Movies I’ve watched 18 movies in 62 days. If it was up to me, I’d be watching a movie a night, but two a week is not bad for a house dad. Notables include: Fire of Love (2022): You’d be disrespecting this documentary if you watch it in something other than a movie theatre or a top-notch home cinema. The images and sounds of the volcanos are unforgettable. The characters (a husband and wife volcanologist team) reminded me of Free Solo’s Alex Honnold—a mountain climber mortally obsessed with his passion for free climbing. (I remember my friend being so disturbed by Alex Honnold’s megalomaniacal risk-taking that my friend walked out of the movie.) Free Solo didn’t put me in the mood to climb a mountain, but — by showing to what lengths the human mind and body can be pushed — it evoked in me a sense of awe, and of pride for our species and what we’re capable of. I don’t want my daughter to be a free climber or a volcano junkie, but I am glad that there are questing daredevils out there. Most of these daredevils will expire without leaving a legacy, but sometimes they are posthumous treasures. In Fire of Love, Katia and Maurice Krafft leave us with a rich legacy of scientific discovery and cinematic wonder. I won’t be going anywhere near a volcano, either. B+ (Available on Disney+) Avatar 2 (2022): It should be celebrated for being arguably the most amazing audio-visual cinematic spectacle ever. But it felt too long. I’m wondering if James Cameron has cowed his editors into silence. B- The Quiet Girl (2022): A touching Irish film about a poor girl taken in by kind relatives. As a student of storytelling, I learned one big thing from the film’s only flaw: Ambiguous endings are okay only if the main storyline has been resolved. In other words, tell us what happens! But, if you must, go ahead and leave the conclusions to other subplots unclear. (Watch The Verdict, as reviewed below, to see how best to end the many strands of a story.) A- Lightyear (2022): My little Scottish village hall puts on one child-friendly movie a month, so I took my daughter to see Pixar’s latest. The plot was so convoluted that none of the parents, let alone the kids, could follow along. I’ve watched a lot of Disney/Pixar this past year. One of the things I’ve noticed is that even the best of them (Wall-E, Coco, Inside Out) include way too much mindless running around. I believe kids could be satisfied with mellower movies, but it’s hard to think of anything recent that bucks the trend. These mindless CGI chases are not doing kids’ movie sensibilities and attention spans any good. F Banshees of Inisherin (2022): This will sound odd, but Banshees is the best terrible movie I’ve ever seen. It was “best” for its amazing acting, setting, and script. (Most of the Oscar noms are valid.) But ultimately it was a terrible, nihilistic, stupidly bleak waste of a movie that used its bleakness to be edgy, gratuitously shocking, and as an “emblem of sophistication,” to borrow a friend’s phrase. D
The Verdict (1982): An aging alcoholic lawyer (Paul Newman) wants to redeem himself by taking on a big-time corrupt city power. Sound cliche? Who cares! I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Despite the cliche story, everything else about this movie — the acting, the sets, the camera angles — was gritty, raw, and weird, making the film mesmerizingly unpredictable, even if you know where it’s going. A
The Big Chill (1983): This one felt flawless to me. It’s a wonderful movie about college friends who come together in mid-life. I remember that time, in college, when your friends become your family. But these friendships almost always dissolve when everyone moves away and finds a family of their own. No movie has better captured this dynamic than The Big Chill. A-
Audiobooks I only have another hour left on Hilary Mantel’s sequel, Bring up the Bodies (2012). This is just as good as the first. Remember to listen to the version in which Ben Miles narrates.
Books I’ve read If you’re looking for THE Scottish history book, go ahead and buy T.M. Divine’s The Scottish Nation: A Modern History. This is not popular history; it’s history, so don’t go in expecting entertainment. There’s a reason why this one took me 3.5 years to finish.
Books I’ve started I’m excited to have started both Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet by George Monbiot and The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by Graeber & Wengrow. Monbiot will be making the claim (among other claims) that organic meat is just as bad for the environment as non-organic meat (accounting for the endless acres needed to cultivate organic beef). And the Davids Graeber and Wengrow are making the case that early civilizations were just as smart and philosophical as our modern ones. Foraging communities often had enough wealth and organizational intelligence to erect impossible monuments, after all. The chapter on how Native American philosophers helped to trigger the French and American Revolutions was utterly convincing. (Perhaps more on this in another newsletter).
Podcast highlights Ezra Klein Show — Klein talks with sex and relationship thinker, Dan Savage. The Rewatchables — Every episode is terrific, but their Sideways review is a particularly good one. Long Now Foundation — I enjoyed this interview with Kate Darling about robots and how the human-robot relationship might come to resemble our human-pet relationship. Let’s Make a Sci-Fi — This is a podcast miniseries hosted by three comedians who set out to write their own sci-fi. Bizarrely, the team doesn’t lean on their primary skill (comedy), instead making a somewhat dull science-fiction TV pilot. But the journey is better than the destination, and there is a lot to learn about the craft of storytelling from their efforts. Blogs Blogs are dead, except for my friend David’s blog, which has been thriving for sixteen years. His themes span from the science of Roger Penrose to photos of local flowers. He doesn’t pull any punches when he condemns the state of conservative intellectualism—a post inspired by Corey Robin’s book The Reactionary Mind. What I’d like to be consuming I wish I had an HBO Max account. The Rehearsal looks like it was made for me. And I’m curious to give White Lotus and The Last of Us a try to see what all the fuss is about.
What I’m happy to no longer be consuming The Bills season ended not with a bang but with a pitiful fizzle. I’m sick of wasting three hours of my weekends on something that makes me feel uneasy. I can’t stand all the head injuries, yet I feel compelled to root for a team I’ve been watching since I was six. Due to salary cap issues, it’s almost a guarantee that the Bills will regress in 2023, giving me good reason to pause my interaction with the game.
Movies watched from BFI’s Top 100 list I am well on my way to reaching my goal of watching all 100 of BFI’s greatest movies ever list. I have roughly 45 more movies to watch. I found myself scoffing halfway through Jeanne Dielman and Wanda, not because they were bad movies, but because I thought they were so slow and arthousey that they deserved to be nowhere near a best-ever list. (Why them and not The Verdict?!) But then they grew on me, and I finished both with grudging admiration. None of these films have been pleasurable, but all have been worth my time. #1 Jeanne Dielman (1975) #18 Persona (1966) #34 L’Atlante by Jean Vigo (1934) #75 Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky (1975) #48 Wanda (1970) #95 A Man Escaped by Robert Bresson (1956)