Friday, October 31, 2008

Where The Summer Ends

You probably haven't heard of Knoxville author Karl Edward Wagner. He has slipped into obscurity except for serious devotees of pulp fantasy and science fiction. I certainly hadn't heard of him until I was introduced to an old friend of his, John Mayer. John keeps Wagner's memory alive across the internets.

Here is his reading of Wagner's short horror story, "Where The Summer Ends". The people and locations are based on actual people and locations around Knoxville. And folks from this area will certainly recognize a certain local vegetation that serves as a central device of the story. It's an excellent reading, and a wonderful classic tale of horror.

It's in the range of 45 minutes, so make sure you have the time before you start. And turn the lights out.

You can read more about Wagner as told by John Mayer, here.

The Conqueror Worm

Here's one of my favorite jazz vocalists, Ken Nordine, reading Poe's "The Conqueror Worm".

From the album Closed On Account Of Rabies.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What Nat Saw

I've been a fan of artist Brandon Bird for a couple years now. His whimsical pairings of pop culture figures and childhood memories make me smile.

There's a lot to love. He has an entire series devoted to Edward Norton, aptly named The Norton Anthology. And then there's this. But my new favorite combines two of my greatest loves:

Please don't cry, Natalie. I'm here.

Opie For Obama

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

El Perro Del Mar - "Glory To The World"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Underrated Movies: The New World

I thought the trailer for The New World looked fantastic when I first saw it. The only other movie by Terrence Malick I had seen was The Thin Red Line, which I didn't like. And enough people told me not to see The New World when it came out, so I wound up skipping it. That was a mistake.

I finally caught New World on HBO about a year later, and I fell in love with it. It is very similar in style to Thin Red Line, so I was surprised at how much more I liked it. Neither movie has a driving plot, relying instead on a series of moments that are content simply to exist on their own. While I found this annoying in Thin Red Line, it gave New World a real sense of immediacy.

I can honestly say I've never really seen a film like this. Malick's unconventional script avoids dialogue in many scenes, choosing instead to use character monologues as narration. Colin Ferrel doesn't even speak for at least fifteen minutes into the film, only staring or nodding in response to others. But none of this ever feels forced. Malick is able to effectively accomplish things in this movie that would feel overbearing, or just plain cheesy, in most other directors' hands.

The movie is essentially the familiar story of Pocahontas, although she's never referred to by name (yet another detail that could have been awkward if not handled so carefully). Anyone with a basic knowledge of history already knows what happens in the movie. Smith is captured by the Powhatans, Pocahontas comes to his rescue, the two romance, but she ultimately marries John Rolfe and moves to England.

The first three quarters of the movie take place in the unspoiled natural environments of the New World. Malick's camera relishes every moment, lingering on running water or trees rustling in the wind. It captures a sense of serenity that I think has only been matched in the various films of Hayao Miyazaki.

At the end of the film when Pocahontas is taken to England (the other New World), the contrast is severe. The movie is stripped of its color, and there are profound scenes of "naturals" walking through unnatural environments. It's a bizarre world with enormous structures and meticulously sculpted gardens (even nature is made unnatural here).

I love the sense of newness this movie conveys with each side discovering the other. And also the profound sense of loss. It's hard not to watch this movie without a twinge of sadness. We, unlike the characters in the film, know how the clash between the Native Americans and European settlers will eventually turn out. The movie only hints at this, however.

What The New World does so well is avoid the This Is An Important Moment In History style of storytelling that historical epics so often rely on. As Ebert puts it in his review, "The events in his film, including the tragic battles between the Indians and the settlers, seem to be happening for the first time. No one here has read a history book from the future." And this is what makes it so refreshing.

A new extended edition has just been released on DVD, taking the film from 135 minutes to about 170. I hear it's really good and can't wait to see it. But I'd recommend picking up the shorter one first, if you haven't seen it yet.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Must. Own. Book.

Abc3D - video powered by Metacafe

This is beautiful design, and cheap!

[via Boing Boing]

Good News, Everyone!

I've just been invited to sing in the male chorus for Rigoletto, the Knoxville Opera's first full production of the season! Whooooo!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

I love Michael Cera. Everything from Arrested Development to Superbad and his various online shorts. I thought that might be enough to make this movie somewhat entertaining. Nope.

Nick and Norah is a dull, dull movie. Almost none of the humor hits. Michael Cera is given nothing to work with, as if the screenwriters were solely relying on his trademark awkwardness to get by. The female lead (Kat Dennings from 40-Year-Old Virgin), while good, is also given nothing to do except awkwardly try to connect with Cera's character. There is never any believable connection.

When they finally do wind up together, it seems it's more because their other options are so terrible rather than any true attraction the two of them share. There just isn't any chemistry. The only reason we're ever given for her attraction to him is that she really likes the mix CD's he made for his ex-girlfriend.

Every character in the movie is so two-dimensional that every moment is like watching boring people talk about how bored they are. There are three gay characters (friends and band mates of Cera's) that only exist to provide the diminishing recurring joke of coming up with a new name for their gaycore band. In what was probably an effort by the screenwriters to avoid gay character cliches, the characters are so stripped of personality that they are practically invisible. And they're still cliches. Go figure.

This also has to be the most uncomfortable I've ever been in a PG-13 movie. Part of this is because I watched it with my parents, true. But what other PG-13 movie contains a scene in which a creepy homeless man asks the lead character if he's ever done it with a dog? Also contained in the movie: a character that spends the entire movie drunk and puking, never-ending frank sexual discussions among teenagers, and a subplot about the lead girl having her first orgasm as Cera fingers her on a couch (discretely off screen, but entirely audible). Come on! It just makes me feel old that it bothered me at all.

I can't really think of anyone I could recommend this movie to. But the 15-year-old girls sitting behind us seemed to like it. Idiots.

Truthful TV Title Cards

Someone took the title cards from today's popular tv series and made them all truthy. Here's my favorite (and the most accurate):

View the rest at Glark.

[via Defamer]

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Frightening Prospect

Just in time for Halloween, here's a fun political poster:

It reminds me of that Alex Ross t-shirt I posted recently. Here's the image again:

If you look carefully in episode 4 of HBO's True Blood, that image is seen in poster form behind the vampire bartender.

[from Laughing Squid]

Green Day - "Walking Contradiction"

I've liked Green Day since Dookie. And I've enjoyed each album since then to some degree. This is my favorite video of theirs, and one of the videos that most stands out in my mind from the 90's.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Blog

I've started another blog. It's about robots. I hope to update it frequently without neglecting this one.

Our Robot Masters

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

World Of Goo

World Of Goo was released on the WiiWare channel yesterday. If you have a Wii do yourself a favor and download it. It's one of the most entertaining and original puzzle games I've ever played. Like all great puzzle games, the concept is simple but the execution can sometimes be infuriatingly complicated.

It involves building structures out of goo balls to reach the exit, while avoiding various obstacles. Each new level adds some surprising new element that fills one with delight (or is that goo? It's probably goo).

The games visuals are simple, but full of character. And the soundtrack is excellent. The whole package is so well put together I can't believe it was developed by an indie publisher consisting of three guys. This is probably the best game to come out on WiiWare so far.

Here's a trailer:

Here's a few of reviews: 1, 2, 3

Or you can skip those and buy it. Buy it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

Yeah, I saw it.

I'm not a fan of the Mummy series. I went into the first one expecting an exciting adventure/horror film. I got camp instead. If you like camp, that's great, but it's not my thing.

I heard enough positive talk about the third movie to give it a chance. It promised to be so utterly ridiculous and over the top that you couldn't help but enjoy it. And it was ridiculous, but not nearly enough to cover up it's flaws.

The biggest problem I have with the movie is Brendan Fraser. I just don't find him compelling at all. He's the action hero equivalent of boiled cabbage. There's just not much to him. A large subplot in the movie is about Fraser trying to reconnect with his son, but it all falls flat because you don't care about anyone involved.

Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh both manage to inject some dignity into their roles. But neither of them are given too much to work with. Li spends most of his time being upstaged by several different CGI stand-ins. When is America going to learn that he is more than a martial arts star? This guy can act, but he's rarely given a chance to outside of China. The Mummy villains have always been about technology before character, though. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

The most delightfully wacky element of the movie is the scene where the Yetis show up. It's stupid and the movie is self-aware enough to know how stupid it is. But after half a movie of business as usual, a handful of Yetis thrown in for no reason did add some much needed amusement. It turns a little sour toward the end when one of the Yetis inexplicably makes a football reference (he kicks an evil Chinese soldier over an arch, then holds his hands up in a touchdown pose). Maybe the Yetis get really good television reception up there in the Himalayas, I don't know.

Ultimately, this movie is as forgettable as the first two. If flashy special effects and hollow stock characters are enough to float your boat, than this is a worthy distraction.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Paper Faces On Parade

I will be performing in the opera chorus on Nov. 1 for the Knoxville Opera's Halloween Spectacular. We'll be performing selections from Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, and Mefistofele. It is a costume ball, so you'd need to suit up if you want to come. The theme is orange and black.

Tickets start out around $25. There's more info about it here.

Hope some of you can make it. I think it will be a lot of fun.

Update: apparently tickets are even cheaper for students. Like fifteen bucks, or something.

Gary Shandling On Real Time

This week's episode of Real Time had a lot of good moments, but Gary Shandling's comment about Biden preparing for the debate had me rolling. It comes in around the 4:05 mark.

The Streets - "Everything Is Borrowed"

I'm a big fan of The Streets. The new album is excellent. I like the simple story in this video. It's definitely not your average hip hop track.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Scientists have used jellyfish genes to make kittens (and other animals) glow in the dark. I demand these be made available to the public immediately.

[from io9]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


I'm a big fan of tilt-shift photography and video. If you're not aware, tilt-shift is a focusing technique that makes real life images look like miniature scale models.

There was some great tilt-shift video on the fourth issue of Wholphin.

Another director has combined tilt-shift with time-lapse photography. It gives the added illusion that the images are stop motion animations.

Bathtub II from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

[from Laughing Squid]

The Cure For Those Summertime Debate Blues

I can't imagine any of the undecided voters in America would have been won to McCain's side by tonight's debate. McCain paced the stage like he was looking for the microphone (hint: it's in your hand, Johnny). Obama, as always, was the calm voice of reason.

I had a hard time staying focused on the debate, since there was really nothing new to learn. It really just made me want to watch this again:

Lincoln Smash!

Needing to take a break from politics I thought I'd write a little about video games. They've been under-represented here lately.

This comes out this week:

Pure joy for fans of the old school Sam & Max game for PC.

Also, if you have a Wii I hope you've been checking out the WiiWare store lately. There had been a dirth of real quality games on the service since the launch. But suddenly the last few weeks have exploded with good stuff.

Most recently Bomberman Blast and Megaman 9 have added some fantastic retro flavor. Bomberman Blast is particularly exciting since you can play online against up to 7 opponents. Also, the first two episodes of Strong Bad's game are available, and the third should be out sometime this month. I also picked up Groovin' Blocks a unique take on the falling blocks puzzle genre in which you try to clear blocks to the rhythm of the music. It's challenging, and the electronic music is good.

There are some exciting games on the horizon. I'm most looking forward to MaBoShi (although I'm not even sure there's going to be an American release for this one), World of Goo, Tetris Party (more online action), and Cave Story.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Welfare Whities


The best thing about going to see Religulous was that it was screening directly across the lobby from An American Carol (a movie that promises to be just as funny as The Half Hour News Hour, only extended to an actual hour and a half). The movies started at the same time, meaning both crowds milled in the lobby beforehand (lefties to the left, right wingers to the right). And they let out at the exact same time, so we got to look the other side in the eye as we left. Unfortunately no ideological fights broke out. It would have been a good story.

As for the movie itself, Religulous is generally entertaining. Bill Maher questions and/or mocks the major western religions for a while before spouting a heavy handed monologue about how religion will ultimately destroy us. The monologue is the most effective part of the movie, but it's a huge change in tone from the rest of the (mostly) non-serious material.

Sometimes Maher's tone in the individual interviews switches from genuine curiosity to out-and-out mocking which makes me a tad uncomfortable. He's certainly not going to convert any religious people with this film. It's strictly preaching to the choir.

Most of the movie consists of segments about quirky religious people and places. The Creationist Museum, The Holy Land amusement park in Orlando (where the torture and crucifixion of Jesus is set to Broadway-like musical numbers), or a lab in Israel that invents clever machines to circumnavigate God's rules on the Sabbath. None of it is exactly revelatory. Anyone who has an inkling about religion knows about these things already. The most fascinating moments are when the religious figures Maher interviews get caught up in the logical barriers of having to justify their beliefs. Now, some of the people just aren't very intelligent (a U.S. Senator), and one television evangelist attributes teachings of Christ that are nowhere to be found in the bible to justify his lavish attire. But even the scholars who clearly know what they're talking about at some point have to make a break from that intellect to explain their faith. It's baffling to watch.

I really enjoyed the movie. I think, like a Michael Moore movie, it's a bit too biased to be considered an effective documentary. Still, I'm encouraged that a movie with this subject matter came out in America. And even more so that there were no protests outside the theater, and that the sizable crowd in attendance reacted positively, even applauding at the end.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Pushing Daisies

Holly thankfully reminded me that Pushing Daisies' second season premiers tonight.
If you missed the writer's-strike-shortened first season than you missed the best new show on television. It's the perfect blend of dark comedy, whimsy, and absurdity. Also, it stars Lee Pace who was incredible in The Fall earlier this year. The rest of the ensemble cast is equally good, and they have great guest appearances from the likes of Paul Reubens and Molly Shannon.

It also features great musical numbers like this adaptation of They Might Be Giants' "Birdhouse In Your Soul":

Do yourself a favor and watch it. You'll be hooked instantly.


I got bored with the First And Ten entries (especially the name), so here is the same idea pared down and freshly named, Shuffleupagus. Or Shuffy for short.

1. They Might Be Giants - "Vestibule", Cast Your Pod To The Wind

Cast Your Pod was a great bonus disc included with TMBG's latest album, The Else. It is a collection of various B-Sides created for - or featured exclusively in - their podcast. "Vestibule" was in podcast 21A. The video is not of the same recording, but it does feature musical robots!

2. U2 - "Sweetest Thing", The Best Of 1980-1990

The nicest thing about this popping up in the shuffle is that somehow I've never seen this video before. I like it, but Bono's silent mugging performance is weird even for Bono. These were the end of U2's glory days.

3. The Seatbelts/Yoko Kanno - "MUSAWE", Cowboy Bebop OST 5 - Future Blues

Cowboy Bebop will always hold a special place in my heart. It's the first anime series I absolutely fell in love with. It also spawned an incredible collection of music by composer Yoko Kanno. This album features music from the Cowboy Bebop movie. This particular song isn't one of my favorites, but it is a good example of the series' fusion of world sounds.

4. Ween - "Moving Away", The Pod

Burned this from a friend. I appreciate the oddness of the album, but I haven't listened to it all that much. I liked it enough to hold on to it for this long, I suppose. I don't have feelings for the band one way or another. It's just one of those odd bits that pops up from time to time.

5. Kenna - "Sunday After You", New Sacred Cow

I like this album a lot. "Hell Bent" is one of those songs that I could listen to a million times. "Sunday After You" is one of the album's more upbeat songs, but it still has that spacey, late-night-in-the-city vibe. This video is, surprisingly, the best version of the song on YouTube. The drums are overbearing, but you can get the gist of the song if you're not already familiar with it.