Thoughts about books & movies. Most entries here are pretty casual, but some of them are longer. Anything with a star (★) is something that I'd consider to be extremely good, would recommend, or would consider a new favorite.

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Almost everything here contains spoilers!

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023), (re)watched December 2023

I mentioned a while ago that I had seen this movie in the theater & enjoyed it, so my family up here in Oregon waited to watch it with me. It was just as good as I remember, though a different experience rewatching it & knowing what will happen.

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), watched December 2023

Another aunt-recommended movie, very enjoyable. I think I’ll read the book sometime. I have to admit though, as much as I liked the movie, I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to the movie itself & how much can be attributed to the novel that it was based on. This is a movie that I can see myself rewatching eventually.

Dolores Claiborne (1995), watched December 2023

Another Stephen King story, yeah, but I’ve been staying with family in Oregon & after watching Misery, my aunt wanted to watch Dolores Claiborne. I actually thought this movie was pretty good! The reveal in which Vera wasn’t murdered, she just wanted to be put out of her misery wasn’t new or special, but I was interested in the story’s characters. I also liked watching a movie centered around women.

Misery (1990), watched December 2023

This movie was alright, maybe even a little good. I’m just not really a fan of Stephen King. I think he’s a pretty mediocre writer for the most part. It was an enjoyable movie, but it wasn’t scary. The only time I looked away was when I saw the protagonist’s maimed legs, but that wasn’t out of fear, just disgust. The ending was a bit weak too, not the burning of the manuscript; I mean the post escape part. It was just a bit boring, a bit tacked on, lackluster. I’m just a bit sad, because in theory this could be a really scary movie, being trapped in a house & being too injured to escape, being at the mercy of someone else, but somehow the movie isn’t really scary. Kathy Bates’ performance was really good, though I was unimpressed by her character’s backstory. The character she portrayed seemed a bit cartoonish, or caricaturish, but she did it well & gave a believable performance.

Fargo (1996), watched December 2023

I thought this movie was very good! I don’t really know why… I guess I just really liked the acting. I don’t think the story was particularly special, but the characters, or the acting rather, made it interesting to me.

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), watched December 2023, & various other Studio Ghibli rewatches

While home alone on my Oregon vacation, in my grandfather’s rustic house, I rewatched a bunch of Studio Ghibli films: My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Ponyo (2008), The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) for the first time, My Neighbor Totoro (1988) again, & Spirited Away (2001). I have a newfound appreciation for My Neighbor Totoro; I now think it’s one of Studio Ghibli’s better works. Arrietty was unimpressive. To me, it was nothing more than a kid’s movie. I thought the antagonist was too cartoonishly villainous & everything was just too simple. It didn’t stir any emotions in me. It was just an entertaining movie that I will likely not watch again.

My Studio Ghibli movie rankings are:

  1. Spirited Away, because it is one of my favorite movies
  2. Ponyo, because I used to watch it with my little brother
  3. Kiki’s Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro
  4. Princess Mononoke
  5. Howl’s Moving Castle
  6. The Boy & the Heron or Arrietty

These are in order of how much I personally like them rather than how good I think they are, though there’s a lot of overlap. I only say this, because if this were a list from best to worst, I would rank Princess Mononoke higher. I think it’s a very good movie, probably one of the best on this list, maybe just under Spirited Away. The only reason it’s towards the middle of the list is because I don’t really rewatch it from time to time the way I do with some of these other movies. Howl’s Moving Castle & lower are movies that I’d consider average-mediocre. I like to watch Howl’s Moving Castle, but I think it’s too haphazard & is not an emotional experience for me. A significant part of what makes a movie good to me is how/if it evokes emotion in me.

Ratatouille (2007), watched Christmas Day, December 2023

Why did we watch Ratatouille on Christmas Day? I don’t know, I just really wanted to watch it for some reason. I don’t know why, because I only vaguely remembered the movie before watching it again. I think the movie came out when I was four or five, so it’s been a while.

The movie was pretty good! I liked it. I was about to say that it required a lot of suspension of disbelief, but that sounds silly & perhaps redundant to say when speaking about a film where a rat sits on a guy’s head & controls him like a marionette. Anyways, a very sweet story. I’ve been thinking a lot about cooking lately. It’s something I intend to explore & practice in the new year.

Lady Snowblood, read December 2023

I only read this because the main character is a lesbian.

Leave the World Behind (2023), watched December 2023

Not much to say about this movie. It tried to be a serious film but was just so silly, especially the camerawork. Just watch five minutes of this movie & witness all of its stupid camera angles for yourself. You know, it’s really something if the thing I take away from your movie is its camerawork of all things. The movie had all of these grand, extravagant shots for no reason. They were not necessary. They were distracting. It was as though they couldn’t afford a cameraman & had a drone take all of their shots. I don’t know how else to describe it & it’s the only thing in this movie that’s of any note. Well, the characterization & dialogue were stupid too. And any merit the plot had was diminished by every other part of this movie. Waste of time. There is nothing of value in this movie, beyond a laugh at its expense. It was so heavy handed yet simultaneously so shallow- It takes true talentlessness to reach such a combination.

The Boy & the Heron (2023), watched December 2023

I am sad to report that I was really underwhelmed by this movie. It is my least favorite Ghibli film & the only one I’ve seen that I can say I didn’t really like. I mean, it was an entertaining movie, but I don’t think that it was very good.

Let’s start with what I liked: The animation was good. I like birds & there were many, many birds in this movie. The score is quite good, so much so that I actually noticed it. There is this scene towards the beginning, my favorite one of the entire film, in which the protagonist Mahito is running through flames to find his mother who is burning to death & the scene is almost like this blend between dream & reality. It’s amazing to watch & packed with emotion, which brings me to what I dislike: The movie’s message was so undercooked, so undone, unfinished. The first part of the movie, maybe the first third of it, is about Mahito & the grief he feels regarding his mother’s death. The viewers are met with this emotional scene, nightmare, of Mahito trying to find his mother, but this plot point is pushed aside & the film pivots & becomes a story about…? I’m not quite sure. Acceptance? The acceptance in this story feels unearned, as all of the relationships do. Mahito struggles to accept his new stepmother, going on this fantastical journey to retrieve her from another world, but they don’t really talk to each other, don’t really explain their feelings. The only time they really talk is when Mahito’s stepmother tells him that she hates him, then the movie ends & they love each other. They didn’t even go through the movie’s journey together, they just sort of met up at the end & liked each other. It was bizarre & did not feel justified. Same with the relationship between Mahito & the Heron. We’re told that they’re friends now, but why? Why are they friends? They disliked each other at the beginning of the movie & their relationship did not seem to grow, at least not in front of the viewer. The characters in this story did not feel human to me, they were just objects in the plot that were assigned feelings. They had fears & desires, but they weren’t really explored. We learn about Mahito’s struggle with his mother’s death, but this aspect of him, the biggest part of him, is not fully explored. It was weak writing in my opinion.

I also think the pacing of the movie was really off. It all felt so disjointed & the setting was poorly done. In Spirited Away for example, the bathhouse feels like a real place. It’s not just a backdrop for a story, it feels like it already exists before Chihiro comes & will continue on without her. This movie’s setting does not seem that way to me. It’s just this amalgamation of pretty places, but it’s not cohesive & I’m not left with an understanding of the world. This really large & expansive fantasy land was introduced, but there is not enough time in the movie to let any scene linger & many parts of the setting feel unexplored or explained; They’re just sort of… there, which is really disappointing, because the setting itself is so important to the plot, yet it doesn’t feel that way to me. I think it has to do with the pacing of the movie. There was too much in this movie for its length. It needed to be longer, things needed to be more concise, or things needed to be cut. The movie was so jam-packed with things, with plot elements, with places, with creatures, but not with emotions. It was actually hard to feel invested in the movie. There was so much going on, but I found my mind wandering a few times throughout the film, which is really unusual to me. I went with my friend E & she actually fell asleep for a few minutes.

This isn’t an awful movie by any means, but it does not deserve its rave reviews. It’s an alright movie, fun to watch, but not a movie that I would consider good. If any studio other than Studio Ghibli created this movie, I don’t think anyone would really care for it. Happy that I saw it, but it’s not a movie that I will rewatch. Well, I told my aunt that I would see it with her when it came out, like I told E. So I’ll probably rewatch it soon, but just once & not again.

Godzilla Minus One (2023), watched December 2023 ★

I had never seen a Godzilla movie, or even a kaiju movie prior to Godzilla Minus One, & this movie was such a pleasant surprise. Despite being a kaiju movie, its story was very human. I did not expect this level of depth from what I thought was going to be a simple monster movie. I was absolutely wrong.

Godzilla Minus One is a story not about Godzilla, but about a kamikaze pilot, Kōichi Shikishima, who feigns a plane malfunction . He has a run in with Godzilla on the island he took his plane to for “repairs.” Godzilla attacks & those on the island beg him to shoot the monster (though in reality that would have done nothing), but he freezes & there are only two survivors: himself & a lone mechanic. Shikishima makes it home at the end of the war, only to find that his home is in ruins & he is plagued with survivor’s guilt. He forms a family with a woman named Noriko & the orphan she is taking care of, Akiko, but does not allow himself to become meaningfully close with them. He provides for them & clearly cares for them, but will not ask Noriko to be his wife & will not allow Akiko to call him dad, because he feels undeserving. There’s this scene in the movie, maybe halfway through, that made me cry in which Shikishima resolves to live, to really live. It was so… real.

As the movie progresses, Godzilla returns & it becomes evident that Godzilla is a representation for Japan’s willingness to throw away lives during WWII & it was really poignant, really well done. Shikishima, wracked with guilt as it appears Noriko has died to Godzilla, resolves to fulfill his previous duty as a kamikaze, intending to kill himself to stop Godzilla. Instead, it ends up being a story about forgiveness & he ends up using an ejection seat at the last moment. I figured that was what was going to happen & I’m glad the story followed through.

It's just a testament to the movie's storytelling abilities that Godzilla was one of the less interesting parts of the Godzilla movie. This isn't to say Godzilla wasn't interesting! Man vs. (undefeatable) monster was incredible to watch, but mostly, I was interested in the characters of the movie, their story. I was invested in their story & saw Godzilla as a threat to them, which made the movie even more interesting to me, because it was as though there were genuine stakes. Beautiful movie, I cried multiple times, Vashti endorsed!

Trolls Band Together (2023), watched December 2023

I took my little brother to see this movie because Trolls (2016) was his favorite movie as a kid, constantly playing in the house. It is a movie that I will forever associate with his childhood.

The animation was great, everything was stylized & bold. The story was alright. I think the movie could’ve really soared if they let its emotional moments linger. I’ve noticed a lot in movies lately that something, normally jokes, seem to undercut their sincere moments & I don’t like it.

I only liked this movie because I saw it with my brother, though I would say it was enjoyable.

Dream Scenario (2023), watched December 2023

My first watch of December & it’s such a colossal disappointment. Save yourself the trouble & the cost of a movie ticket & just watch the trailer for this movie, because it’s as good as it gets. Honestly, I was so, so, so looking forward to this movie because of its intriguing premise, & they did nothing with it. Nothing. It’s a movie about a boring, painfully average, archetypical middle aged man who is suddenly appearing in people’s dreams across the world. Such an interesting premise, right? They do nothing with it. They take it & they make it a trite, heavy handed yet simultaneously clumsy movie about cancel culture. It’s just so… banal, so boring, like the film's protagonist. I was so thoroughly unimpressed by this movie. It said nothing. They couldn't even get the dreams themselves right. There was nothing fantastical about those scenes. It was almost hard to differentiate between dream scenes & the scenes happening in reality, which just shows how there was nothing stand out about the dream sequences if they blend into the rest of the movie so well.

The film’s protagonist is a middle aged professor who is in every way an absolute loser, played by Nicholas Cage. I saw a lot of people praising the acting in this movie, but I don’t see it. The scenes where Cage tried to appear emotional felt so flat to me. The scenes where he tried to be funny felt so flat to me, and boy were there a lot of those! This movie is a comedy only in that you can read on its Wikipedia page that it’s a comedy. The movie itself was unfunny & its attempts at humor got in the way of its story & characterization. The protagonist, Paul Matthews, is just a cringe comedy caricature, but somehow, he just isn’t funny. Every chance this character has to make a fool of himself, to say or do the wrong thing, he does. That’s all there is to this character. There’s nothing real about him. He’s written as someone whose life has passed them by, who says things but doesn’t do them, who desperately wants to be different, but I see none of this pain shown in his character, unless the plot demands it & tells us outright. There’s no depth to Paul Matthews. Here’s what you need to know: He is boring. He is passive. He is a loser. He wants attention and admiration, but doesn’t get it. He wants approval but doesn’t get it. He’s a bit of a dick. That’s it. You now know the character through & through, everything about him. There is nothing redeeming about this character, nor is there any charm, any depth to make me want to learn more. His character has no arc to follow either. He starts & ends the same. I care so little about him.

& you know, it’s really interesting to me that Paul Matthews is written to be so goddamn unlikable, because here’s the plot: Paul Matthews is a loser biology professor, he begins to appear in people’s dreams. Then the dreams turn into horrific nightmares & everyone hates him. Sounds really cool so far, yeah? Sounds unique? Sounds hard to mess up? Sounds like an interesting way to explore the human desire to be important & to be memorable & the human reality that this doesn’t happen for most people? Well you’re wrong! Instead it’s a story about cancel culture. Paul Matthews gets cancelled. & it’s presented as this critique of cancel culture, but I don’t feel bad for him! I hate this character. There is nothing good about him. There is nothing interesting. I don’t care if people hate him, because I hate him. I think whoever made this movie wanted me to go Boohoo, poor Paul Matthews, it's not your fault! but I didn't. Sure, it's not his fault that people are having nightmares about him, but he's so unapologetic about it... People have horrific nightmares about him in which he brutalizes them, tortures them, rapes them, & then he blames them when they're scared of him. & it's so stupid to me, because the entire narrative seems to be pointing to Boohoo, poor Paul Matthews, it's not your fault! & Paul Matthews himself feels this way, this self pitying way, but he doesn't extend this understanding to others at all. He recognizes that this situation is not his fault then seeks to put blame on others. That's interesting to me, that's not bad, but it doesn't fit with this whole 'cancel culture is bad' schtick. (A heavy handed schtick, brutal the way Paul Matthews is in everyone's dreams.) & the movie wants to be so clever too. It makes this weird pivot about halfway through when you realize instead of the really interesting movie that was advertised, you're getting the cancel culture movie & there's this scene where Paul Matthews' students are doing CBT at the school, because they're so scared of this guy, but it's presented almost as a satire? I don't know what it was trying to do really. I think it was going for a "look at what sensitive little sissies this generation is" route, but it was so unwelcome for one, but also out of place.

Then the movie shifts a third time & we've passed the Cancel Culture Commentary Portion & have reached the Paul Matthews' Broken Family Portion & his wife has left him, his kids aren't close with him, his life is in shambles, he goes to Paris for a book tour like he's always wanted, but it's a book about how he was the world's nightmare & this is also just so... out of place. First it tried to be a haha funny movie, then a critique of cancel culture, & now a touching exploration of Paul Matthews' loneliness & it does none of these things! The scene ends with him visiting his wife in her dream & him saying that he wishes this were all real & who cares? There hasn't been a single touching moment between Paul Matthews and his wife (or the rest of his family for that matter) for the entire movie. I get that he misses his wife because he's supposed to, but it's not convincing.

This movie was just such a muddy heap of half baked slop, like a hot dog made from the entrails of every genre & in the end, it was none of them, just a waste of potential.

Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, read November 2023 ★

This book! This book was so good, so good I started it at work & came home & finished it. A short, sharp read that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

It’s a story about cannibalism & Vashti loves stories about cannibalism. It’s set in a future in which consumption of animal meat has been prohibited & people now farm & slaughter humans. Except you’re not allowed to call them humans. You call them “special meat” or “heads” (as in cattle) or “carcasses,” not corpses. The protagonist gets a “special meat” pregnant, which is rape, and names her “Jasmine,” the way you’d name a pet. This is an important fact, because the laws about eating people, I mean “special meat,” in this society are that you don’t eat someone with a first and last name. Jasmine doesn’t have a last name, so what do you think happens to her? She has his baby & then gets clubbed & eaten. I saw the ending coming, but that didn’t diminish its poignancy.

It’s a story about a dystopian cannibal future, but really it’s a story about humanity, well lack of humanity, and hypocrisy. The protagonist spends the entirety of the story feeling disgusted with the new state of the world, the slaughter of humans, but he himself works as the right hand man of the boss of a slaughterhouse. He oversees the murder, sorry slaughter, of countless people, I mean “special meat.” He’s worse though, because he sees himself as above others despite doing things that are as bad or even worse than what they do. He’s a hypocrite. At the beginning of the book, you get the impression that maybe the protagonist is different, but he’s not. He’s the same as everyone else, no matter what he himself wants to believe.

An amazing book, one of my new favorites.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), watched November 2023

I really wanted to watch this for some reason & I don’t know why, because it wasn’t particularly good, nor was it as good as I remember. I mean, it came out when I was in elementary school, so that’s probably why. An okay, enjoyable movie.

Saltburn (2023), watched November 2023

What to say about this movie..? Well for one, I’m actually probably going to watch it a second time, because I told my friend I’d watch it with her before I went to the theatre by myself. In my defense, I always go to the movies when I’m feeling depressed. It’s pretty hard to ruminate on things when you’re sitting in a dark room where you’re not allowed to talk & there are giant, colorful, moving pictures & stories in front of you. So, feeling very depressed, I went to the movies by myself last Sunday, even though I’m going to be watching this movie again on Saturday with my friend.

Do I think it’s a good movie? No, but it was fun to watch. That being said, I don’t think I like it either. I found its core message, character motivations, & ending to be pretty lacking. The ending was so… hand-holdy. Spoilers: The protagonist orchestrated it all! He was murdering people! & the movie, maybe flick is a better word, smugly had the protagonist narrate this & then show us clips of all of the murders, like we’re stupid. It’s like the movie, flick, thought it was ahead of us when really I was waiting for it to catch up. The actual ending scene was alright, with the naked dancing. I don’t know. I only liked the song choice, which I found to work really well with the movie. Why was he naked? I honestly think it was just an attention seeking thing, to whoever wrote this, not to the character. I don’t trust the movie’s, sorry flick’s, artistic merits enough to think the nude dance was an artistic decision. Same with the lame sex scenes. ~Oh no! Period sex! I’m gonna throw up!~ It was presented like this really racy scene, but to who? Who would find that racy? It’s like they expected the audience to consist of teenagers, maybe?

I also think the protagonist’s obsession thing was undercooked. The ending in which it was shown that he got close to a rich family to kill them off for their wealth undercuts this idea that he was “obsessed” with Felix, the heir to the family estate that he was after. But simultaneously, this guy is drinking Felix’s bathwater, so which is it? Is he genuinely obsessed with him or does he want his money? These motivations were presented in a contradictory fashion to me. If everything about the protagonist was a facade, then why wasn’t this “obsession.”

Also side note- people were going on about how homoerotic this flick was, but how? The characters had no chemistry!

Even though the flick was pretty lavish & there were these well done shots, it was only surface level. They look pretty, but what do they tell us? Look, it’s undeniable that this is a good looking movie, but somehow, not a single shot stood out to me. It also seemed so try-hard to me. It’s like they put all of their effort into making the movie look striking instead of trying to write a good story. And on that topic, what were we supposed to take away from this? That people want to be rich? What an insight from a movie that takes itself so seriously.

Home Alone (1990), watched November 2023

I’d never really watched Home Alone before, but it was alright. I don’t think it was very good or that interesting, but I think it’s more of a nostalgia thing, and I do not feel nostalgia toward this. I was kind of interested in it before the Rube Goldberg burglar torture machine part. I thought the church scene was pretty solid. I thought the whole “~Wow, family is actually amazing~” moral was meh.

I don’t think I’ll ever watch this movie again, but it’s worth noting: I am not a Christmas person. The only Christmas movie I really like is The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) & the only Christmas song I really like is Do You Hear What I Hear? sung by Bing Crosby.

”The Guest” (L'Hôte) by Albert Camus, read November 2023

I read “The Guest” for my literature class, but haven’t sorted my thoughts on it yet. I know that it’s about colonialism in Algeria, but it’s made me think about acceptance & what it means to be condemned to a fate, or a life rather.

I quite liked Camus back in high school & this story made me want to delve into his works again. Back in high school, I read L’Etranger in English & the French & I did a presentation on absurdism in French class. It’s always been funny to me, well maybe endearing or sweet are better words, that my existence, especially my adolescent existence, can be characterized by my phases. Maybe my phases can be written off as transient & shallow the way adults like to discount teenagers, but as someone who is now an adult & has been for a few years, I think this is unfair. You can call it a phase, or you can call it love. They’re the same thing. I went through periods where I loved certain things & looking back, that love is an intrinsic part of those periods of my life. There’s so much love that it paints over everything in a wash. I can’t think of that time without remembering the love I felt, and at that time I loved reading Albert Camus of all things.

Megamind (2010), watched November 2023

I put Megamind on in the background while the neighbor kid was at our house playing Fortnite & trading Pokemon cards with my brother. I meant to work on the site some more, or maybe do some homework, but the movie was so engrossing that I closed my laptop & just watched. It was surprisingly good! You probably can recognize most of its plot elements from other stories, but it was somehow still fresh & novel. I found its examination of choice & self determinism to be really interesting.

I was particularly interested in its questions about responsibility in the form of Metro Man. If you have the power to keep everyone safe, a power that others don’t have, something that only you can do, do you have the responsibility to do what you can? Even if it makes you unhappy? Even if it’s not how you want to live your life? It’s not something that I’d thought about. I mean, say you have superpowers & no one else does, do you have to defend everyone? Are you morally obligated to do so?

It was also a story about defying the role that’s been prescribed to you, even if it’s your past self that made those decisions for you. You can do anything. You can change.

Us (2019), watched November 2023
This movie was such a disappointment. Get Out (2017) & Nope (2022) are both movies that I hold in really high regard, but the same really can’t be said of Jordan Peele’s Us (2019). I was really interested in the exploration of the fear of a double, a shadow, but this movie totally botched it. Part of what makes horror scary is fear of the unknown, so the fact that the ending of the movie was just exposition vomit about an absurd plot & a twist that I predicted within the first few minutes of the movie is just disappointing. I’ve already said that, but there are no other words to describe how I feel. Another part of what makes horror scary is tone, and a way to maintain a tense atmosphere is by not making unfunny jokes. What did this movie do? It made unfunny jokes. I didn’t laugh at any of them & I felt like all of the jokes that fell flat- which were all of them- took away from the story. They were just unnecessary & led me to believe that the movie’s writer didn’t have confidence in their story or ability to scare their audience.

I’d also like to point out that the movie started well. It started really well, actually. For the first third of the film, not quite sure exactly how long, right up to the point where the family’s house was being broken into, was well done. Everything after that was just base horror movie slasher nonsense & it got worse as the movie went along. I kept wondering to myself when it would finally end, or how it would end, because I felt that the movie took on more than it could handle with its ridiculous plot, & I was right.

If I had to summarize how I feel about this movie beyond the word “disappointed,” I’d tell you what my dad said when watching the movie with me. He looked at how the father of the family was reacting to four mysterious silhouettes in his driveway & he said no one would act like that & that about sums up my problems with this movie: It became a typical horror movie in which we saw how its characters acted & the unrealistic, nonsensical nature of their decisions took us out of the story & back into the realization that we’re just watching a lame horror movie. That what this was, your typical, lame horror movie.

Priscilla (2023), watched November 2023
I didn’t actually know what this movie was about when I went in to watch it, I just happened to have a few hours to kill & couldn’t go home, so I went to the movies. It was either Priscilla or FNAF for a second time, so I picked Priscialla. Anyways, I found this to be a really well done movie. I’m not sure how much of it is true to history, but at the very least, it’s so well written. The way Priscilla’s life melts from teenage fantasy to awful reality is sad to see, which means the writer & director did their job well, & the actress did an incredible job portraying someone who lacks autonomy. She played someone who was treated as a living doll or accessory, but did it in a way that still kept the viewer engaged. How do you even do that? It’s just amazing!

Even the most minute movements & details feed into the narrative. One moment that really stood out to me was the way Priscilla had to reach out her hand, palm up as if in a state of supplication, whenever someone gave her pills to take. It really reiterates that she didn’t hold any sort of power; What she received was at the whim of those around her. Another was when Priscilla put on makeup before leaving the house as she was going into labor. The person sitting next to me in the theatre scoffed & said ”Really? but they were missing the point entirely. Priscilla was basically trained from her teenage years to act as a pretty doll for Elvis, wearing only what he wanted, being constantly available for him, and you’re going to blame her for putting on makeup? Give me a fucking break.

I haven’t seen any other Sofia Coppola films but am looking forward to doing so after seeing Priscilla. I’d like to watch Marie Antoinette (2006) or The Virgin Suicides soon.

Fantastic Planet (La Planète sauvage) (1973), watched November 2023
I’m a huge fan of animated movies & find myself gravitating towards them & this one did not disappoint. As the title suggests, it’s set on a foreign planet in which humans are small compared to the ruling aliens & as such are no longer the dominant species. Despite this, the humans resist their mistreatment. It’s not the most unique story, but it’s worth noting that this was made back in 1973. I’m assuming the story was more radical at the time. It’s also not a bad story at all! I would’ve been content to sit & watch this imaginary world unfold in front of me for hours & I’m sure that the near storybook animation style helped. Overall, I think this film was great! It’s a tale of survival & the indomitable human spirit all set to funky illustrations & music. Go watch it! I promise that you won’t regret it.

Ernest et Célestine (2012), watched November 2023
Ernest et Célestine was a charming animated film about a couple of non conformist bohemians: Ernest the bear & Célestine the mouse. In a society where it's forbidden for bears & mice to be friends, what do they do? They become friends. While the plot & message of the film is simplistic & isn't particularly original, I didn't mind this at all. 1) It's a children's move & 2) It had more than enough charm to keep me invested. A very comforting movie overall. The animation & music were both comforting & I ended up really caring for Ernest et Célestine. A very sweet movie. I'd like to give it a rewatch & show it to my little brother.

Throne of Blood (1957), watched November 2023
I didn't realize it at first, but this was another Akira Kurosawa film, the man who directed & co-wrote Ikiru (1952). I only realized during the introductory credits. Anyways, Throne of Blood didn't really resonate with me. I don't think it was a bad movie at all, I just wasn't partial to it. I'd say that I still enjoyed it though, most of it. I felt like some scenes seemed dragged out, which is rare for me. Normally I find it really easy to be absorbed in movie. This was an adaptation of Macbeth, which I've neither seen nor read. Well, we read some of Macbeth in high school English, but I don't remember a lot about it beyond defending Lady Macbeth. And not only was this a Macbeth adaptation, it was a samurai Macbeth adaptation, so it sounds really badass right? Wrong! It didn't really focus on the story Macbeth in the particular samurai context, as in how would samurai beliefs or ideals influence the original story of Macbeth? Rather, it was more of a historical backdrop so as to allow betrayal & murder & whatnot. That was disappointing to me. It felt as though it wasn't about samurai, the characters just happened to be samurai.

There were some parts I quite liked though: I liked the scenes with the evil spirit, I liked every scene with Asaji whose actress was incredible in her role, & the ending was amazing. Just go watch the scenes where Asaji tries to wash nonexistent blood off of her hands, or when the enemy forces surround Washizu & it seems as though the whole forest is really falling in upon his castle, or when Washizu is shot & killed. All of these scenes, all of my favorite onces, happened at the end of the movie. If I were to have just watched the ending, I'd say it was perfect. The rest of the film was just alright to me, just solid.

In my opinion, while the movie wasn't bad, it's definitely one that you can safely skip.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), watched November 2023 ★
Amazing movie! So, so, so good & exceeded all expectations that I'd had for it. You know, in my heart, I think that I am a hater & a bit of a snob when it comes to movies, as in I rarely enjoy a movie as much as whoever I'm watching it with, or even just general audience or critic consensus. Maybe my heart is a bit of a matryoshka & as my gentle & somewhat childish demeanor is stripped away, you begin to see another me, one frothing at the mouth to criticize things. I almost like hating movies as much as loving movies, almost. While I wouldn't prefer watching a movie I hate to a movie that I love, I think that I'd definitely prefer watching a movie I hate to a movie that's just okay to me. I watch movies to feel things, and hate is a feeling. After being disappointed by Lady Bird (2017) & Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), I was just about ready to quit letting the internet, the general public, and/or critics recommend movies to me, because to me, whatever film ends up being recommended is normally (totally) overrated. Or rather, I hear lots of people rave about them & I build them up too much in my mind. Maybe it's my fault, but I don't think so. I think that everyone in the world aside from Vashti just has terrible taste. Kidding! (Mostly). This cannot be said of Everything Everywhere, which I think deserves all of the praise that it's received.

And look, I could tell you about how it's well shot, about how the acting is superb, that despite the enormity of the story that it was trying to tell, it still stayed focused & true to itself, that it didn't fall for common & trite tropes, how the costumes were well made, how the action sequences were well choreographed, & all of this is true! That's not why this is one of my new favorite movies though. It's my favorite because it said that love & treating others with kindness is what's most important, that at the end of it all, we're only left with ourselves & that while life may be meaningless, this doesn't mean that it isn't worth living. I liked it for its sincerity. Others may scoff & think that a movie whose core message is the fact that love is the answer may be sappy, but I don't care! It's true! Love is the answer & life is worth living!

I think my favorite scene in the movie is where Waymond says that choosing to be good isn't naïveté, it's necessity. I think others mistake kindness & gentleness for weakness, but to me, it's always been the opposite. Doing the wrong thing, saying things without considering their weight, not helping others, choosing cruelty, these are all just the easy way out. Being kind takes effort, a conscious effort, and it has to be maintained. It takes one act of cruelty to be cruel but many acts of kindness to be kind. Kindness & love are things that we have to practice. I really believe that.

The movie also brought about unexpected emotion in me. I didn't really know what it was about going in, all I knew was its sci-fi premise, but the movie brought me to tears, multiple times over. They were happy tears. This movie made me cry at the sight of two rocks rolling off of a cliff. What else can I say? It was beautiful. It's a beautiful movie. I look forward to seeing it again.

Heathers (1989), (re)watched November 2023
I was drinking a slurpee last night & it made me think about Heathers so I gave it a rewatch. If you somehow haven't watched it, I really recommend it. The dialogue's fun & well written & it feels like none of it is wasted. The color coordinated outfits are a nice touch. The scene where the footballer's sister is crying at the funeral with snot running down her face has always really stood out to me. & the movie is just really funny.
  • Dear Lord, please make sure this never happens to me because I don’t think I could handle suicide.
  • Now blah blah blah is all I do.
  • I say we just grow up, be adults, & die.
  • Whether to kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make.

  • Spirited Away (2001), (re)watched November 2023 ★
    What is there to say about this movie? It's one of my favorites & I've rewatched it many times. I never get tired of it & manage to cry every time. I saw it with E & E enjoyed it. I wrote about it in my diary already on 11/01/2023.

    I think Vashti's personal Ghibli ranking is:
    1. Spirited Away
    2. Ponyo (When my brother was younger he & I would watch this together & my heart is soft for it).
    3. Kiki's Delivery Service
    4. Princess Mononoke
    5. Howl's Moving Castle
    6. Totoro

    The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), watched November 2023
    Somehow I've never seen this movie before & I can now report that I wasn't really missing out. It was fine. Just fine. I don't know. I didn't particularly like any of the songs, which is a bit unfortunate considering half of the movie seemed like singing. I really like Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride, so I guess I was expecting something of equal caliber, but this was nothing more than a solid holiday movie. At least my brother had fun watching it in the theater. That's what matters most of all. Underwhelming considering all of the merchandise for this movie that seems to spawn around this time each year, but not bad at all. Just alright. Good. Wouldn't watch again, but I don't regret watching it.

    Five Nights at Freddy's (2023), watched October 2023
    My little brother & I had been looking forward to Five Nights at Freddy's since it was announced & I am sorry to report that it sucked! Look, look, look: I'm not some FNAF afficionado, but I was what, in middle school or so when the first game was released & it was in its heyday? So even if it's not my favorite game, even if I've only played the first installment of the series, I still feel nostalgic for the game, so I'm sure everyone can empathize with Vashti here & see why she was so disappointed by the movie.

    Right off the bat, I think this movie was trying way too hard to cater to its core fans & those who have never heard of FNAF & in the end it appealed to neither. How so? Just plot-wise, as someone who has prior knowledge of the series, I got a totally different story from the movie as opposed to my mom who had no clue what FNAF was when watching the movie. Yeah, my mom watched it with me. Did I mention that? It was a toss-up between Spirited Away (2001) & Five Nights at Freddy's (2023), & she chose Five Nights at Freddy's, because she thought she wouldn't like Spirited Away. Why would she not like Spirited Away? It's Japanese, & she's one of those sorts who don't want to watch anything foreign, even something as mainstream as Studio Ghibli. She hated Five Nights at Freddy's, by the way. I knew she'd hate it, even if the movie turned out to be good, just because it's not the type of movie she'd like. Why would my forty something year old mom want to watch a movie about killer animatronics in a theatre full of mostly either children or twenty somethings like me? I don't know. Because it's American I guess, because it's an English language film. (Spirited Away was dubbed by the way!) I just can't wrap my head around the blind refusal to watch something you'd most likely enjoy because it's foreign. I genuinely can't & won't get it.

    Anyways, we watched FNAF as a family & my sister & I understood what was going on throughout the movie. My mom & nine year old brother did not. I think the movie either needs basic prior knowledge of FNAF, or someone with better watching skills than my mom & brother to get what's happening on screen. & speaking of lore & prior knowledge, William Afton did not have a daughter named Vanessa right? I feel like they just made that up for the movie. The only Vanessa I remember is from Security Breach, & she's not Afton's daughter, is she? Right? Right? & this Mike guy played by John Hutchinson or whatever, I know Mike Schmidt is the security guard in the original game, but did he really need this lame backstory? There are only so many times that I can watch the same dream sequence play out about this guy's missing brother & care. & I think that time was one, one time, once. After that it was boring & I swear that they only had the scene in there so many times because it was cheap to film & padded the run time. & by the way, what was with that cryptic dream nonsense? We don't need to see some guy's nightmares (that aren't about killer animatronics) in the killer animatronic movie. They were so vague & overdone & boring! They were boring! Every time this guy fell asleep all I could think was Here we go again...

    Let's talk about the age rating real quick, too: PG-13. & you know, I don't even super have a problem with this. I don't think any gratuitous violence would be necessary in this movie, because the FNAF franchise isn't super gore heavy, it mostly utilizes jumpscares. I really didn't mind too much when the camera cut away from the deaths on screen. I get it, too, just by virtue of the fact that this movie is meant for kids. That being said, the movie was not scary enough & did not work with what it had. I did not feel scared watching this at all & found myself laughing at the ridiculousness that was this movie multiple times during what were supposed to be tense moments. Oh but Vashti, how would you do it? Not to sound too out there, but I don't think that this movie needed this trite & fabricated narrative. I think that it could've gone two ways: 1) It could have just depicted the plot of one or multiple of the games or 2) It could have been framed like the original FNAF, a pure survival horror experience. Show me a security guard fighting for his life! Make me feel scared, build dread, make things tense! What didn't work for me was this need to justify why the security guard, in this case Mike (& his sister) were there, because to be quite frank, I don't care at all about these characters. Their story was boring & got in the way of what I know FNAF for: scares & animatronics. The only time I really found myself enjoying the movie was when we were shown Freddy & crew, (except for that stupid cupcake that Chica had). The animatronics actually looked good, too! I thought that the movie seemed cheap & that they didn't go above & beyond anywhere, with the exception of the animatronics. I will say though, that some of their expressions ended up looking so silly. A lot of my laughs came from looking at Freddy's facial expressions, & I don't think that was intentional. Ugh, and the fact that Mike repeatedly entered & left his security job at Freddy's throughout the film really killed any tension. Part of what makes the game so scary is this feeling that you can't escape, but in the movie, we see this guy escape multiple times over. There's also the fact that just by virtue of the fact that it's a movie & not a game, we know that the main character will survive. There's no risk. What could they have done? Kill off one or more of the other main characters, do it early on so we know the characters we're seeing are expendable.

    Let me just run through the things I thought about the movie, all messy & freeform & not articulated well: Vanessa was lame, Mike was lame, the kid was lame, but also somehow the best actor. I knew from the start that the guy giving Mike the job was going to be William Afton. I don't see why they cut away from all of the deaths in the movie but showed William Afton getting punctured to death by a spring-lock contraption. I don't like Vanessa's characterization. I don't see how you could justify knowing that the person you're talking to is going to die to killer animatronics & not give them a heads up. They had a cop (Vanessa) threaten to shoot someone, which was wow. The main character dreamt of Nebraska repeatedly, which is boring. The only thing more boring than this is that he did it repeatedly with little variation & the audience just had to watch it. This movie felt longer than Killers of the Flower Moon, even though it's less than half of its length. Mike's backstory was lame. The fact that William Afton is the one who killed his brother is 1) contrived and 2) not expounded upon enough. The plot itself was just sloppy... The whole break into Freddy's thing was just an excuse for people to get killed in the movie. The whole thing where the animatronics play like kids & build a fort was silly & cute & I liked it, but it did not fit the tone of the movie. Honestly, the whole plot was pretty typical & I have nothing to say about it. When the FNAF song came on as the credits rolled I was ecstatic & my sister & I were beaming. My little brother gave it a 4/10 stars, which is funny, because that's about what I'd say.

    I think I would've liked this movie more if I watched it at home & could talk throughout the movie instead of taking it seriously. Will I watch this movie again? Probably not. Did I like this movie? No. Was it fun? Yes. Was it good? No. Will I watch the sequel? Absolutely.

    The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, read October 2023
    The Metamorphosis hurt so badly to read. I think it's because I was at work in pain as I was reading it & was going on a week of my family not caring about the fact that I'd injured myself. After that shift, my mom did the thing where she fake cries & goes boohoo when I mentioned that my back & shoulder still hurt after my eight hour shift, so yeah.

    Anyways, Gregor Samsa is so relatable. If he were real, I don't know if we'd be friends, but we'd understand each other. This book reaffirmed my decision to quit living to make my parents happy. Gregor would've been happier if he were a disappointment to the Samsa family.

    When Gregor died, maybe I didn't expect his family to be sad, maybe I did expect them to be sad, I don't know, but at the very least I expected them to pretend that they were sad. I also found the use of the word "corpse" to refer to Gregor's dead bug body to be meaningful; To me, it meant he was human until the end. His capacity for misery & suffering made him human, I think.

    I really enjoyed the story, if you can describe a story making you feel acutely miserable as enjoying it, but I don't have a lot to say. I think Kafka's writing speaks for itself, less his prose & more the story he crafted & his clever word choices.

    Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), watched October 2023
    Thought about it, & I just really didn’t like this movie upon reflection. It was such a passionless romance. The two main characters didn’t seem to really know each other despite loving each other. The scene at the bonfire is alright, but it’s the most emotion that this movie musters & that in & of itself is disappointing. & it’s only because I think the bonfire is the only instance of music in the entire movie. If not for that, it would’ve remained another half dead scene like the rest in the movie. I also didn’t like the lack of sex scenes. I mean, the two women didn’t really seem to be into one another, so I doubt a sex scene would be very good, but it’s supposed to be a romance! A romance! Where is the romance? Do we see the romance when Héloïse’s mother tells Marianne that her daughter is fond of her? That’s not seeing it, that’s hearing it, that’s being told explicitly what is happening. It is telling not showing. If you need to outright say that X character likes Y character, maybe you haven’t written a very good romance? Just something to think about.

    No love or passion to be found in this romance, no genuine feeling. This should be called Portrait of Some Ice Cold Ladies That Should be Acquaintances.

    Killers of the Flower Moon (2023), watched October 2023
    I heard of Killers of the Flower Moon only a few days before I'd bought a ticket. I think I heard about it while listening to NPR. My friend E came with me, which was surprising. I didn't expect her to want to watch a 3 1/2 hour movie because she's always really busy, but she did. I don't mind seeing movies alone, in fact a lot of the time I really prefer it, but I've been seeing less of E lately because she's so busy with school & the fact of the matter is that I'm only going to be living around here for another couple of years, so I'm going to spend time with everyone while I can, because none of this will last forever.

    The theater we'd gone to had reclining chairs, which was really comfortable on my hurt back. I think watching Killers of the Flower Moon was the first thing I'd done in a week or so where I didn't feel any pain. Part of that was because I was so engrossed in the movie. It was 3 1/2 hours, the longest movie I've seen, but it didn't feel that way. I don't even think that I remembered I was in a theatre through most of the movie, I was just totally absorbed by the story.

    I thought it was an amazing movie. I don't think that it could have been any better. While it's not my favorite movie of all time, I still really enjoyed it & don't think that it could be improved upon. It was a view into another time & another place. I could see myself watching it again in the future. I normally don't notice things like acting, set design, etc. but I tried looking at it like a movie & not just a story, does that make sense? Normally I look at movies the way I look at books, I look at things like plot, pacing, character, but during this viewing, I noticed some of the things exclusive to movies.

    The actress who played Mollie Burkart really stood out to me. In my opinion, she was the best actor in the movie. She was able to convey so much emotion with just the looks she gave. I don't understand how it's even possible. I didn't see her as an actor at all, I saw her as the real Mollie. I also thought that the set & costume designs were really well done, & the fade between black & white to color was clever. I appreciate too that the violence depicted in the movie didn't seem gratuitous. What was necessary was shown & nothing more. The movie stayed realistic & didn't stoop to melodrama. It's a movie that I'd recommend to anyone.

    Lady Bird (2017), watched October 2023
    Vashti had been wanting to watch Lady Bird for quite some time, probably for more than a year at this point, & got around to watching it today as I laid in bed, in too much pain to move. I'd heard really good things about this movie & was really disappointed in it, quite honestly. I was disappointed in two ways: 1) I was underwhelmed & 2) I did not like the ending. Also sidenote, before I get into the actual content of the movie, why is this classified as a comedy? It didn't even register that it was intended to be a comedy to me. The only reason I know this is because I looked up the year of the film & it's been classified as a "coming-of-age comedy-drama film." Please point to where the comedy is. I am in absolutely no way being hyperbolic when I tell you that I did not laugh once throughout the entirety of this film. Not once.

    Anyways, moving on from the fact that the movie was unfunny, which I really don't mind at all by the way, because I didn't think that it was supposed to be funny in the first place, on the surface, this movie ticks a lot of boxes for me. It's a somewhat artsy movie, it has a slice of life feel, it has a flawed & unlikable protagonist, the protagonist wants to get away from her hometown, the movie features complex female characters, it explores the relationship between parent & child; All of these are things that I like in stories or gravitate toward, yet I don't like this movie. Why is that? Well, starting off, I found the plot to be trite. Yeah, it's a coming of age film, but does that really mean it needs to follow the formula of: teenager is dissatisfied with their life & parents, teenager ditches best friend for popular girl, teenager & friend reconcile towards the end of the movie, teenager apologizes to parent & tells them how much they appreciate them, no matter how unwarranted it is, teenager loses virginity in boring scene, teenager dates a boy that clearly isn't suited for them, teenager has a bit of a rebellious streak, do I need to go on? This movie is like every other movie of the genre; It's not subversive in the least. If you've seen one coming of age film, you've seen this one. Maybe you're thinking, but Vashti, does a story need to be subversive? Can it not simply follow the conventions of its genre? To this I'd say no, it doesn't need to be subversive, but if it isn't, there should be something about it that makes it stand out. There is a difference between following conventions & being trite. There is a difference between following conventions & being formulaic. There is nothing wrong with following the conventions of storytelling or of a certain genre if doing so adds to your story, but in this case, it really didn't. I think it diminished Lady Bird's (the protagonist's) experiences as something that could be written off as just another teen movie. For the praise that this movie received, I expected much more from it. I expected it to show me something irreplaceable, something another movie couldn't have shown me, but it didn't. It's just another coming of age movie.

    Outside of everything I've written, which is forgivable in my eyes, I absolutely despised the ending of this movie. As I was watching the movie, I thought that I may have found something really special, because the protagonist's relationship with her parents had considerable overlap with the relationship that I have with my parents, something I don't really see anywhere. Throughout the film, over and over and over, Lady Bird's mother puts her down, demeans her, is overly harsh on her, hits her with the whole Well my childhood was worse-schtick, a schtick that I've been on the receiving end of multiple times, tells her repeatedly that she is a burden, will tell her she loves her but will not tell her that she likes her, shows their relationship to be one of obligation, shows less emotional maturity than her emotionally immature daughter, blames her daughter for things that are not her fault, refuses to apologize, extends compassion to every other character in the movie that isn't her daughter, gives her the silent treatment for an undetermined amount of time, somewhere spanning between weeks and months, and this isn't even the half of it. Every single interaction that this woman has with her daughter is tainted by her own insecurities & neuroses. Oh, but Lady Bird, your mother has a big heart, she does this out of love, everyone tells her. Bullshit! It's bullshit! This idea that well, because it's out of love, it doesn't matter how badly you're mistreated is disgusting to me. And after all of this, after a movie's worth of cruelty, which for the protagonist is a lifetime's worth, or at the very least a year's worth, how does the movie end? Go on, guess. Guess how the movie ends. Her mother realizes the error of her ways & apologizes, resolving to mend her relationship with her daughter, because that's what's most important to her? Wrong! Lady Bird apologizes to her mother, not the other way around. Oh, but she doesn't call herself Lady Bird in her apology, she refers to herself as Christine, the name her parents gave her. See, Lady Bird calls herself Lady Bird in an attempt at self determination & what does she do? She reverts back to Christine & leaves her mom a message on the phone telling her how much she appreciates her. Give me a fucking break! That ending, which I assume was meant to be poignant, was nothing less than a defeat in my eyes. Lady Bird killed Lady Bird & became Christine, and what's good about Christine? Christine is someone who says sorry to the person who mistreats her. What a depressing ending. I mean it. Watching it made me genuinely sad. And, in all of its trite & formulaic glory, we have the age old trope of the bratty teen maturing & forgiving her parents. Only in this instance, none of it is warranted. I said earlier that if you're going to follow previous conventions, they should add to your story, but in this case this coming of age trope is story ruining.

    I've talked about what I hate in this film, but what did I like? Nothing really. The acting was good, but I don't think that matters in the least if the story is horrible. I think the pacing was reflective of the mundane existence of a high schooler, but it fell off towards the end of the movie & I thought to myself multiple times that the movie would be over soon, only to see that there was quite a bit of time left. The characters that weren't Lady Bird were interesting, more interesting than Lady Bird herself, but I assume that this was done on purpose as the audience sees that there's more nuance than our naive Lady Bird herself can see. I really loved the scene where Lady Bird broke her arm, it was my favorite scene in the entire movie, but my favorite scene shouldn't be at the very start of the film, it shouldn't peak there. I guess if I were to have one positive take away from this movie, I'm happy that I saw it now. I say that, because if I saw this earlier, I know for a fact that it would've been damaging to me. I've only recently learned that I don't need to take what's given to me & to be thankful for it; I don't need to unconditionally accept what's inflicted on me, good or bad, & this movie reaffirmed how far I have come. I struggle very much with the idea that I'm somehow in debt to my parents for having me, and if I were to have seen this movie even a few months ago, even last month, it would've set me so far back. So the only positive that I've taken from this movie is that I'm glad I can see it for what it is: wrong.

    Ikiru (生きる, "To Live") (1952), watched October 2023 ★
    Ikiru was a film partially based on Leo Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, both of which are stories about terminally ill businessmen who have wasted their lives in bureaucracy. Only as our bureaucrat Kanji Watanabe realizes he's dying does he actually begin to consciously, purposefully, live his life.

    I really liked the movie. In fact, I don't think that there's any way that the movie could have been better, it was perfect as it was. I have two favorite scenes. In the first, Kanji sings Gondola no uta in the middle of a club & is reduced to tears. He sings "Life is brief / Fall in love, maiden / Before the crimson bloom / Fades from your lips / Before the tides of passion / Cool within you / For those of you / Who know no tomorrow" & I watched this & I started crying alongside Kanji.

    My other favorite scene from the movie is one in which after grappling with the fact that he has lived an ultimately meaningless & unfulfilling life, he resolves to do one last thing before he dies, he decides to build a playground. It may be small, but it's also symbolic as the movie starts with a group of women petitioning in his department to have a playground built, they're bounced around from department to department & are given the runaround. The fact that Kanji goes back to work before his death to do something relatively small & attainable but still meaningful meant more to me than if he were to do something sweeping & grand. Kanji is your average person, so it only makes sense that he does something somewhat average. As he decides to spend his last few months doing something meaningful & lasting, he walks past a group of young people singing happy birthday to a friend, showing us Kanji's rebirth.

    I think part of the reason that this movie resonated so much with me was that it wasn't overly saccharine & it wasn't a melodrama. It was realistic. It was almost like a small guide into living a more meaningful life, or a glimpse into an actual person's life: It wasn't overly theatrical & it didn't have a happy movie ending. Kanji builds his playground & dies & the local mayor tries to take credit for his last & only dying achievement. His former coworkers get drunk at the wake & talk amongst themselves about how it isn't right. They passionately resolve to not let Kanji Watanabe's death be in vain, that he will lead as an example for them. We see another day at the office & true to life, they've fallen back to the men they were before, making no difference & living no differently.

    A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert, read October 2023
    A Simple Heart's protagonist, Félicité, is nothing like me whatsoever, yet I understood her deeply. She was a servant girl, then a servant woman, then a servant old woman who dies destitute & unwanted. Her defining traits are her simplicity, selflessness, & subserviency. She knows so little that she cannot understand how a globe works, and over & over she is mistreated & thinks nothing of it.

    Félicité & I understand one another though: She has this pet parrot named Loulou who dies & she has stuffed. She conflates Loulou to the Holy Spirit & prays the (dead) bird with absolute sincerity. I don't know anything about a Holy Spirit or trinity, but I will say that I definitely see how she sees a bird as a holy figure. No one in the story understands her reverence for the bird, but I do.

    I don't normally tell people this because it sounds a bit heretical, but I've always been fond of pigeons because I think they're like us. People once cared for pigeons & then discarded them once they were no longer of use to us, but pigeons survived & they're seen as a nuisance for it. Their survival disgusts people, but it was people who put them into that survival situation. I think it's the same thing with people & God. I think if God's real, then he probably abandoned us & we're just a bunch of pigeons trying our best to survive. Or maybe, God's like me & he feels really bad for pigeons, but there's no way he could help all of them. Or maybe it's both.

    The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov, read October 2023
    I read The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov & was underwhelmed. It wasn't a bad story, just a bit plain, lackluster. I was not impacted by it. I can see how it could've been a revolutionary story for its time, the fact that there are really no moral judgements passed on the adulterers. Maybe I'm missing something. I think Chekohov is known for his brevity & purposefulness in writing, & I could see that in this story, but not really as something to be lauded. I didn't think it added to the narrative.

    The story was fine. Just fine. Not good, not bad, just fine. If somehow there's someone reading this & you love this story, please reach out & tell me why.

    The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy, read October 2023 ★
    Vashti read this book & I think it is the best book that I've read in a while. It's a story about a terminally ill man named Ivan Ilyich who is first in denial of his imminent death & then in horror of it. He later comes to terms with his death & the fact that he has lead an empty life, has a spiritual awakening, but this part of the story is of less importance to me; I like the story because of how it writes about the fear of death. In this story, Tolstoy writes about death as:

  • "In the depth of his heart he knew he was dying, but not only was he not accustomed to the thought, he simply did not and could not grasp it... 'Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,' had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius — man in the abstract — was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others. He had been little Vanya, with a mamma and a papa, with Mitya and Volodya, with the toys, a coachman and a nurse, afterwards with Katenka and with all the joys, griefs, and delights of childhood, boyhood, and youth. What did Caius know of the smell of that striped leather ball Vanya had been so fond of? Had Caius kissed his mother’s hand like that, and did the silk of her dress rustle so for Caius? Had he rioted like that at school when the pastry was bad? Had Caius been in love like that... 'Caius really was mortal, and it was right for him to die; but for me, little Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all my thoughts and emotions, it’s altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That would be too terrible.'”
  • "He tried to get back into the former current of thoughts that had once screened the thought of death from him. But strange to say, all that had formerly shut off, hidden, and destroyed his consciousness of death, no longer had that effect... It would come and stand before him and look at him, and he would be petrified and the light would die out of his eyes, and he would again begin asking himself whether It alone was true."The translator's note in my book said that while Ivan Ilyich refers to death as It, in the actual Russian he refers to death somewhere between an It & a She.
  • "What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and he only need keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result. He however knew that do what they would nothing would come of it, only still more agonizing suffering and death... Apart from this lying, or because of it, what most tormented Ivan Ilych was that no one pitied him as he wished to be pitied. At certain moments after prolonged suffering he wished most of all (though he would have been ashamed to confess it) for someone to pity him as a sick child is pitied. He longed to be petted and comforted."
  • "He wept on account of his helplessness, his terrible loneliness, the cruelty of man, the cruelty of God, and the absence of God."
  • "'What is this? Can it be that it is Death?' And the inner voice answered: 'Yes, it is Death.'
    'Why these sufferings?' And the voice answered, 'For no reason — they just are so.' Beyond and besides this there was nothing."
  • "And the example of a stone falling downwards with increasing velocity entered his mind. Life, a series of increasing sufferings, flies further and further towards its end — the most terrible suffering. 'I am flying…' He shuddered... and tried to resist, but was already aware that resistance was impossible, and again with eyes weary of gazing but unable to cease seeing what was before them, he stared at the back of the sofa and waited — awaiting that dreadful fall and shock and destruction... 'There is no explanation! Agony, death….What for?'"
  • "Wrong. Everything by which you have lived and are living is a lie, a fraud, concealing life and death from you."
  • "For three whole days, during which time did not exist for him, he struggled in that black sack into which he was being thrust by an invisible, resistless force. He struggled as a man condemned to death struggles in the hands of the executioner, knowing that he cannot save himself. And every moment he felt that despite all his efforts he was drawing nearer and nearer to what terrified him. He felt that his agony was due to his being thrust into that black hole and still more to his not being able to get right into it. He was hindered from getting into it by his conviction that his life had been a good one. That very justification of his life held him fast and prevented his moving forward, and it caused him the most torment of all."

  • The last quote is the one that I think is my favorite. While my favorite part of the story was the fear of death, there's something to be said of the philosophy of acceptance. Beyond what I've written, it's hard to say anymore about this book. I've just never heard anyone express the absolute fear of mortality before; I felt very understood. I think Vashti sees herself as Caius & no one else wants Vashti to see herself as Caius.

    Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, read October 2023
    I will start by saying that I am a huge fan of Banana Yoshimoto & if you are looking for an unbiased review of this novel, you are in the wrong place. If you want some type of unbiased opinion, go to Goodreads where it has an average of 3.8 stars out of 5. Though to be fair, that's the same as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, so do with that what you will. I'll also say that as the number one Banana fan in the area, I want you all to read this book, even though it's probably not for everyone & some of you won't like it. And if you do read it & happen to not like it, I don't want to see you around these parts again, you hear? I'm kidding, but I do wish that I had someone to discuss Banana's works with. I actually just got my friend E to read Kitchen, one of her other books, probably my favorite of them, so what I said was a bit of a fib.

    Also, I just want to mention that I grabbed a physical copy of this book from the library & it smells really, really good. I wish I could share its smell with everyone reading this. It smells like a book, yeah, but there's something really familiar & distinct about it. I think it reminds me of the way this Tinkerbell book I had as a kid smelled. It's not even an important book to me, just its smell still hangs around my head. & it reminds me of when my mom would take me to this home & garden store that occasionally gave free cookies & had giant book bins.

    Before I write about things that will spoil the book for you, I thought that I'd leave my favorite quotes from the book here, so maybe if you read something you like & become interested, you can close this page & pick up the book yourself!

  • "I suspected that people couldn't always be true to themselves, or live wholly for the proper & acceptable things in their lives. But perhaps they held themselves together by acting as though they were happy with their own choices, because they'd fall apart if they didn't at least aim to be, and it was too uncomfortable to admit that they weren't (pg 23 & 24)."
  • "Up until now, all of the things Mom had done to take care of me she'd done out of habit or obligation. Now, she made coffee so we could enjoy it together. The difference it made was astonishing (pg 33)."
  • "You've got your feet on the ground this whole time, even while you're also slightly floating above things (pg 43)."
  • "You can collect good wine, but it's never-ending. Pointless. Have it once in a while & it's wonderful. But otherwise, it's empty. Because you're trying to momentarily placate something which deep down is a spiritual hunger with irrelevant things (pg 46)."
  • "I knew, vaguely, that just as the world contained forces that nurtured & strengthened & created things, there were also forces that diminished them. And even though there were equal amounts of both, the latter could sometimes seem more powerful... I had the power to ignore the force that diminished. To treat it as though it didn't exist, in the same way I washed dirt off potatoes, or pulled weeds from the garden. I could use my body to keep tapping into the opposite force. (pg 56)."
  • "You can't compare yourself with when things were fine or good. It's better to remember how far we've come from the worst time (pg 94)."
  • "We'd stopped wasting our lives, wasting time. We'd given up thinking about things as though we understood them, or even as though we could, and committed to living our days like a continuous length of thread we were each spinning (pg 117)."
  • We'll give him flowers every day, over there. I refuse to be defeated (pg 137)." This quote in particular reminds me of one from Kitchen that went, “As I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won't let my spirit be destroyed.”
  • "This was only a temporary pause, a waypoint, a new start. That everything came to an end sometime... That this was no time for grieving (pg 145)."
  • "if you carry things forward as they were now... standing everything up straight amd proud in the sunlight, you'll have a respectable kind of life, but any dark things will have to be hidden, pushed back down into the depths. And that's where things will start to go awry (pg 150)."
  • "They'd lived their own lives, true to themselves, even if that meant meeting a foolish end, or running away from home (pg 164)..."
  • "That's because you think about everything in words... You can go around and around the same questions all you like, and never find an answer... I know that's how you cope, how you get through time, so I've never thought it was immature, or unhelpful. But there's another way of doing it: to sit with an empty space, and just look at it, without thinking anything, just enduring (pg 174)."
  • "If someone had asked me how I'd spent this particular period in my life, I'd have said I'd done nothing in particular. It had all felt like a dream. But I drew confidence & satisfaction from the fact that I'd achieved things... Even when I felt suffocated & short of breath with nowhere to go, I'd done what I could, and it had all linked up & moved forward, and before I knew it, I was coming up for breath somewhere where I was no longer weighed down (pg 198 & 199)."

  • Carrying on, I'd say that I feel as though I read this book at just the right time. Banana often writes about grief, but the characters of this book in their grief stricken state focus on living simply, on carrying forward regardless, living one day at a time, & it really resonated with me. Yocchan's father killed himself in a double suicide with a mistress, but this idea about having a parent who has hurt you but who you love in spite of it was what I needed to read. Really I feel like every time I read a Banana book it feels as though it's come to me at the perfect time. The book is a character driven novel following Yocchan & her mother who has moved in with her after their father's/husband's suicide. It has a slow pace, the pace of spending a morning meandering about, not getting a lot done, but not feeling guilty about it. Upon the suicide of her husband, Yocchan's mother changes, now living outside of her previous family role & Yocchan sees her for who she is outside of her role as Mom. It was really sweet to read.

    I think Banana is an amazing storyteller when it comes to romance & love. I've never experienced romance myself, but in her previous novels, I just understood how some of her characters belonged together. When I saw the relationship between Yocchan & her love interest, Shintani-kun, it didn't feel the same; It felt wrong. I wondered if it was just Banana's writing in this particular novel, but I was relieved to find out that these feelings I'd had were intentional.

    This was an interesting read, because it's as though it were written for me in some way, or written with me in mind. I understood Yocchan & particularly her mother, despite never having experienced anything similar to what they were going through. It was a novel about living simply & decisively & it was exactly what I needed. Banana really helped me understand some recent feelings; I've felt as though I'm not doing enough, even though I'm living the best I know how. I've been trying to keep my feet on the ground while still letting myself float slightly above things, & that's okay. ("You've got your feet on the ground this whole time, even while you're also slightly floating above things (pg 43).") She articulated what I meant in a more succinct way, but I've been trying to balance taking things easy, enjoying myself, & being in the moment with moving forward.

    Overall, this book was an absolute pleasure to read. As far as Banana Yoshimoto goes, my personal ranking is probably: 1) Kitchen 2) Goodbye Tsugumi 3) Moshi Moshi 4) The Lake. & all are amazing reads! I am thinking that I'd like to read Amrita next, or maybe Hardboiled & Hard Luck.

    Audition by Ryu Murakami, read September 2023
    When I was browsing the local library, as I picked up Audition by Ryu Murakami while searcing for a Haruki Murakami book, I was thinking to myself: You know Vashti, you should get a girlfriend, maybe a sexy ballerina or something, one that would never drug you or cut your feet off with a saw. The protagonist of Audition, Aoyama, a misogynistic widower with a teenage son, probably thought the same thing as he staged an audition to find himself a new wife. Unfortunately for Aoyama, he ended up falling for a sexy ballerina that wanted to drug him and cut his feet off with a saw. You win some and you lose some in the game of love. Who could blame him? Happens to the best of us, right?

    Aoyama, with a little encouragement from his friend Yoshikawa, use their position in the film industry to stage a fake audition for a movie that will never come to be. Under the pretense of providing a chance at stardom for one lucky woman, they put out a radio ad and receive thousands of applicants. Of course, these women are really applying to be Aoyama's wife. Well, not of course, because that sounds pretty batshit crazy, right? But our Aoyama is rich and handsome and is assured that he can get any woman he wants, even if he's twenty years their senior. This audition process is just so he has the luxury of choosing from the good women who are, in his words, "like stag beetles," rare to find. "It's not like you can find a stag beetle marching down the street, right? You have to go deep into the woods, under some tree. Or a pet shop. They cost a fortune."

    He immediately becomes infatuated with one applicant, named Yamasaki Asami, an ex ballerina who had to give up her aspirations after injuring her hip. Everyone around him tells her they find her freaky & that something's off about her, but he doesn't hear any of it; She's his dream girl. At least the front she puts up is his dream girl. Personally, if a girl I liked could be described with the words, "Her voice was an unfamiliar, icy whisper, and her face underwent a sudden & startling transformation as she spoke. It was as if she were shedding some sort of membrane. A wave of goosebumps rippled over Aoyama's flesh," I'd probably just call it quits, but our Aoyama didn't. I don't know; I've never been head over heels for someone, so maybe I just don't get it.

    Asami agrees to be Aoyama's girl so long as she's his one and only, and he's devoted solely to her. As she says this, I already know things won't work because: 1) Aoyama cheated on his last wife and 2) Aoyama has a son that he cares for. He decides to tell Asami this during a hotel getaway. They have sex, he tells her, she drugs him & flees into the night, leaving a note saying she has no forgiveness for liars. You know how women are. Despite this, Aoyama is still infatuated with her, because there's no hope for him. After spending a while trying to get over her, months I think, she drugs him again, breaks into his house, & tries to cut his feet off. She gets one of the feet before Aoyama's son gets her with a knife.

    You know, considering that Asami was the victim of severe childhood abuse, you think she'd be a fleshed out but tragic villain, maybe even one we'd take over the misogynistic protagonist, but no. The book doesn't get that right. She's one dimensional & I cared so little for either character that I personally didn't care which one lived or which one died. That's a pretty amazing feat for a story, because I love femme fatales. All we end up learning about the elusive Yamasaki Asami is that she suffered child abuse & didn't get over it, killing men who she's perceived to have wronged her in some way. Wow. She even kills Aoyama's dog. Instead of making her a character you could empathize with, the author made her a shallow saw-wielding psycho. It would've been interesting to me if the author sought to flesh her out outside of describing her soft flesh when she's having sex with Aoyama, but no. In a way, Asami's portrayal by the author is far more misogynistic than anything Aoyama said.

    Overall, the book was fine, I guess. I don't think it was well done at all; I think the pacing was bad & the foreshadowing, if you could even call something that hamfisted foreshadowing, was over the top & sloppy. It was interesting, though, at least until we found out all there was to know about Asami. The possibility of Asami being an interesting character is what kept me reading, and by the time I realized how caricaturish that character really was, I didn't have very many pages left at all and decided that I may as well see what happens. Overall, I would not recommend this book. It wasn't egregiously bad, but it was pretty bad.

    The Disaster Tourist by Yo Ko-eun, read August 2023
    I picked up The Disaster Tourist on a complete whim. Normally, I already know what I want when I go to the library. I have a reading list, like a grocery list, but this time I tried to be a bit spontaneous. I think I found the book near Banana Yoshimoto. The cover isn't particularly grabbing, but I grabbed it nonetheless. I read the author's name, Yo Ko-eun, and figured she must be Korean. And lately, well for the past year or so, I've been trying to break out of only reading books that were originally published in English. Some time in high school, I realized every author I'd been reading was white, and the majority were either American or British. I read a lot of good books, don't get me wrong, but a big part of why I like reading is that I get to see something from another's perspective. It's almost like a trial run in empathy, yeah? I think people would be a lot more understanding if everyone read. And I'm not saying that oh, I was trying to read books about someone's misery so I could understand it, not like that. I mean that I get to see someone else's ideas on what it means to be a human being. And oftentimes, it either goes one of two ways: 1) I see something completely differently, in a way I probably would've never reached on my own or 2) Someone describes how I feel, they articulate something I'd thought for a while, and I understand myself better. Obviously not every book is like this, it's a broad generalization I've written down, but these are reasons I really like to read. And reading the author's name & then seeing that it was translated from Korean to English, it was enough for me to give the book a try.

    The book's protagonist is a Korean office worker named Yona Ko, who works for an organization called Jungle. Jungle is a company that gives tours to disaster zones, such as areas that have experienced earthquakes or floods. As I was reading this, it brought to mind the fires in Maui. More specifically, the idea that people were considering visiting in the midst of the fires or considering staying if they were already there, it was so ridiculous to me. Outrageous is another word that works. And with this in mind, I figured that Yona would somehow see the callousness in what the company was doing, that she'd change things somehow, but I was shocked to learn that's not what happened at all. Really, Yona, close to quitting due to sexual harassment, is sent to go on one of the company's disaster tours. She gets left behind by her tour group and stumbles upon a plot to manufacture another disaster, a sinkhole, in the name of tourism and money. One of the defining points of Yona's character is her desire for recognition that's always been out of reach, and after being told that she could be the one to create this disaster tour, that her name would be on it, that the credit would be hers, it's all it took for her to join in the collusion.

    I audibly gasped when Yona decided to join in the plot to basically destroy an island. You see, while Yona wasn't a particularly good person, at this point, I didn't see her as bad. She seemed if anything harmless, boring, insignificant. She was someone who got led by others, who seemed almost out of control of her own life. When we meet Yona, she is insecure about both her job & has thoughts of her own mortality. We read: "She was so bored that she started going on to silly websites, like the one that calculates the user's date of death. When she clicked the death calculator button... she didn't react in shock: all she thought was, 'Oh, I guess I've done this before.'" In the face of this, she doesn't really try to live any differently. She seems bothered, but detached, & I think that's why Yona did it: She wanted to do something with her life. Before this point in the book, I thought based off of the trajectory of the story, she'd leave her job & find herself. Instead, the opposite happened: She sacrificed her own morality in the name of her job, because it was all that she had.

    The ending was an ironic one: Yona herself gets killed because she begins to feel sympathy for one of the men who's going to be killed in their plot, so she asks for nothing to happen to him. Hearing this, it's decided that Yona will be killed in his place, because they wanted to sell an ill-fated romance as part of their manufactured disaster & ensuing story. They had decided Yona & the man would play the part, and if the man wasn't going to be the ill-fated one, it was up to Yona to fill that role. After her death, the disaster takes place, but this one's a real, unplanned disaster. A tsunami hits, and the manufactured sinkholes happen early, and everyone involved in the original plot is killed. Yona's name finally ends up as part of her disaster trip, but not as the one who gets credit. Instead, she's a small attraction: What happened to Yona Ko? No one learns the truth.

    Overall, The Disaster Tourist was an enjoyable read. While it was interesting, it wasn't profoundly life changing, but maybe it doesn't have to be. I was glad I read it & would recommend it to someone who wants a quick read, despite not being particularly impacted by it. It was a good, solid read.