Five Cool Things and a Bookstore Haul

I got out of the house today. I get out of the house most days, actually. Work takes me to the post office most days to pick up the company mail, and I usually visit one or two of the houses we’re building. I gas up my truck and sometimes go inside to get a drink. But those things are done quickly and aren’t much fun. Today, the wife and I dropped the kid off at my parent’s house and had a proper date. Or as proper a date as two forty-something homebodies can have in the middle of a pandemic. We ordered some take-out sushi, then went to our favorite used book store, and dropped by the really good Goodwill.

I’m happy to report that everybody in both stores were wearing masks. The Goodwill even made regular announcements telling everyone their masks needed to actually cover their noses and that they should keep a close eye on their children. It felt…well, not normal because everyone was wearing face masks, but as close to normal as I’ve felt in a very long time. I got some good stuff too, which I’ll talk about in a minute. But first here’s a few cool things I watched this week.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke was my introduction to Studio Ghibli. I rented the VHS in the late 1990s. If memory serves, Miramax brought it to the U.S. in a limited theatrical run and then put it out on home video. I remember hearing all sorts of buzz about it, and that it was being hailed as one of the greatest animated films of all time. That first time I watched it I was all sorts of confused.

As someone who grew up watching Disney movies, it was shocking to see what Ghibli was doing. They were so different. Princess Mononoke begins with a giant boar raging towards a village. The boar is a god who has been consumed by a demon that is represented by these weird black worm things. It was shot by a human bullet that sent it into a rage and that anger allowed the demon to take control. Later, a giant deer-looking thing with a human-esque face is beheaded, causing it to grow even larger, sending out some kind of destructive goo. The characters are complex and the main villain does bad things but is also seen as being very helpful. She is beloved by her people and helped rescue some prostitutes.

In a word, this was like no other film I’d ever seen, animated or not. I didn’t know what to make of it. I didn’t dislike it exactly, but it was so strange I couldn’t quite process it. In the intervening two decades, I have come to love this film and everything Ghibli I’ve watched. I can no longer remember how that happened. I don’t know what movie I watched after Mononoke, probably Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle. Whatever it was, I must have liked it because I continued to watch them and my love continues to grow.

I’ve watched Princess Mononoke at least a couple of times since that initial viewing and each time I love it more. We watched it this week with my nine-year-old daughter. I was worried it would be a little too weird for her, but she got right into it. It is a strange film. Perhaps moreso to Americans with little knowledge of Japanese folklore, but it is a wonderfully satisfying one.

The Outsider

The HBO series based upon the Stephen King book of the same name is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and darkly creepy. It is also oddly paced, an episode or two too long with an ending that falls short of its first half. I quite liked the book but had similar complaints. Where the series excels is in creating a certain mood. Many of the main characters are soaked in grief and trauma and the series paints its story in those colors. Overall, I quite liked it and I’ll have a full review up soon.


Three people arrive by boat to the Port of Macao. They are Nick Cochran (Robert Mitchum), an ex-serviceman traveling the world because he can never return home; Julie Benson (Jane Russell), a nightclub singer looking for work; and Lawrence Trumble (Williams Bendix), a traveling salesman. Their lives quickly get entangled when a nightclub owner causes trouble.

The three leads are good but it feels like Film Noir Light. The production was notoriously strained with the actors constantly fighting against director Joseph Von Sternberg’s style. The plot is a bit all over the place and the great Gloria Grahame is completely underused. There is enough going for it to make me give it a slight recommendation for noir fans. It’s definitely not boring which makes it a good Saturday afternoon movie.

The Parallax View

I love me a good 1970s paranoid thriller. The Parallax View always comes up in discussions of that subgenre but I’m just now getting around to watching it. The film stars Warren Beatty as an ambitious reporter working for a small newspaper. While covering a senator’s campaign event, he is witness to an assassination. He comes to believe this wasn’t some isolated Lee Harvey Oswald type event but rather part of a massive conspiracy.

Alan J. Pakula, the king of ’70s paranoid thrillers, keeps the tension high and the confusion higher. There is a lot going on in the plot and I wasn’t always able to keep up, but I love this type of film and it has a very satisfying and horrible depressing ending.

China Moon

I’m a sucker for these well shot, erotically tinged thrillers that they made all the time in the 1980s and 1990s, but have since died out altogether. Movies with noir plots, neo-noir lighting, and the ability to bring more sex and violence than actual noir films would have been allowed.

China Moon stars Ed Harris as a police detective who falls for Madeline Stowe, who is married to a jerk husband. That’s enough of the set up right there for fans of this type of film to know more-or-less what follows. There are a few twists in the plot to make it interesting. Harris and Stowe are always great and their chemistry is good. A young Benicio Del Toro plays Harri’s partner and Charles Dance is the bad husband. It isn’t my favorite erotic thriller, but if you enjoy the genre, then it is well worth seeing.

My Bookstore Haul

The reason we went out today is that my wife and I are celebrating 18 years of marriage this weekend. I know take-out sushi and bookstores aren’t exactly high-class anniversary dates, but it works for us. The book store is one of my favorite places. This one basically bought out an entire strip-mall and has lined every inch of it with books of all types. It is one of those bookstores where you can never find exactly what you are looking for. They do divide them out by genre, but they also separate them by hardback and softcover, and they also have special authors who are seemingly random and difficult to find. If you are looking for a particular book, you may find yourself having to look for it in at least three different sections of the store.

Because of this, my preference is to just wander around aimlessly scanning for something interesting. I am rarely disappointed. As you can tell from my photograph of today’s haul, I found quite a lot to like. After grabbing a few graphic novels on sale, I mostly stuck to the hard-boiled detective genre. I am a huge fan of those classics so today I looked for authors I’m not familiar with and picked up at least one book from each. I can’t wait to start reading them.

Mat Brewster

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