Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The party has officially moved

I changed the domain hosting for my website, and then decided to just use Wordpress for my website since there was never a lot of content there anyway. So I migrated this blog over there. Will there be more posting? Who can say. But to find out, you'll have to hop over to

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Movies in March

Remember March? I just might, briefly.

Penn and Teller Bullshit makes a nice supplement to any critical thinking curriculum, provided you don't mind salty language and nudity, lots of nudity. A thought-provoking show, all possible sacred cows are targeted. Penn and Teller Magical Mystery Tour is much more family friendly, as they go to Egypt to explore the history of cups and balls. It led both my boys to try to do cups and balls themselves. Plus, Teller speaks. For some reason I was expecting him to sound like Harpo, which is silly since he isn't from the slums of turn of the century New York.

Rome Season 2 was not quite as good as season 1. There was no way they were going to get an older Octavian that was as good as the kid who was playing young Octavian, I think they would have been better served leaving the young one in. They apparently knew cancellation was imminent, as they started to rush the history a bit. I wished they could have taken the time to tell the whole story properly; it really was a very cool show, cut short. But then I do have a weakness for those, don't I?

Shakespeare Retold is a series of modern adaptions in modern language of a few of the plays done by the BBC. I'm usually pretty snobbish about Shakespeare being in Shakespearian language, but I loved these. They feature all sorts of "oh, that's guy from _____, and she was in _____" casting. The Taming of the Shrew was particularly well cast, but it was Macbeth set in a restaurant in Scotland that blew me away. I always was a tragedy girl.

Old Dogs starring Robin Williams and John Travolta. If not for Seth Green and Justin Long, I would have completely forgotten this movie already. Prince of Persia was surprisingly watchable for a movie about a videogame. Ben Kingsley in particular is delicious. I wished they'd gone a step further and gone full period piece with it, give it a little Peter Jackson LOTR attention to detail.

The Tourist was a not particularly good Johnny Depp film. The plot twists made it necessary to keep a distance from both of the two characters, which made it hard to care about either of them. Plot twists about characters can be compelling (I'm thinking Fight Club, The Sixth Sense), but mostly they just make me feel like I was cheated and lied to. In this case, it was obvious to me that Angelina Jolie's character had to be more than she appeared to be or Jolie never would have played her, and the second plot twist was just stupid. IMO, and all that.

Rango, on the other hand, was a perfect Johnny Depp movie. Sharp writing, and gorgeous animation from the crusty characters to the desert landscapes. Awesome, awesome movie. Can't wait for the DVD.

Despicable Me is mostly gone from memory now. I do remember being pleased with the three girl characters who had all sorts of layers and quirks, particularly the tomboy girl who favored pink. Nice to not just reach for the stereotype.

Too Fat for 40 is another Q&A with Kevin Smith, with one Q and a really long A. I'm not sure if Smith gets the irony of following up his "don't go to where the puck is, go to where the puck will be" story with a story about trying to get Bruce Willis to rehash bits he's already done.

Bottle Rocket was the first movie from Wes Anderson. I'm not sure how I've gone so long without seeing it, I've watched all of his others multiple times. I can see how he caught attention with this one, although it seems so quiet a film now.

The Newton Boys is another one I've been meaning to watch forever, based on the true story of the most successful bankrobbers ever. A fun movie, especially the clips that run during the credits with one of the real Newton Boys (the one played in the movie by Ethan Hawke) talks about his youth as a bank robber.

Lastly is the latest from Farah Khan, Tees Maar Khan. I loved this movie, although apparently some people have pretty strong feelings against it. I'm not sure why, I laughed out loud at several points. Akshaye Khanna in particular was awesome as the Bollywood actor obsessed with winning an Oscar (the movie is set in the long shadow of Slumdog Millionaire, but there are a few M. Night Shyamalan jokes in as well). Katerina Kaif continues to rise in my estimation; she's funny here as the actress who responds to every direction by adjusting her hair and/or makeup for the scene. She also has an item number that's smoking. I've never been too impressed with her dancing before, but under Farah Khan she really shines. It helps to start with a jammin' song:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Books in March

Only three books read in March, although when I get to book three you'll know why...

The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain by Kevin Nelson M.D. was an interesting look at what's actually happening from a neurology point of view when someone has a near-death experience, what causes the tunnel and the light and the feeling of oneness. Highly readable.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent is about to be (or perhaps already is?) the source material for a Ken Burns documentary. I found this book interesting as well. I had some sense of prohibition and what it tied into (women's suffrage, income tax and that), but not in all the detail it's presented in here. The people mentioned come to life, and all the little details are wonderful.

And finally, what took most of the month to get through was The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft. I'd read most of the major works before, but this time I hit them all in chronological order, even the stuff he ghost-wrote for Harry Houdini. That's a lot of Lovecraft, my friend.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Movies in February

See what happens when you don't blog for weeks? I'm not sure I even remember some of these movies, or at least what I was thinking after I watched them. Well, let's give it a shot.

The Station Agent I picked up just because Peter Dinklage stars in it, and he's great in anything. I liked his character, he was slow to warm to other people even as they desperately want to bond with him. I'm not remotely interested in trains, but I liked his character's obsession of them; I could almost (but not quite) see the appeal.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was the third in the trilogy. I think I liked the second film the best, but Noomi Rapace is very watchable. It's a shame she won't be in the English version of these films, but on the upside she's in the next Sherlock Holmes.

Chicago almost made me not hate Richard Gere. The number with the journalists as puppets on strings was particularly cool.

La Jetée is the short film (almost a slide show) that inspired 12 Monkeys. It was just the sort of niche thing I'd never have seen before Netflix. Odd, but interesting.

I Hate Luv Stories is an Imran Khan Bollywood film about a guy who works in, but hates, Bollywood films. He's also cynical about love in general and even god. I liked the set up, but my hope that he and the lovey-dovey girl would meet each other halfway was thwarted; his character had to make all the changes and in the process became less interesting. Still some clever bits in here if you've seen enough Hindi cinema to get the references.

October Sky was one we got to watch with the boys, about boys in West Virginia that win a science fair making rockets. It was a fun movie, although I'm not sure it helped me convince my own boys of the importance of math if you want to do anything cool.

The Machinist just made me sad. Christian Bale turned himself into a wraith for a movie that just wasn't worth it, storywise. It felt like the writer had read some Cliff Notes of Dostoevsky but didn't quite get what made Dostoevsky great. There were some elements from lots of different works of Dostoevsky but none of the real essence. Disappointing.

Gor I saw just because they had done the sequel on MST3K. They made the right call going with the sequel.

Catch-22 was a movie I was intending to see after reading the book, but caved and watched the movie first.

Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani is the latest from the director of one of my favorite Bollywood films, Andaz Apna Apna. This tries to harken back to some of the energy of that, and Ranbir Kapoor and Katerina Kaif are both game, but it doesn't quite reach the same heights. I think the missing element is a buddy. AAA was a Salman Khan/Aamir Khan buddy movie, and the two of them together were more compelling than the parallel love stories. Kapoor and Kaif come pretty close to being buddies to each other, but don't quite get there.

Machete is just what you'd expect from Robert Rodriguez: all sorts of actors doing things just
for the fun of it, and lots of improbable gun fights with cool music. I enjoyed it, but then I would,
wouldn't I?

The Darjeeling Limited was a movie I really wanted to like. I like Wes Anderson, and I love Satyajit Ray's films and Jean Renoir's The River, to which this is meant to be an homage. Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson as brothers should be a can't miss. Alas, there was some bit that was just missing. This was a bit of a stumble after the brilliant The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, but I think he more than made up for it with The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Oliver and I share a love of that cussin' film).

Casanova was a BBC miniseries that David Tennant and Russel T. Davies did before they did Doctor Who together. It has a lot of the same vibe, that same larger than life zaniness. I enjoyed it.

All About Eve? Should have seen this years ago. It's just as good as I'd heard.

Mesrine is a French film starring that guy who did the breakdancing in the museum's laser security system in Ocean's 12. Here he is playing France's most notorious criminal, a man named Mesrine who did many bad things. I found this movie disjointed and a bit of a downer; new people kept popping up too frequently to keep track of, but they all met bad ends. Even for a gangster film it was a downer. But stay tuned, there was a sequel that wasn't based on the subject's autobiography...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Books in February

My reading usually has a certain flow to it, whether it's reading through one writer's life work, or swinging from writer to influence to their influence. Sometimes my reading is fueled by my writing, either researching something I'm trying to write, or reading things that will end up being research for things they prompt me to write.

Then there are months like February, where it's all pretty random.

The last thing I read in January was Among Others which was so perfect and wonderful I immediately wanted to read more Jo Walton. Not everything she's written is on Kindle, though, so I grabbed (being the theme of the month, at random) Tooth and Claw, a sort of Masterpiece Theater story of alliances and marriages and people being polite to the extreme. Only the people here are dragons. It may sound silly, but the details are just so perfect, both in the Jane Austenesque setting and in the physiology of dragons this just really worked. I loved that the females turned pink and darkened to red as they got older, a wonderful image which is such a cool plot point as well (females are only supposed to turn pink when they are affianced).

I also finally finished off all three volumes of Clockwork Phoenix. I've taken plunges into them before, reading this or that story, but in February I went through and read them all in order. They do have a lovely flow from one to the next when read in order, a neat trick in an anthology of different writers. In all three volumes, there were only one or two stories that didn't do it for me, and many that transported me to farflung places as I read them. A nice series of books, I'm hoping there will be a Clockwork Phoenix 4.

I read some Houdini last year, and it's been gnawing at the edges of my mind since. In February I read two biographies, to fill in some gaps and maybe tease out what my subconscious is working on. The latter is still a mystery, but at least the bios were good. The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kallush and Larry Sloman is based on the idea that Houdini worked as a spy. They didn't remotely sell me on more than the hint of a possibility of that, but it was still a thorough look at his life. Still, I found Houdini!!! by Kenneth Silverman the superior book. Both worth a read if you're curious about Houdini.

Finally, when buying those Houdini books at, the "people who bought that also bought" widget tossed up Sock by Penn Jillette. I love Penn & Teller and especially their show Bullshit but this was a work of fiction, I wasn't sure what to expect. It's definitely a different sort of book, narrated by an aetheist sock puppet prone to rants (but also to deep love of his people). It reads a bit like beat poetry, with song lyrics woven in (many I knew, some I didn't). The ending was perfection, and I'm not going to give it away. The whole novel is filled with sharp humor, equal parts laugh out loud and thought-provoking. It was hard to pick just one quote from it, so much of it is highlighted on my Kindle.

In the escape business, as the Amazing Randi put it, “If you are not an egotist, you are a failure.” What but a megalomaniacal brassballed self-assurance could have dragged Houdini inside a riveted boiler or to the depths of the Mississippi River? – Kennether Silverman

Molly is a person of conviction too. She just never managed to distill her convictions to a size that will fit on a t-shirt. This man had found a way around that. His t-shirt is almost the size of a billboard. – “They Tarrying Messenger” by Michael DeLuca from Clockwork Phoenix

So many kings, so few rulers. - "At The Edge of Dying", Mary Robinette Kowal, Clockwork Phoenix 2

The blazing glory of Hathirekhmet, pitiless as stone, but not cruel; cruelty implied a desire for suffing in others. Hathirekhmet did not desire. She simply was. - "Once a Goddess" by Marie Brennan from Clockwork Phoenix 2

He gave his creation a mother's love and a father's protection, a sibling's tolerance and a friend's rivalry, a teacher's admiration and an enemy's respect. - "Your Name is Eve" by Michael M. Jones from Clockwork Phoenix 3

When you touch a decomposed body that's been in the water for a while the body feels kinda, sorta good until you figure out what it is. Then it feels very bad. - Sock

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Movies in January

Time is short, and the list is long. The Pianist and Network: two films you don't need me to tell you are quite good. Withnail and I was strange but wonderful. I should have seen this years ago (but then the same is true of Network). The Sunshine Boys was written Neil Simon by and stars (at least the version I watched) Woody Allen and Peter Falk as a vaudeville team that can no longer stand each other but are trying to work together on one last gig. A good story and Woody and Peter are perfect.

Death at a Funeral is a perfect streaming Netflix movie. Funny enough once but I'm unlikely to watch it again.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet starring David Tennant was quite good. I liked having Patrick Stewart play both the father and the uncle, and Hamlet cutting his palm when he swears his oath to the ghost and having the knotted bandage there to see for the next few acts, a constant reminder, very cool.

Season 1 of Rome I liked quite a lot. My only gripe is that it's just a shade too intense for my boys to watch it, which is a shame as it really brings the history to life.

I've been trying to watch more French films lately (another Netflix bonus). I quite liked OSS 117 Cairo, Nest of Spies. It's a parody of a series of films you just know Mike Myers was looking at when he was crafting Austin Powers. The lead actor is wonderful; he does smarmy so well. My favorite scene is one where he knocks back a couple of scotches in his boss's office, and then gets more than a little buzzed. It was well played, the slowly building sense that our hero isn't all there that culminates in his attempt to get down the hall. How does Bond do it? I had watched this after seeing a trailer for the sequel OSS 117 Lost in Rio because a French spy film featuring Nazi luchadores simply must be seen. Alas, it was not as sharply written as the first.

3 idiots has Aamir Khan and Vidhu Vinod Chopra joining forces to tell a story about the cruel pressures of college in India. Think Tiger Mom, times ten. An excellent film. I particularly liked all of the inventions the engineering students came up with; very clever and clearly they really work.

My Name is Khan also has a few scenes of engineering inventiveness, but mostly it's a story about how not all Muslims are bad. It also features Shah Rukh Khan as an autistic man. The filmmakers did their research, and his performance is quite good. The fact that I kept hearing Robert Downey Jr. talking about not going "full retard" is clearly just my own baggage.

Mela was apparently a box office bomb, and I'm not sure why as I found it rather fun. Aamir Khan is a traveling actor and while there's some sort of A story that involves a woman (Twinkle Khanna in I think her last role?) who needs to avenge her brother or something, there is a lovely B story between Khan and his buddy that drives the truck. They had a wonderful chemistry together. Wikipediaing later, I see that's probably because the buddy was played by Khan's real-life brother. He looks more like Salman than Aamir. But I liked him; he played a good buddy. (And I think I answered my own question there; when the most interesting thing you've got going on is your B plot, your going to bomb in the box office. But you know I'll always love you, because I'm very forgiving of crummy A plots. I'm looking at you The Last Legion. I never seem to remember you're a movie about King Arthur. Aish is so distractingly cool).

Besides being one of or the last film from Twinkle Khanna, Mela also seems to be the point in Aamir Khan's career where he decided to do movies that had some deeper value. He followed it up with Lagaan, after all. 3 idiots is a more current example. But he also produces more interesting films, such as Peepli Live, a very dark comedy indeed about farmers in rural India who discover there's money to be had in suicide. This movie is as much a critique of politicians and the media as it is about the plight of farmers. Very sharply written.

I'll finish up with two starring Ranbir Kapoor. Wake Up Sid is about a young man in danger of remaining a perpetual adolescent, and the friend that gives him just enough of a poke to get going. All of the characters in this one are well-written with good arcs (Sid has some pretty cool friends). A little more old school song and dance is Bachna Ae Haseeno, a movie that takes it's title from a song from one of Ranbir's dad's movies. A movie I've never seen, so I don't know why the song was instantly familiar to me. I must have heard it somewhere. It is quite awesome, original or remix. Love the horns. It's worth taking a look at the original on youtube just for Rishi's outfit, and the girls in go-go boots. But I digress. This is another very modern story about a young man who gets on the receiving end of rejection and looks up all the girls he's wronged to apologise. It has its moments (his best friend certainly has some interesting T-shirts). Still, for me, it's all about that song:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Books in January

Wow, kind of a lot of books in January.

I though Full Metal Alchemist volume 24 was going to wrap up the series, but now I guess it's volume 25. It's definitely building to a kick-ass climax. Also, I love the Flame Alchemist. Just sayin'.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach is certainly an approachable book about the space program (or rather programs, as she also checks out what Japan is up to). It's not nearly as detailed, been-there-done-that, or witty as R. Mike Mullane. Her witticisms often rubbed me the wrong way; individual results may vary. But honestly if you're looking for a book about the space program written for everyone, I'd go with Mullane's Do Your Ears Pop in Space?

The Atheists Guide to Christmas is a UK book with the proceeds going to charity. Simon le Bon aside, I was more familiar with the scientists (including Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox) who wrote pieces for this than the pop culture celebrity types. I'm not sure if these people are on TV or what, but several of them are quite funny. Not a particularly meaty read, but amusing enough for the dollar I paid for it.

Zero History is of course the latest by William Gibson, with a plot about the fashion industry's relationship with military uniforms. But since this is Gibson it's really about all the little details that are just spot on and wonderfully described. I guess this wraps up his trilogy of books that are set so near-future they aren't really sci-fi. I've enjoyed them, and especially the women protagonists (who meet briefly in this one, a nice scene). It should be interesting to see what he does next.

Alchemy of Stone by Katerina Sederis had a wonderful setting. The main character is a clockwork woman; her creator keeps the key that winds her up. The society seems to be split between engineers and alchemists, two world views that don't overlap much, although our main character bridges them. But as the story progresses we start to see all the people who aren't either of those things: the farmers and the miners and that. I loved the worldbuilding, but the story just seemed to zip by too quickly. I'd have loved to read this at a more China Mieville length.

Among Others is the first book I've read by Jo Walton, although I've had her name down on my writers to read next list for a long time. I adore her column at, and this book really feels like an extension of that. It's a book about books and why and how we love them. It's about how reading sci-fi matters even in the mundane world we all live in. It's so cool that now if anyone asks me "how can you read that stuff?" I have the perfect novel to hand them. This is why. (And bonus, I now have more names for my list of writers to read next).

I also read some urban fantasy, the first two books in two different series. Spellbent and Shotgun Sorceress (how awesome is that title?) by Lucy A. Snyder are set or start out in Columbus, Ohio, and hey! I was just there! So I had that geek factor going for me. The sequel starts in Ohio, but then finds its way to a Texas town being controlled by a Japanese demoness. Cool. I have a particular fondness for books where magic has a real cost, and boy does this main character pay a price. There's a large cast of well thought out characters (I have a particular fondness for the college boys the MC rooms with very briefly, although they likely won't turn up again, they were cool).

I also read Embers and Sparks by Laura Bickle, books set in Detroit. The main character is an arson investigator by day and a swallower of ghosts by night. She also has a salamander who is always with her, making trouble. He's not exactly a pet, more like a particularly precocious toddler, capable of destroying something the instant your attention is distracted. This is another one with a large cast of diverse characters; I particularly enjoy the ghostbusting team Anya works with. They have a wide range of world views that occasionally causes conflict but they manage to stay a team; I loved that aspect. Detroit I've not been to, but a few of the settings used in these two books I'd love to see firsthand, like the abandoned train station and the old salt mines.

It's a good month that has me finding two new series to follow. Below, the somewhat random collection of quotes, culled down from a much longer list (boy do I love the highlight feature on my Kindle).

There were cameras literally everywhere, in London. So far, he’d managed not to think about them. He remembered Bigend saying they were a symptom of autoimmune disease, that state’s protective mechanisms ‘roiding up into something actively destructive, chronic; watchful eyes, eroding the healthy function of that which they ostensibly protected. – Zero History

There’s also a lot to be said for Christmas. The high spirits, good food, bringing people together are excellent things for humans. Although anyone who says it is the greatest story ever told clearly hasn’t read Watchmen. – “110 Love Street” by Catie Wilkins, from The Atheists Guide to Christmas

“Bleed to death? How?” I stood up, frowning at him. “There aren’t any major arteries –“
“Dammit, I should not have to talk you out of sticking a spoon in your eye!” - Spellbent

A girl who wore combat boots was much better qualified to dress her than the pastel-clad biddy in the pink shop, Anya decided. – Embers

Various fine young Baptist rednecks regularly kicked the shit out of him because he was half Chinese, half Jewish, and 100 percent nerd. Worse, he was fussy enough to come across as utterly gay to everyone but the actual gay kids. – Shotgun Sorceress

“What are you, anyway? Are you the Charon? The guy fishing for dead souls on the river Styx? Or is that an affectation?”
She felt his muscles tense under her arms. “How about you?” he countered. “Are you the Ishtar?”
“Of course not.”
“We all inherit pieces of things that make us what we are, whether we want them or not.” – Sparks

There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books. When I grow up I would like to write something that someone could read sitting on a bench on a day that isn’t all that warm and they could sit reading it and totally forget where they were or what time it was so that they were more inside the book than inside their own head. I’d like to write like Delany or Heinlein or Le Guin. – Among Others