counter
Year: 2021 Runtime: 1h 51m Rated: R
Director: Paul Schrader
Writer: Paul Schrader
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan
Initial: This movie actually came up as a random pick a couple weeks ago. Since I knew it was being added to HBOMax on the 10th, I “queued” it.
What Did I Think: One of the times when a voice over really does work, and is necessary to the story, is when the audience is meant to entirely experience the world through the main character. Honestly, other than William Tell (Oscar Isaac)’s voice over, every bit of dialog sounded wooden and hollow, as though being reported second hand. I see this as a choice on Paul Schader’s part and not deficiency by Tiffany Hadish and Tye Sheridan, the other two leads.
Indeed, there is a slightly fantastical aspect to The Card Counter. Tell’s hotel ritual, for example, would take a way longer than is reasonable, but offers an overly-illustrative example of the austerity that Tell craves. The movie verges on being an anti-revenge tale, but doesn’t quite buy into that level of happy ending.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Year: 2014 Runtime: 1h 59m Rated: R
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Writers: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Raymond Carver
Stars: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone
Double Feature Fodder: The Matrix Resurrections (2021). No really.
Initial: At some point during my last horror film marathon, Birdman came up on Framed and I admitted that I hadn’t seen it yet. “You haven’t seen Birdman yet?!” exclaimed my husband in disbelief.
Production Notes: It’s not one long shot, but its hidden cuts are few and far between. Also, it’s a shame that the score by Antonio Sánchez was not eligible for on Oscar because it’s one of the more interesting uses of music in a film that I’ve heard in a while.
What Did I Think: Birdman makes the in-the-protagonist’s-head style of The Card Counter look like child’s play. Actually, unlike The Card Counter, the POV in Birdman does slide away from Keaton’s character, giving a little more scope to the story.
My personal theory is that young adult narratives start with the question,”Who am I?” The equivalent question for a middle-aged narrative is “How did I get here?” That’s precisely where Birdman starts, mixing with some snarky meta criticism about the current state of art and cinema with the main character’s mid-life crisis.
Year: 1985 Runtime: 1h 26m Rated: PG-13
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Sam Raimi
Stars: Louise Lasser, Brion James, Paul L. Smith
Double Feature Fodder: Burn After Reading (2008)
Initial: I considered this movie during one of my horror movie marathons, but decided it wasn’t horror enough. Not a random movie pick: I started listening to Blank Check Podcast‘s series on Sam Raimi and decided to watch this one before listening.
Production Notes: Didn’t realize until after I watched it that Crimewave was co-written by the Coen brothers. The movie makes slightly more sense to me knowing that.
What Did I Think: Crimewave is not a good movie. I know I’ve said it before about other movies, but I mean it this time. And, yet . . .
I’m not going to lie: there were a few moments in this film that I laughed out loud. This movie has more cheese than a Wisconsin dairy. It’s structurally a mess. I won’t say the performances are bad because I think they were exactly what was asked for. There are a couple well-choreographed action scenes amid a lot of the nonsense. And occasionally, a joke really landed. For me at least. Your mileage may vary.
Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium by Mark Edward
I enjoy reading books by authors who obviously love the subject they’re writing about. Their enthusiasm comes through and makes the stories they tell compelling, even if it’s a topic I’m not that interested in.
This is not one of those books.
Mark Edward dislikes magic and magicians, psychics and mentalists, and actually seems to dislike people in general.
I will admit to a couple things at this point. I don’t believe in psychic phenomena and I don’t like psychics and mentalists either. I know it’s all a con. I decided to read Psychic Blues to get the perspective of a psychic who admits as much. I’ve read a number books by magicians about the deception involved in magic, but magicians generally retain a certain amount of respect for their audience.
Edward has no respect for the people he’s conning. Not for the people who called in to the Psychic Friends Network in the 90s or the celebrities he’s given tarot readings to at parties. He doesn’t call his sitters rubes, but he has nothing but disdain for the entire process. I’m not sure why the word “conflicted” is used in the extended title of this book. Edward is never conflicted about taking advantage of people, only about whether it’s actually worth his time and effort. He never worries about whether what he’s doing is harming someone.
He does seem to think fairly well of himself, but he’s not that interesting of a subject.
I finished both Magic in Theory and Psychic Blues last week. I already posted about the former and will have a few things to say about the latter later in the week. Possibly tomorrow. I’m also a little way into Hiding the Elephant. I needed an antidote to the nonsense of Psychic Blues.
Round three of TrekAThon is coming up in July and a surprising number of my 20 Books of Summer list fit the prompts. I’ll have a have a signup post closer to the date.
Not much else going on. Weather-wise, we’ve gone from pleasant spring to pretty hot, which isn’t totally unusual for Arizona in June. Evening ultimate frisbee has been pleasant and noontime ultimate is strangely undeterred.
Writing & Entangled Tomes
Did a small amount of writing on Vegas Noir. Hope to get more done this week. I’ve set a small goal of adding 30K to it by the end of the summer.
No word on “Colors of the Sea.”
Between library reads and rereads, no progress on my Beat the Backlog goal, but I’m ahead of schedule.
It’s been 125 days since I acquired a book, but as I’ve said, this is only technically still a streak. With Kickstarters, anything can happen, but the project is funded. There are still a few days left to back this fun project: