Now, every night is movie night: April Media Diet

April 30, 2020

I’m not running out of things to do; I just have a lot fewer options. So goes life during the pandemic. No hanging out in the library for a couple hours in the late afternoon. No spending Saturday at the zoo. Now, I stay home with the Co-Pilot and Little One, and, invariably, we choose a movie.

In the Before Times, every other day was a no-TV day in our household, and with the combination of dinner and homework taking up a good chunk of time before we needed to start getting ready for bed, that meant, effectively, we had to fill about an hour with something other than television. Some designated TV nights, we didn’t watch anything because we’d been out to a restaurant, or we were having so much fun dancing in the living room or playing a board game that it never occurred to us to turn it on.

But we also set aside one night a week for Family Movie Night, either Friday or Saturday, when we’d snuggle together on the couch and watch a movie together with a snack and not worry about how late we stayed up.

That’s all over now. The combination of everything happening in the world and our lives means it’s well worth our time to choose a movie virtually every night that we can all watch while snuggled together on the couch. Even if the Little One spends a whole bunch of time on a tablet during the day, there’s still something special about having the whole household watch a movie together. We can’t recreate the full collective experience of cinema, but even in our living room, watching together is a shared, passive, experience of a kind we deeply need at the moment.

I’m still reading books, and because I stay up late I’ve also watched a bunch of movies by myself, so this is the longest Media Diet list I’ve ever compiled for a single month.

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Here, I’ve listed each book, movie, and television production I finished in April 2020 in the order in which I consumed them, along with a short commentary that I hope you find useful, entertaining, and/or illuminating. (Read previous Media Diet posts)

Keep in mind, this is not my complete media diet. I’ve only included those works which I’d never completed previously, or which I’d consumed so long ago they felt unfamiliar upon revisiting. I watched plenty of TV that isn’t worth recapping, notably a bunch of The Simpsons and Community episodes. I also subscribe to several podcasts which I enjoy, but don’t listen to every episode, and the only one I want to listen to, by default, is The Right Time with Bomani Jones, though even that’s harder to do now that *gestures all around*.

I don’t have much loyalty to specific websites, but I do try every day to read the New York Times, Kottke, Dear Prudence on Slate (free entries only), and I check ESPN (mostly out of habit). I subscribe to several newsletters, but actively look forward to the ones from Will Leitch, Anne Helen Petersen, and the Hmm Weekly team.

I was in the midst of quitting Facebook, but then a pandemic hit and I found myself relying on it for contact with people outside my immediate household and also for reading Memories that remind me of my inexorable march toward obsolescence. I still maintain that someday I’ll find a way to kick my Twitter habit. Instagram sucks, too, but less than the other ones, probably because I’ve resisted following celebrities.

Let’s get to it.


Spy Kids

Ebert review | If you know this was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, this children’s adventure takes on a new hue, but you don’t need to know Rodriguez’s oeuvre to fully enjoy it as an above-average action movie. The thumb people (yes, thumb people) are weird, and as I write this I’m having a hard time remembering much about the plot beyond that there are a couple of spies who get captured and their kids set out to rescue them. It must not have been all that important, because I definitely remember several of the set pieces, including a water chase and a playground fight between the children and their robot doubles.

Never Let Me Go

Ebert review | Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is fantastic, a moving meditation on what it means to be human and how we decide what’s important in life. This film version, written by Alex Garland (about whom more later) and directed by Mark Romanek, conveys the spirit of the novel, but the nature of film is such that it’s likely no movie could properly capture the delicate and nuanced interior feelings expressed in the book. That said, Keira Knightley is fine, Carey Mulligan is very good, and Andrew Garfield is fantastic as the three young people at the center of the story. Plus, Domnhall Gleason makes an appearance in a supporting role.

Jackass 3D

Obviously, I’m not watching in 3-D at home, but I did see this in a 3-D theater, and I vividly remember the model railroad scene. As with the other Jackass movies and the TV show, there is no plot to speak of, save for the meta-plot of young men “pulling pranks” on each other or “performing stunts” that have a homemade gloss to them, all with the understanding that none of this works as entertainment unless every trace of mean-spiritedness is erased from the proceedings.

There’s one scene in this movie that crosses that line: when the guys trap Bam Margera in a pit and dump dozens of snakes in there with him, knowing that he has a phobia and will panic. When he begs to be pulled out of the pit, it’s with real terror in his voice, and therefore it’s no longer fun.

Thankfully, the rest of the movie is free of such cruelty, and instead we can consider the other meta-plot, that while most of the stunts and pranks and gross-outs are stripped of polish and presented in handheld documentary-style rawness, the filmmakers also had access to top-of-the-line 3-D and high-speed cameras, which allowed them to show fascinating footage in ultra-high-definition slow motion, like a man’s tooth getting yanked out by a drag racing Lamborghini.

The Rocketeer

Ebert review | This is an obvious attempt to capture Indiana Jones magic, right down to the Nazi thing, something I realized with sharp clarity about 30 minutes into the movie, before I read Roger Ebert’s review, which put the comparison right up front. The biggest problem is that the lead isn’t played by Harrison Ford or someone with close to his charisma, and the next-biggest problem is that there’s virtually no edge to the story. This is a PG Disney movie, so there’s no blood and the menace isn’t even as sharp as most modern Disney animated features. It could have used that, and I’m sure Timothy Dalton could have pulled it off, because already his villain is the best part of the movie.

Tall Girl

Being a 6-foot-2 high school girl can’t be easy, but there’s a lot of wasted potential in this totally conventional and banal Netflix teen romcom.


FilmCritHulk wrote a great post about Onward that I think captures why it’s lower-level Pixar. Essentially, the first 45 minutes feels like we’re all going through the motions and hitting children’s-movie on-a-quest plot points, and though the final act comes through in a way that pulls it up out of the muck, the characterizations and motivations are kind of a muddle.


A very self-consciously “inspirational” movie about Augie, a fifth-grader with facial scars, this very easily could have been a woofer, but instead it corrals earnestness into a strength. The child actors are fine, but we don’t have any Haley Joel Osment or Lindsay Lohan-level prodigies here, and so the long stretches where children need to carry the movie kind of sag. The best scene of the movie is when the Augie’s older sister tries to calm him by explaining that everyone has bad days, he lashes out at her, telling her that every day is a terrible day for him. It’s the closest we get to accessing the very real sadness at the heart of the movie.

This also could have been a movie more about the parents and their journey to letting Augie go to public school and figuring out when to intervene and when to step back, and I’m sure it would have been interesting because Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are great with the limited material they’ve been provided.

Little Women (Gerwig)

Brilliant. Caveat: I haven’t read the book(s), nor do I remember much about the other filmed versions (I definitely saw the Winona Ryder one, long ago). But one of the things that’s so great about this movie is how motivations and concerns and conflict are dramatized without being explained and without unnecessary hand-holding for the audience. That may sound like a very basic thing, but very few TV dramas manage to do this, and while movies often have the luxury of time to develop and hone their narratives, it’s rare to see a movie that achieves this kind of clarity for a relatively complex story about four sisters and their loves and ambitions.

Saoirse Ronan is a powerhouse, Florence Pugh does an amazing job with a role that called for her to play both 20-ish and 12-ish, and Emma Watson ably handles oldest sister duty. Generally, I don’t “get” the Timothee Chalamet thing, because watching him in Call Me By My Name, Lady Bird, and here, I see an actor acting, whereas with Ronan, I see Lady Bird and Jo, but there are a few moments when the adulation makes sense, as when Laurie bursts into the girls’ scene of old Englishmen (props to Gerwig for creating a scene where Irish, English, and Australian actors are playing Americans who are pretending to have English accents — it’s meta-Shakespearean!).

In the end, this is Ronan and Gerwig’s movie, writerly without calling attention to its writerliness, quietly carrying you along until, at the end, you realize you’ve just seen a magic trick you didn’t realize was magic.

The Farewell

I’m glad movies like this are getting more attention than they would have just a short time ago: about 70% Mandarin, 30% English, and, again, very little hand-holding to explain a different culture, which is especially appropriate for The Farewell because the heart of the movie is that Billi, the main character, can’t understand a big cultural difference between her own New York City sensibilities and her Chinese relatives’. Eventually, an uncle (who has lived in the U.S.) does explain to Billi precisely what that cultural difference is and why it exists, but in a way that makes sense for this family.

The Simpsons Movie

Ebert review | This movie doesn’t need to exist. Essentially, the most memorable part of it is Bart’s dick, and nothing happens here that fundamentally changed Simpsons lore or the trajectory of the TV series. At least Homer flipping people off is a solid meme image.

Trolls World Tour

This is better than the first Trolls, which was worse about using songs as a replacement for actual drama than Garden State, but not by much. This could have been an interesting exploration of what “real music” is and what it means to be part of a tribe that shares affinity for a specific kind of music, but instead of carrying out that idea to its conclusion, the movie slides away and falls back on a trite “music is music let people like what they like” message. I’m pretty sure that a decade after the events of this movie, the trolls will still be separated by those tribal fault lines because nobody actually did the work to confront what it means to be a Rock Troll or EDM Troll and so on.

To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

The first movie was adorable and had real stakes for Lara Jean, Peter, and Josh. This time around, she’s in a relationship with Peter, but the new boy, John Ambrose, isn’t a real threat to the relationship so much as Lara Jean’s inexperience with intimacy — yet the movie proceeds as if Lara Jean really might leave Peter for John Ambrose. Thus, there aren’t any extended buildups or payoffs, and there aren’t any big realizations, either.

Three Men and a Baby

Ebert review | A domestic farce with a heroin subplot: what’s not to love? Actually, the heroin thing is underwritten and feels slapped on to the main story about three swinging bachelors trying to take care of a baby that’s been dropped on their doorstep. If anything, this is one of those weird artifacts of that brief window when Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg could carry a comedy in which they share a massive Manhattan penthouse with their own caricatures painted on the walls.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Ebert review | This is one of the great underappreciated Disney classics because the villain is truly villainous and not just a cartoon villain. Moreover, when was the last time you saw a children’s movie in which the villain sings a song blaming a young woman for making him lust after her and, thus, inching him closer to an eternity in hellfire? For a 2-D movie, the animation is also wondrous and right up there with Tarzan.

The Squid and the Whale

Ebert review | Cringe, cringe, cringe, and cringe some more at a father’s runaway ego combined with epically thin skin and lack of boundaries. Cringe as he tells his teenaged son to think about all the other girls and women he’ll get to sleep with — while the son is out with his girlfriend. Cringe as the father tells his son about the mother’s infidelities. I don’t think I ever want to watch this movie again, even though it was well worth watching.

Having seen it after seeing writer-director Noah Baumbach’s most recent celebrated work, Marriage Story, there are a lot of differences, but a clear throughline, that the father is A Bad Guy while the mother is Imperfect. The Squid and the Whale makes no bones about that, as Jeff Daniels plays the father as a small, petty man trapped by his own insecurities, and who is the primary cause of the family breakup, whereas Marriage Story feints toward telling a “balanced” story, but ultimately comes down pretty hard on the dad and in sympathy for the mom.

Look Who's Talking

Ebert review | Amy Heckerling should have a much higher profile than she does, having directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High and then written and directed this movie and Clueless. You would think that after Clueless came out in 1995, she’d have her choice of projects, but she worked on the Clueless TV show and then didn’t direct another feature until 2000’s Loser.

Her career is a prime example of women not getting any leeway to fail, or stumble, or even simply try something else for a short period without getting penalized by decision-makers who hold the pursestrings.

In any event, Look Who’s Talking is no Clueless (I haven’t seen Fast Times), but there’s more to it than your standard ’80s romcom. Kirstie Alley is very good as Molly, the single mom at the center of the story, and John Travolta as James shows the spark that made him a star in the previous decade. A lesser writer or director would have made Albert, the wealthy absent father played by George Segal, into an oozingly despicable person with ugliness to spare, but here he’s a despicable person who, yes, patronizes the women in his life, but is also a certain kind of late-’80s middle-aged charismatic businessman type. In other words, even though we can see that Molly is delusional when she thinks he’ll leave his wife for her, we can also see why she fell for him in the first place.

The weirdest thing about watching it now, more than 20 years after last seeing it, is that one of the big attractions, Bruce Willis’s voiceover commentary as the baby, Mikey, is mostly wasted and probably could have been excised entirely.

A Bug's Life

Ebert review | Pixar’s followup to Toy Story isn’t the the work of genius its predecessor is, but just as we would see in later years, even the weaker efforts from Pixar would be triumphs for other studios. The film is tight and carefully controlled, and the impressive animation serves the story. At one point, it occurred to me that it took incredible imagination just to think of the ants building a fake bird and how they might do that. It’s a relatively minor point in the larger story, but showing the bird’s construction is the kind of attention to detail and craft I associate with Pixar.


If you know the backstory about this documentary’s production, it makes a lot more sense. Jimmy Chin’s success making this film was a big motivation to let him film Alex Honnold for Free Solo, which is an out-and-out masterpiece, but it seems that what set that film apart, and what we can see happening in Meru, is Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s touch for showing the relationships at play during the adventure.

The drama of summiting Meru is fine and good, and Chin probably could have put together a fine, if ordinary, documentary out of the 35 hours of footage he gathered. However, it seems that when Vasarhelyi came aboard (later, she and Chin would marry), she reconvened the principals to conduct new interviews and recast the movie as a story about friends obsessed with conquering an obstacle, which naturally required rumination upon the nature of friendship, the friends who left this world too soon, and the people who love these guys despite (because of?) their climbing obsession. All that’s in gestative form in Meru, but is a fully realized vision in Free Solo.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I love Mick LaSalle’s review for the San Francisco Chronicle in which he says Mad Max: Fury Road is “a movie that is little more than a two-hour chase scene.” I read this and imagine LaSalle going to the Grand Canyon and uttering that it’s “little more than a rock formation.” If this really was “just” an extended chase scene, it would be a fantastic piece of movie magic worthy of adulation because the (mostly practical) effects and stunts are awesome, and the cinematography is masterfully composed.

But, of course, LaSalle totally missed that it’s more than that. Nobody ever spells it out, but the plot is very obviously focused on toxic masculinity and celebrating female strength in many forms. That it’s expressed through layers upon layers of utterly insane stunts, pyrotechnics, and deeply damaged “war boys” whose actions only make them easier to spot coming from miles away serves to emphasize the point, if you care to see it. Like, who sets up 64 speakers with a flamethrowing guitar soloist on top of an armored vehicle as part of a battle group? In a way, it’s the same kind of guys who earnestly set their amps to go to 11.

Doctor Dolittle (1998)

Ebert review | I guess you can’t take the Dolittle source material and not make something weird, but somehow the Eddie Murphy version misfires even as it gets extremely weird. There’s something about selling a medical practice, surgery on a tiger under local anesthetic performed by someone who’s not a veterinarian, and Chris Rock as a foul-mouthed guinea pig. And to top it off, I’m not sure any of what I saw was ever funny. It’s as if someone saw Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and decided to make a more family-friendly knockoff, but they couldn’t resist working blue, so it was still PG-13.


My God what a movie. I liked Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s previous writer-director effort, but Annihilation has left me thinking for a lot longer after watching. When thinking about if a movie is the best possible version of itself, Annihilation feels like that. There are elements that some people might conceive of as puzzles, but that aren’t actually puzzles because the search party pretty quickly figures out what’s happening. Really, the characters are left to confront how much change they are willing to embrace — to their bodies, their minds, or other seemingly ineffable parts of their selves. We, the audience, are left to consider the same.

A lot of analyses I’ve read draw parallels to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which makes a certain amount of sense, but the other Kubrick film I’ve been thinking about after watching Annihilation is The Shining. I haven’t read the novel upon which Annihilation is based, nor have I read Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, but at least one piece I read describes Garland “refracting” the novel in a way similar to how the Shimmer refracts in the movie, and that dovetails with how I think about The Shining film.

There’s a very long essay about Kubrick’s The Shining that was posted to a Blogspot blog in 2007 that comes off as unhinged much of the way through, but I deeply appreciate it for the observation that so many of the differences between the novel and the film may be viewed as inversions, and that inverted or mirrored images are a theme throughout the movie (note the reflections in the lake and the opening credits running up the screen). I tend to come down on the notion that Kubrick was doing all this inversion work, inserting a Playgirl magazine issue with a feature on incest, playing with our expectations of physical space in the Overlook hotel, and everything else in order to achieve a deeper unsettling feeling in the audience than anyone ever had before.

Annihilation is full of details that I kept pausing to go back and see if I’d properly noticed, and I feel that, like Kubrick did with The Shining, they are there to create an effect, and in this case it’s getting the audience to confront uncomfortable change and contemplate for themselves: How much change would you embrace?

Funny Girl

Ebert review | Maybe it’s just from a different era, and even though Streisand is a great singer and seems to embrace her bright character, I felt an essential falseness to this movie throughout. Jewishness may have had a different implication in much of the country at the start of the 20th century than it did in 1968 and in turn than it does today. But even in 1968, were we supposed to buy that BARBRA STREISAND was some plain, unattractive, lady getting by on pluck and force of will? The whole movie depends on this assumption!

Missing Link

An English explorer circa 1886 tracks down a Sasquatch, perhaps the last one in the Pacific Northwest, and then travels with him to the Himalayas, where he might connect with his Yeti cousins. Is the explorer doing this to help the Sasquatch, or is he doing it to burnish his own credentials and gain acceptance into an exclusive London explorers’ club? It’s a solid premise, but the writing simply doesn’t pop with much memorable dialogue, and the stop-motion animation runs fairly flat, except for an opening action sequence in Scotland and another action sequence aboard a ship that calls to mind some of the best sequences in Inception.

Battle Royale

I’d heard about this movie for more than a decade, whispered at first by people seemingly afraid to endorse a film in which a class of Japanese students get taken to an isolated island and kill each other in a variety of gruesome ways, then loudly proclaimed by people saying The Hunger Games books and movies ripped off the premise.

While there are some similarities, the thrusts of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are different, as the Japanese movie is concerned with generational entropy and the American blockbusters are more about class conflict. Setting that aside, while the violence in the Japanese movie is graphic and disturbing, it’s absolutely not gratuitous, as the whole point is to hit the audience over the head with the cruelty of the situation. Moreover, given the large cast, the movie does a remarkable job keeping the proceedings clear and easy to follow while using its time economically to build the characters so we have empathy when they meet their inevitable demises.


Ebert review | What hasn’t been said about Titanic already? I hadn’t seen it straight through since 1997, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the three hours fly right by. James Cameron nailed the pacing, the effects, characterizations of the minor characters, the sheer panic of the post-iceberg pre-sinking attempts to get off the ship — just about everything. The only minor quibbles I have after watching again, this time as an adult: 1) Why is Jack Dawson from Chippewa Falls if Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t even going to try a Wisconsin accent? Just make him from Scranton or someplace that doesn’t have so unique an accent. 2) If Rose is relating the story to the guys on the expedition, how does she know all the stuff that happened to Jack and Cal when she wasn’t there? Again: minor quibbles. This is big-budget filmmaking at its best.


Anthony Weiner is a tragic figure not because he espoused particularly good policies or was a particularly good politician generally, but because he defied modern politician stereotype by making emotional displays a big part of his brand, which in turn inspired people to support him as someone who was “more real” than other prominent politicians. Unfortunately, he threw all that goodwill away because he couldn’t control his appetites and brazenly lied about it, thus totally undermining his position as a fearless truth-teller — oh, and destroying his family and harming who-knows-how-many other people along the way.

This documentary inspired an initial wave of awe that he’d allowed a crew to film him during his mayoral run, even though he ostensibly knew his poor behavior could catch up to him at any time, and indeed it did during that campaign and was all included in the film. Watching now, it seems edited to be an examination of someone whose ambition blinded him to how quickly his life was swirling out of control, but with additional hindsight, it looks more like everyone else around Weiner failed to recognize his harmful proclivities weren’t being addressed, and someone, at some point, should have stepped in to stop him and urge him to get proper help.

I’m particularly struck by a meeting shown in the film that takes place after another sexting scandal has engulfed his mayoral campaign, just weeks from the primary. In that meeting, his top staffers, including his wife, sit around his living room and talk about how to handle the crisis, only nobody can ask him directly the hard questions: Are you still maintaining these conversations with women who aren’t your wife? Can you assure us there are no other women who will come forward? Do you know all the women you’ve messaged? Instead, as is perfectly understandable, they use euphemisms and talk around the hard truth.

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Ebert review | Minor Lord and Miller, a full couple notches below The Lego Movie. The setup with the mother doesn’t really get a payoff, and neither of the payoffs with the dad finally giving his son a speech about how much he loves him and the girl giving him a kiss had clear setups. The animated food falling from the sky, though, is excellent, and I loved several of the action sequences, wishing I could have seen them in 3-D in theaters.

The Lion King (2019)

The animation is amazing, but otherwise there is little reason to watch this movie, given that it’s nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the 2-D animated classic. Of course, Disney had plenty of rea$on to remake it.


This is one long allegory for “we live in a society and you can fight all you want, but the people in power are all in cahoots so really the only answer is to blow up the system.” Don’t think too hard about the mechanics of the train. Like, when they blast through the ice walls near the Yekaterina Bridge, it throws everyone on screen up against the walls and they have to hold on for dear life. However, minutes later, the characters are walking through an aquarium, a sushi bar with meticulously organized tools and place settings, a dance club, a lounge with inset hot tubs, et cetera. What happened in those rooms when the train hit the ice?

The Jungle Book (1967)

“The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” are both bangers, but the rest of it is kind of paint by numbers. Needs more Shere Khan, less Kaa, and less British imperialism.


Apollo: Missions to the Moon

I’d heard good things about this documentary, but after seeing Apollo 11 in a theater, this falls flat. It didn’t help that this was the first doc I can remember watching where I actively despised the score and wished it would just stop already. Every minute or so, it would go into an orchestral crescendo, and about halfway through, I considered muting and using closed captions.

Miracle Landing on the Hudson

In a documentary about US Airways Flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson River, you’ve got to do something extraordinary if you don’t have Captain Chesley Sullenberger, which these filmmakers did not. While I can see potential in their choice to re-enact many scenes inside the aircraft, none of it provided much insight beyond, “people panicked and it was crazy.”


Immediately after completing this documentary series, I described it to someone as “60th-percentile prestige TV,” and I still think it fits. Perhaps you’ve read the Daily Beast article about how the McDonald’s Monopoly game was rigged for the better part of a decade. If you have, it’s a nice complement, and if you haven’t, you’ll get a slightly different kind of kick. With a subject like this, however, there’s a bit of a “so what” problem. Tiger King “solved” that by essentially portraying every person in the big cat world as a raging lunatic and amping up the rubbernecking factor, whereas in McMillions, only a few people seem to revel in being on camera, and ultimately we’re left with a story that’s primarily concerned with uncovering how one dude fooled a bunch of security types, with only a passing glance at how the fraud ultimately hurt a few people who got suckered into taking a bad deal and a bunch more who had no idea what was happening.


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn • Mark Twain

I hadn’t read this since high school, and this time around I actually appreciated the irony of Huck continually underestimating and plain missing just how much Jim understands what is going on. I also didn’t remember just how much of the book takes place off the river. In my memory, which is heavily influenced by the general American consciousness of the story, Huck and Jim have a whole bunch of conversations on the river and only a couple times get off their raft. Actually, while they spend a lot of time on the river, the narrative brushes right over much of it. Finally, though I remembered that Tom Sawyer reappeared at some point, I’d forgotten how much of a dick he is.

Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media • Seth Mnookin

A snapshot of the New York Times in the early 2000s that describes the company’s culture and explains how the Paper of Record allowed reporter Jayson Blair to fabricate and plagiarize stories over an extended period of time. A lot of it is corporate intrigue about the relationship between then-publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., and executive editor Howell Raines, and how Raines attempted to revise the Times’s news operations, so it might be opaque to people who aren’t familiar with the rhythms of big newsrooms and the tides of the journalism industry. However, for people who already have even a rudimentary grasp of all that, this is a fascinating document showing that a lot of the criticisms leveled against the Times today were leveled a decade and a half ago, and for ages before, too.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration • Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull

Catmull was the longtime president of Pixar, having had that role from the time it was spun off from Lucasfilm in 1986, and this 2014 book is largely concerned with sharing Catmull’s management philosophies, buttressed with anecdotes from his management experience over the years. There isn’t anything revelatory there, but Pixar fans might be interested in the behind-the-scenes stories about how the company develops movies, including details about various much-loved films.

The Big Sleep • Raymond Chandler

Charitably, the plot is impenetrable. But holy hell could Chandler draw a picture with his words and spin an evocative phrase. That’s enough to keep on reading.

(Photo: "Vintage TV color bars" from køpper. Public domain.)