Best five movies


The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight

Hamlet 2
Hamlet 2

shoot em up
shoot em up

King of Kong
King of Kong

These are not the top five movies released in 2008, but rather the top five movies I saw, according to me.

  • WALL-E: A fantastic film with heart and love.  Enjoyable beyond the limits films should achieve.
  • The Dark Knight – Duh.
  • Hamlet 2 – An uneven movie that had me busting up laughing.  Lots.  Steve Coogan works really well when he’s on.
  • Shoot ‘Em Up – Violent, violent, violent, and a bit funny.  Lots of carrots and hilarious action shtick.
  • The King of Kong – My “best” movie of the year.  A stunning documentary that oscillates between funny and sad, a bit mocking and a bit fanboy-ish.  I’m still reeling at the moment when man is dubbed “World Champion, Missile Command, foot division.”  I didn’t understand until they showed him, seated on a high stool, spinning the trackball with his feet.



As a big fan of Pegg, Frost, and Wright, I was delighted when I learned some months ago that they’d all been involved in a pop-culture infused fanboy’s delight called Spaced. Then, I learned that the show would be coming out on DVD and all my hopes were granted.

Spaced delights with its numerous pop-culture references and crazy characters.  Pegg and Stevenson are enjoyable as roommates pretending to be a couple in order to get a great flat.  The roommate and the landlady are regular guests with hilarious elements to their characters, and the regular appearances of Nick Frost as the military buddy charm every time.  You can also see grains of future Pegg/Wright/Frost films in various episodes of the show, includine one in which Pegg’s character is obsessed with a zombie game he’d been playing and another involving a paint-ball battle that has shades of Hot Fuzz‘s mayhem fuelled finale.

  • The landlady, played by Julia Deakin, has a strange, closed-mouthed way of speaking that makes her character remarkably creepy.
  • There are a number of appearances by folks who pop up in other British stuff, including most notably the long-haired guy from Black Books.
  • The show abounds with references to A Separate Peace, but Jenny and I found ourselves stumped in trying to remember what exactly happened in that book.  Just that there were some dudes and a tree.
  • Other references: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the absurdity of modern art, Star Wars, The Shining, and numerous in-text references such as posters and conversations.
  • We find it refreshing that people on British television look like, well, people.  Instead of sun-baked twig insects with nice teeth.

The Walking Dead, vols 2 and 3

I read the second and third bits of Kirkman’s zombie story on the train in mid December, and am now just getting around to writing about it.

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

The saga tells the story of a group of survivors in a Romero-style zombie outbreak.  They are on the move in an SUV, and they encounter a couple strongholds and other groups of people.  The story continues to be pretty evocative and interesting.  The need for regular progression in the story prevents anything like proper settlement, and the regular need for zombie attacks makes it difficult to have the group of survivors get along.  Of course, as with other stories like this, the biggest challenge facing the people is each other.

  • Romero’s genius in Dawn of the Dead was conceiving the mall as a place people would hide out.  Similarly, Kirkman focuses volume 3 on the challenges and advantages of using a prison the same way.  Also like Dawn, the comic enacts an exploration of the central purpose for the structure.  In other words, there’s a struggle with law and order and justice in the prison.  Good stuff.
  • In volume 2, Kirkman gives us the other problem that would pop up here and there — the defenders of zombies.  These folks wouldn’t accept that zombies are no longer human and would fight for their rights and against the idea of killing them on sight.  In stories where we’ve seen this kind of sub-plot emerge, it usually has two outcomes: in one kind, the zombies really do have something extra, and the lesson is one of tolerance (c.f. Fido); in the other stories, the person who loves the zombies dies by their hand.  Er, mouth.
  • The zombies in the comic are delightfully gruesome.
  • The interpersonal relationships in the story work well for me, with a depth of character that’s unexpected.  Particularly intriguing are the shifting love affairs and allegiances.

I’m interested to see how it continues.

Top six books

Monkey Girl by Edward Humes
Monkey Girl

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
Born Standing Up

Autism's False Prophets by Paul Offit
Autism's False Prophets

Top three nonfiction (in no particular order):

  • Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, by Paul Offit.
    Offit does an exacting, brutal forensic analysis of the anti-vaccine campaigns being waged by various interests. He dissects the early science and explains the more recent findings, and he lays into the people seeking to profit from distressed parents of autistic children.
  • Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, by Steve Martin.
    Martin’s incisive self-analysis and conversation about the method he used to develop his comedic craft stands as both an interesting discussion of method, but also helps show the ways individuals can shape their own work. Plus, it gives insight into one of today’s most exciting comedians (Cheaper by the Dozen 2 notwithstanding).
  • Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Edward Humes
    Another discussion of a controversial topic, Humes dives into the Dover, PA evolution trial and its wild cast of characters. Humes dissects the motives of the school board members and attacks the deceptive, manipulative practices they used. While Humes’ book is more caustic than some of the other coverage of the trial, it’s also got the best coverage.

California Fire and Life by Don Winslow
California Fire and Life

Indiscretions of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse
Indiscretions of Archie

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake

Top three fiction (in no particular order):

  • California Fire and Life by Don Winslow
    Winslow crafts an excellent detective story with evocative characters and story that’s meaty enough to be intriguing without being overdone. This won’t go down in the annals of great literature, but it has stayed with me as the months have gone by.
  • The Indescretions of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse
    While this book isn’t one of the Jeeves and Wooster books, it might as well be. Archie is a well meaning and clever chappie who marries a magnate’s daughter, much to the millionaire’s chagrin. The rest of the book involves Archie stumbling into it and then getting himself out of it. As if J&W were one person. The Librivox audio book is delightful too.
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
    Another book that has stuck with me as time goes by. A cautionary tale about the dangers of genetic engineering, Atwood crafts a startling story of loss and betrayal inside the post-apocalyptic landscape of a ravaged world. The details are horrifying and all too real, now that we’re seeing engineers doing the things Atwood imagined, at least the first of them.

You can see the full list of books I’ve read this year on GoodReads or read the reviews right on this blog. I’m assuming that I won’t read any books in the next 8 days (I’m writing this on 12/23) that will make the list. If they would have, I will add an addendum.

Least memorable books:
Each of these books was so un-memorable that just now I had to reread my writing and then sometimes look up plot synopses to see what I’d thought of these or what they were.  Keep in mind, I read these within the last 12 months.

  • The Resurrectionist: I didn’t recognize this until I saw the cover.  Then it came back.
  • Dyke Darrel the Railroad Detective: I still only recognize this in the vaguest of ways.  I can’t remember the plot or anything.

Something’s messed up somewhere

Check out the message displayed by Amarok as I upload a book to my iPod:

That's one long book!
That's a LONG audiobook!

I knew this was an error, because my hard drive only holds 15 Terrabytes of data, so there’s no way that book was 16 TB.

Year in Review

John tagged me with a year-in-review meme started by Mike. It doesn’t seem to have any rules except that you have to write twelve points and then tag eight other people. John did his chronologically, which I like. I’m going to reflect on my favorite blog post for each month.

January. “Anteros” I wrote a short piece for a friend’s wedding and posted it. While I think the piece is good, I had secretly hoped, after my friend told me that “tons of people were asking where we got that reading” that it would become an internet sensation. Alas, my stats tracking tells me that the most overwhelmingly visited thing on my blog is an image that’s been hotlinked by someone else. It’s enough to make one want to set up a goatse swap script.

February. An ethical question about copyright.” I wish I had more such issues to write about. I’ve discovered this year that I find great interest in “ethical dilemmas.” I’m teaching New Millennium Studies this Spring: it’s a general “introduction to the humanities” course every freshman in our school has to take. The third unit focuses on ethics and ethical dilemmas. As an aside, did you know most people see a distinction, ethically, between saving 10 lives by killing someone (say shoving them out of the sinking lifeboat) and by saving 10 lives by failing to save the eleventh (by refusing them entry into the crowded lifeboat)?

March. Developments in Linguistics; OR, Cute stuff my 2yo did this weekend.” It strikes me as shockingly quaint that not even a year ago we were just discovering Avery’s desire to see specific animals at the zoo, then hurrying to accommodate those requests. Now such conversations go more like this:

Me: Okay, so after we see the Dolphins, we’ll see the leopards and the tiger before we go, okay?

Avery: I want to see the penguins.

Me, pondering the long cold walk across the whole damn zoo to see the penguins: We’ll do that side of the zoo next time.

Seeing that in print makes me feel like a real bastard, but honestly, it was totally cold and she was already shivering.

April. Popfinition.” I like this post a lot. I wish every post were this cool. Alas, I’m no Yellow Dog.

May. The Coming Monkey Apocalypse.” ’nuff said.

June. Andrew Jackson: Angry About Diarrhea.” My favorite thing about reading history books isn’t the grand sweep of events and people, it’s the little things.

July. Monkey Girl.”  One of the most interesting books I read this year.  The story of the ID trial in Dover, PA fascinates me to no end.

August. Finn Patrick Riley.”  Our son is nearly five months old already.  Time rockets forward.

September. Dr. 27 Dresses.”  When I read smart blogs by people like Alex Reid, I shudder over my meanderings, my media reviews, my effluvia.  Then I see something I do like this: the double-review.  I would like to keep doing this.  More of these to come!

October. More on Open Source and Academia.”  There’s always a little thrill up and down my back when someone quotes my writing.  Really, my writing?  Okay…

November. A new creative project.”  I am going to do this.  No, really.

December.The end plus a few more.”  Over ten months or so, I slowly walked my music player through all the music on my computer, in alphabetical order.  Now I’m back to Party shuffle at home, and Creative Commons music at work.   It was a fun way to review my collection.

Okay, so I’m supposed to tag people:

  • Brian at Bubblegum Aesthetics
  • Roger at Become What You Behold
  • Clancy at Culturecat
  • Rolfe and the gang at Repeated Expletives
  • Bradley at cbd
  • Andrew at An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump
  • Heather at Documentary Site
  • Anyone else who reads this blog regularly

Year in review x 5

Reviewing the Year
Reviewing the Year

From now until the end of the year, I’ll be posting Year in Review posts.  Just so you’re ready for them.

That is all.

*Photo by Pingu1963

Glad Tidings

All smiles. Well, mostly.
All smiles. Well, mostly.

Glad tidings from me to you, this holiday, dear reader.  I hope you’re warm and happy when you read this, or on your way to being so.

Holiday Brains

From me to you:

The Stan Brakhage of the three-year-old set

Avery gets her first camera
Avery gets her first camera

Avery got a digital camera for her birthday. It’s designed to be kid proof, you know: droppable, water proof, etc. It has big buttons and a funny little display screen. It can take craploads of pics at 640×480 or 70-some photos at 1.3mp. She’s figuring out how to use it, so I’ve decided to put her pics up in their own set on Flickr.

Looking at the set as a whole, it comes out a bit like a Stan Brakhage film, with some partially recognizable images, many haunting ones. We decided the set as a whole is a bit creepy. Here are some highlights:

And here’s a slideshow of the set:

On Voices 3

An update of the audio book narrators I’ve read since the last On Voices post.

  • *Alan Alda – Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
  • Ellen Archer – Unhooked
  • Alys Attewater – Ragged Dick
  • David Barnes – The Club of Queer Trades
  • Michael Beck – My Life (Bill Clinton)
  • Joyce Bean – Sin in the Second City
  • David Birney – Ponzi’s Scheme
  • *Lawrence Block – Hit Parade
  • Scott BrickFoundation; In Cold Blood; The Book of Fate; The Great Influenza; Mystic River; Sea of Glory; Isolation Ward
  • Stephen Briggs – Thud!
  • Tony Britton – Rumpole Rests His Case
  • *Bill Bryson – Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
  • *George CarlinWhen Will Jesus Bring the Porkchops; Napalm and Silly Putty
  • Martin CliftonCrome Yellow; The Diary of a Nobody
  • *Stephen Colbert – I Am America (And So Can You)
  • James Daniels – The Last Detective
  • Richard M. Davidson – The Perfect Storm
  • Jeffrey DeMunn – Nothing Like It in the World
  • Sibella DentonDyke Darrel the Railroad Detective; Europe Revised
  • Margot Dionne – The Blind Assassin
  • Cory Doctorow – The Hacker Crackdown; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • *Bob Edwards – Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism
  • Kimberly Farr – The Devil’s Teeth
  • Alex Foster – The Invisible Man
  • Emilia Fox – The Man in the Brown Suit
  • Paul Giamatti – Through a Scanner Darkly
  • John Gonzales – The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Holter Graham – City of Falling Angels
  • George GuidallBearing an Hourglass; Mayflower
  • Kirby Heyborne – The Interpretation of Murder
  • Dick Hill – The Scarlet Letter
  • Richmond Hoxie – Emporers and Idiots
  • Peter Francis James – Invisible Man
  • *Garrison Keillor – The Adventures of Guy Noir
  • Debra Lynn – Mike: A Public School Story
  • John Mayer – Andrew Jackson
  • *David McCullough – 1776
  • Andy Minter – Max Carrados, the Blind Detective;
  • Mark NelsonMy Man Jeeves; Right Ho, Jeeves; Love Among the Chickens; Indiscretions of Archie
  • *Bob Newhart – I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This
  • John NicholsonKing Solomon’s Mines; Allan Quartermain
  • *Barack Obama – The Audacity of Hope
  • Michael Page – No Graves As Yet
  • Sean Penn – Chronicles, Vol 1
  • *Sidney Poitier – The Measure of a Man
  • Simon Prebble – The Bounty
  • Michael PrichardChasing the Devil; Shadow Divers
  • *David Rakoff – Don’t Get Too Comfortable
  • Richard Poe – Hit and Run
  • Adrian Praetzellis – Through the Looking Glass
  • Karen Savage – The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Campbell Scott – Oryx and Crake
  • *David Sedaris – Me Talk Pretty One Day; Barrel Fever
  • Adam Sim – Panic
  • Mark L. Smith – Captain’s Courageous
  • Richard Thomas – Team of Rivals
  • Craig Waisson – An Innocent Man
  • *Simon Winchester – A Crack in the Edge of the World

* Books narrated by their authors;
entries are books whose narrators I’ve encountered more than once;
entries are public domain books from Librivox.

Scott Brick is still my reigning favorite.


I think a collection shifts from being casual to something different when you have this conversation:

Claudia: Do you want me to get these two Brett Halliday books or not?

Brendan: Well, I have them already. What do the covers look like?

Claudia: Uh, why?

Brendan: If the covers are different, I don’t mind getting a second copy of the book.

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale

by Dianne Setterfield

We read this book for my mystery book club. It didn’t fit our usual mode, which is more along the lines of straight detective stories. But it was an interesting story about nutty people, twins, and books. Lots of books.

One of the most interesting bits of our conversation was about when the book took place. Because it’s about an elderly writer and a thirtysomething antiquarian bookseller who share a penchant for old books, there are remarkably few indicators of time period. I assumed the book took place in contemporary England, or close enough to it that the time period was irrelevant. By contrast, many of my fellow book-clubbers thought it took place in an earlier time. We’ll never know.

I decided that the book does fit the key element of a mystery, which one might characterise this way:

While many narratives revolve around enigmas or mysterious circumstances, a mystery depends on a fact or set of facts that, if the reader knew them from the beginning, would subtantially change if not unhinge the narrative’s form.

I can see problems with this already, but I’m trying to distinguish between stories that involve an uncovering of a hidden secret and stories that don’t. This novel definitely falls among the former.

Jenny thought I wouldn’t like this book, as it focuses much more on people living normal (if disfunctional) lives than do most books I read. But I enjoyed it quite a bit. The writing is solid and atmospheric, and Setterfield does a good job evoking the gothic tales she admires.