Stuff to Look For (and Stuff I Found)

Alan P. Scott - Me


Stuff To Look For: Books Movies/Video Music
Stuff I Found: Books Movies/Video Music
These are notes to myself, not necessarily a public reference. I certainly don't mind if you look or, if you wish, to provide feedback, but I make no apologies for any crudities or errors here.

Books To Look For

Kingsley Amis. Jake's Thing
John Atack. A Piece of Blue Sky
Scientology exposé. 299.936 A862p.
J.G. Ballard. Crash
Now a major motion picture.
Stafford Beers. Designing Freedom
Via Jo Walton on rec.arts.sf.written, recommended as part of a conceptual trilogy, along with Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jane Jacobs' The Economy of Cities.
Thomas Berger. The Feud
Thomas Berger. Nowhere
Jerry Biederman. Secrets of a Small Town: The Extraordinary Confessions of Ordinary People
Sandow Birk. In Smog and Thunder: Historical Works from the Great War of the Californias
Faux history from Last Gasp Press, SF.
Del Cogswell Brebner. Snapshots
Stoner novel with a heart.
E. Cobham Brewer. The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1894
Valuable Victorian reference tool.
Andrei Codrescu and Laura Rosenthal (eds.) American Poets Say Goodbye to the 20th Century
Alan Cooper. About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design
Daphne du Maurier. The House on the Strand
Via Clayton W.
Sumner Locke Elliott. Going
Dystopian; via Jo Walton.
Marian Engel. Monodromos, aka One Way Street
Via Jo Walton.
Alasdair Gray. The Book of Prefaces
Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Remix
Via a thread on Kuro5hin.
Elizabeth Hand. Waking the Moon
Novel (sf conspiratarian).
Leon Harmon. The Harmon Chronicles
Humor, autobiography, role-playing. Via the Portland Mercury.
Jess Hartley. Exalted: In Northern Twilight (3)
Fantasy paperback original written by someone I know!
Gwyneth Hood. The Coming of the Demons
Marshall University, Huntington WV - SF.
David Hughes. Tales from Development Hell
Titan - movie projects gone awry. Mentioned in Don't Panic.
Ted Hughes. The Life and Songs of Crow
Poetry. Via Lesley S.
Jane Jacobs. The Economy of Cities
Via Jo Walton on rec.arts.sf.written, as part of a conceptual trilogy with Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Stafford Beers' Designing Freedom.
Stuart Kauffman. The Origins of Order
Complex book about complexity theory.
Russ Kick. The Disinformation Book of Lists
Politics. Via bOINGbOING.
John Lilly. Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer
Via Ace Lightning. The author was highly regarded by Timothy Leary.
Arthur Machen. The London Adventure
1924; via F&SF.
Patrick McCabe. Butcher Boy
Cutting Edge Press. Horror novel about the development of a young killer's psyche. Now a major motion picture. Two replies to my review of Throat Sprockets agree that BB is very good, but I've never been able to bring myself to pick it up.
Terence McKenna. The Archaic Revival
Terence McKenna. Food of the Gods
Warren Miller. Looking for the General
1964. Via Howard Waldrop in F&SF.
Richard Morris. The Edges of Science
Jeff Noon. Falling out of Cars
Jeff Noon. Needle in the Groove
Jeff Noon. Pixel Juice
Barbara O'Brien. Operators and Things
nf re: schizophrenia.
John O'Hara; ed. by Matthew J. Bruccoli. Gibbsville, PA
short stories.
Michael Parenti. Make-believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment
Imogen Parker. A Temporary Affair
Novel, sounds interesting - theatrical life in London, 1950s - present. Excerpts on rec.arts.books seemed entertaining and well-written.
Walker Percy. The Second Coming
Walker Percy. Signposts in a Strange Land
Kit Reed. Revenge of the Senior Citizens
David Rhodes. The Easter House et al.
Via Jonathan Carroll in F&SF.
Theodore Roszak. Pontifex
PS3568.O8495 P6.
Douglas Rushkoff. Media Virus: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture
Ballantine Books, 201 E. 50th St., N.Y., NY 10022, (800) 638-6460, (212) 572-4912 FAX. 304 pp., $21.95 cloth. ISBN 0-345-38276-5.
Eric Schlosser. Reefer Madness... and Other Tales from the American Underground
Starhawk. The Fifth Sacred Thing
eco-feminist science fiction.
Edward Tenner. Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences
Lawrence Thornbury. The Impossible Stranger
Hometown glory - SF set at my alma mater: Marshall University, in Huntington WV.
Edward P. Tufte. Visual Explanations
Beverly Van Hook. Fiction, Fact, Murder
Holderby Bierce, 1995. Mystery set in Appalachia (specifically, "Laurel College, in Laurel, West Virginia") - with detail from Huntington WV.
Edith Wharton. Ethan Frome
Literature via Clayton W.
Robert Anton Wilson. Cosmic Trigger III
Guerrilla ontology.
Robert Anton Wilson. The Walls Came Tumbling Down
Guerrilla ontology.

Sights To Watch For - Back to top

50 First Dates
Via TLC.
The Addiction
16mm B&W vampire film. Via Sam P.
American Desi
2001. Like a cross between Monsoon Wedding and American Pie?!? Ran across on IMDb.
Dara Tomanovich, mmm.
Book of Life
Hal Hartley.
The Bothersome Man
Swedish slipstream (Den Brysomme Mannen) from 2006. Via Lucius Shepard, in F&SF.
Capriccio, aka Love and Passion or Capri Remembered
Francesca Dellera, mmm again.
Citizen X
Donald Sutherland, Stephen Rea. Via Kevin B.
Animé, manga. Clips used in Matthew Sweet's video to "Girlfriend" look interesting.
The Conformist
Bernardo Bertolucci. Surprisingly, our library doesn't have this.
SF. Via WW.
Fantastic 4
Shameful of me, I know. This one came up during an online trailer binge that also, God help me, made me think that seeing the big-budget necrophagies War of the Worlds, Bewitched, Herbie: Fully Loaded and even A Sound of Thunder might actually be worth it as well. So far I have not put any of these to the test...
Ferocious Saint Lord of the Gobi
Via Randy M. as something that might appeal to a Robert Anton Wilson fan.
Fun with Dick and Jane
The Girl from Monday
Hal Hartley.
Mike Judge of Office Space did this cross between Sleeper and Futurama - I need to see it before civilization makes me too stupid to understand it.
Johnny Mnemonic
(Japanese edition only). Subtitled in Kanji on side of screen, with original dialogue but new soundtrack. Recommended by William Gibson (during a personal appearance at Powell's City of Books).
Limbo (et al.)
John Sayles' films, via Sam P.
London Voodoo
Via Lucius Shepard in F&SF.
Monster Road
Bruce Bickford biopic.
Mother Night
Nick Nolte. From the Vonnegut novel.
Music and Lyrics
Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Via TLC.
Open Season
Kids' animation, for O. Via Kent R.
One of Travolta's better roles, if Terry C. is to be believed.
Possible Worlds
Canadian; parallel universes. Via the Null Device.
The Quiet Earth
1985. Last Man on Earth. Via Willamette Week.
Roba da Ricchi
1987 Italian film starring the voluptuous Francesca Dellera.
The Silver Stallion
For Olivia.
Redford, Kingsley. Via Pat H.
Stranger than Fiction
A good Will Ferrell movie? Sounds crazy... but it just might work. Via KSC.
The Wicksboro Incident
Horror akin to the Blair Witch Project. Via WW.
Wonder Boys
From the excellent book by Michael Chabon. Sam P. says not to bother with the film, though.

Sounds To Listen For - Back to top

Bloodkin. Creeperweed et al.
Athens GA. I know Danny & Eric.
Cocteau Twins. Stars and Topsoil
Import compilation 1982-1990. Treasure may be a better choice, though...
Dashboard Saviors. Take One For The Team
Live. Blue Rose Records BLUCD037 (out of print).
Jack Logan. Buzz Me In
Spin gave it an 8.
Monaco. Music for Pleasure
New Order-ish trance rock.
Nine Inch Nails. Pretty Hate Machine
Seminal chainsaw.
Nomad. Nomad
1994, Australian Music International. Something like the X-Files theme with didgeridoo.
The The. Naked Self
Mature and complicated work.
Various. Kiddy's Got Four Fingers
A 4AD label sampler.
Various. Pi
Soundtrack. Orbital, Banco de Gaia... what's not to like?

Stuff I Found - Back to top

These are brief comments; please also see my longer and more comprehensive reviews.

Books - Back to top

Brian Aldiss and Roger Penrose. White Mars
Stay away from this one, a tedious dystopia intended as a utopia, filled with pages and pages of excessive rhetoric. There are at least half a dozen better recent Mars books available - try Kim Stanley Robinson's Red, Green and Blue Mars, Greg Bear's Moving Mars, or even Ben Bova's eponymous foray, before you waste your time on this one.
Lou Anders. Live Without a Net
Via Boing Boing. The conceit - SF about what the world would be like without the Internet, or without silicon-based computers - made for some interesting choices, some of which were really good.
Nicholson Baker. A Box of Matches
Via the Portland Oregonian 1/12/2003. Contemplative. I'm tempted to say that only Baker (and not always even he) could pull this off. He is the acknowledged master at making minutiae interesting; this richly-detailed work harks back to the contemplative discursions of Room Temperature or The Mezzanine in a series of vignettes, each specifying the small daily variations of Baker's (or his protagonist's - it's hard to tell whether this is really autobiography or fiction) morning routine of lighting a fire, making coffee, and other mundane activities. If you like this sort of thing, you'll like this thing.
Lester Bangs. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung
Compulsively readable logorrhea, a river of words about rock and roll, from a time when it could all be comprehended - and explained - by one man. Recommended.
Steven Barnes. Iron Shadows
Tantric and cinematic, with Barnes' usual martial-arts focus. Read it for the special effects, not for the plot. His later Charisma is much better.
Jack Black. You Can't Win
1926. A no-holds-barred autobiography from the sort of person who doesn't usually have a voice in literature; Black was a hobo, riding the rails before the turn of the century (the 20th, that is), an opium smoker, and a small-time crook who - eventually - made good. This book was, by his own admission, a formative influence on William Burroughs. Black's authentic voice and eye for detail make this a compelling read; a reissue in 2000 should make it easier to find as well.
Malcolm Bosse. Mister Touch
This is what typically happens when someone outside the sf genre takes on sf tropes... this book is long and literate - the writing's fine, though he's no Margaret Atwood - but terribly affected, and not exactly overflowing with verisimilitude.
Michael Cisco. The Divinity Student
Via Fiona Webster, back in the days when Usenet was where all the cool kids hung out. Finally ran across this as part of a longer work, The San Veneficio Canon (2004). I wanted to like this more than I did, but the prose was just a trifle too dreamlike and slippery for me to get a firm grip on. A failing in me, I suppose; Cisco's certainly garnered lots of critical appreciation.
Jack Dann. The Memory Cathedral: A Secret History of Leonardo da Vinci
A good novel, carefully written and meticulously detailed.
Dennis Danvers. The Watch
This tale puts a resurrected Peter Kropotkin (a 19th-Century gentle anarchist) in 1999, providing a fine vehicle for Danvers to point out the follies of our own era through the clear-eyed lens of a man whose own words, liberally quoted in the text and at chapter beginnings, are at least as apposite in the age of Total Information Awareness as they were when the State he questioned was the Russian monarchy.
Candas Jane Dorsey. Black Wine
Novel, rec. in F&SF. Interesting - a very original and ambiguous vision. Definitely for grown-ups.
Steven Gould. Helm
A Heinlein juvenile for the '90s, though the army scenes dragged on a bit.
David Hartman. The Gumshoe, the Witch and the Virtual Corpse
This is an uneven first novel, and the proofreading was sloppy, but I liked it. About a gay private eye in a near-future Atlanta where an in-utero genetic test for homosexuality has contributed to the further fragmentation and polarization of American society... which turns out to be not all bad, but definitely very weird. There are Wiccan high schools and Baptist ones, for example, charter schools gone berserk, and the Catholic Church turns out to be an unlikely ally of gays because of its stance against abortion. The sequel, Gumshoe Gorilla, continues the zaniness.
Alexander Kaletski. Metro: A Novel of the Moscow Underground
Out of print; originally via Jo Walton. Entertaining depiction of a surreal, utterly unworkable but nevertheless very real Soviet society. Reminded me of Jack Womack's much later novel Let's Put the Future Behind Us (an excellent work in its own right), with added piquancy from the impression I got that Metro may be more autobiographical than fictional.
Chuck Klosterman. Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs - A Low Culture Manifesto
Via the Portland Mercury. Unpredictable, what Klosterman's attention will light on next. Several of the essays in this book turned out to be compulsively readable.
Geoffrey Miller. The Mating Mind
Evolutionary biology. Miller makes a provocative but fairly convincing case that what drives humanity's evolution of intelligence (such as it is) is sexual selection. I can't do justice to his well-buttressed book-length argument in a paragraph, but I found it compelling, both firmly grounded in observable reality and conforming - in a rather overlooked way - to a branch of evolutionary theory going all the way back to Charles Darwin.
Ted Mooney. Easy Travel to Other Planets
After starting out with some hot primate-cetacean sex, this somewhat uneven and dated slipstream novel did get better, scattering insights on aging and relationships among the episodes and set pieces in New York and the Caribbean. Plays interestingly with Chekhov's maxim ("If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last").
Christopher Moore. Bloodsucking Fiends
By the author of the brilliantly-titled Practical Demonkeeping. Funny urban fantasy about vampires in San Francisco. It's obvious that Moore knows San Francisco; there's a scene towards the beginning where a crazy woman riding the Muni stares out the window, every now and then yelling out "Parking space!"
Also look for A Dirty Job; Coyote Blue, a Tom Robbins-like modernized take on the Native American tales of Coyote; Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (which reminds me a lot of my own Alternative Jehovahs); and The Stupidest Angel.
Geoff Nicholson. Hunters and Gatherers
This would make a great one of those imported-from-England PBS specials; it's full of dry wit, a self-deprecating protagonist, numerous humorous supporting cast, plush settings, and just enough sex (most of it offstage but a bit kinky) to provide salacious previews and lure in the big donors.
Jerry Oltion. The Getaway Special
The easy sexuality between omni-competent scientist protagonists may echo Heinlein, but that's a mere bagatelle. What this rollicking space adventure most resembles is a modernized version of those tales of backyard superscience starring Arcot, Morey and Wade, written by Golden Age luminary John W. Campbell, Jr.
Stewart O'Nan. A Prayer for the Dying
Like a really bleak, turn-of-the-century The X-Files episode, or like Stephen King if he were a more literary author. O'Nan's protagonist must deal with a mysterious plague that strikes a small Midwestern town during a drought.
Charles Petzold. CODE
The foundations of computer science, via Exhaustive, and a bit exhausting if you've already been exposed to how computers work... but if you're savvy and willing to start from the ground up, Petzold builds this binary travelogue well.
Jerry Pournelle. Starswarm
Recommended, despite the fact that I haven't often liked Pournelle's solo work. He's usually a bit too right-wing, to the detriment of his storytelling. But his collaborations with Niven routinely used to entertain me, and in a way Starswarm seems like a collaboration too, a posthumous one with Robert A. Heinlein. Pournelle seems to have been so self-consciously modeling the book after a Heinlein juvenile that he ended up submerging his own hobbyhorses, and the result was in my eyes much the better for it.
Tim Powers. Declare
A scholarly occult spy thriller by a masterful writer; Powers weaves fantasy into and around known history to create a compelling conspiratarian work.
Christopher Priest. The Prestige
Very little means what you think it does. This most excellent novel starts out as slowly as a weekend drive into the English countryside, but soon rewards the dedicated reader as it spirals into an intense and multi-faceted tale of deadly rivalry between two Victorian-era stage magicians, as each attempts to discover how the other accomplishes his most amazing illusion.
Justina Robson. Mappa Mundi
This turned out to be a taut thriller with some pretty sophisticated subplots about humanity's potential.
Philip Roth. The Plot Against America
Alternate history from one of America's major novelists - this book helped me understand just why Roth's so well-regarded in literary circles. This book is actually sf - speculative fiction - and solidly in the mainstream of such; it answers what would've happened if Charles Lindbergh had run for and won the Presidency from FDR on an isolationist, Jew-baiting platform in 1939-1940. Told in a relatively dry, documentary style from the viewpoint of a young alternate Philip Roth growing up in Newark, NJ, this book had me outraged at the excesses of the Lindbergh presidency, almost as if they were as real as the excesses of the Bush presidency (an obvious and direct parallel, considering that The Plot Against America was published in 2004). Highly recommended.
Scott Russell Sanders. Terrarium
Via Michael Swanwick. A serious-minded Logan's Run with lots of local (Portland, Oregon) color... green, that is. Misfits - including the founder - try to escape from an overly-mannered, high-tech dystopia.
Jeffrey Shaffer. It Came with the House
A little bit of talk.bizarre, comin' atcha straight outta Portland, Oregon. Local color makes these brief, humorous essays even more surreal sometimes. Well worth checking out.
Robert Sheckley. Godshome
I was predisposed to like this light fantasy from a fellow Portland resident (now, sadly, deceased), but it seemed much too fluffy to me, and it was abysmally proofread to boot... the word is "deity," dammit, not "diety," for one oft-repeated example, and I also caught typos for "sinecure," "sylphid," "aberrations" and "consummation," making me wonder just how much I didn't catch.
I liked the local color, but by the end I was just skimming.
Michael Marshall Smith. Only Forward
I was lucky enough to find a copy of this genre-crossing first novel in a local second-hand shop. Smith's later Spares is really good; this is less so, perhaps, but Smith's ideas-per-minute are way up there with Neal Stephenson's, and his surreal imagination and strong characterization keep this one humming.
Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg. Candy
A self-consciously shocking, swingin' Sixties (though written in 1958) retelling of Voltaire's Candide. Worth reading once, as an artifact of an era, but I don't think I'm going to be coming back to it anytime soon.
Tom Stafford and Matt Webb. Mind Hacks
O'Reilly, via Boing Boing. How to think - or, at least, an interesting exploration of manifold ways to think. A good all-in-one reference for current thinking about those things we think we think with...
Neil Steinberg. Complete and Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-Rans, Runners-Up, Never-Weres and Total Flops
Via defective yeti. Steinberg's acerbic wit makes this wide-ranging collection of essays on subjects as diverse as the National Spelling Bee, odd product ideas and expeditions up Mt. Everest an unqualified success.
David Thomson. Beneath Mulholland
Essays on the "real Hollywood." The what-if story about James Dean's political career makes interesting reading, for one example, and actually brings the book somewhat into the sf camp.
Rupert Thomson. Dreams of Leaving
Fascinating and surreal British slipstream novel about a small English town which, for some reason, no one - except one small boy - can ever leave...
David Foster Wallace. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
A remarkable collection of authoritative and meditative essays on such diverse subjects as tennis, David Lynch, the Illinois State Fair and Caribbean cruise ships.
Although my trust in his judgment regarding those subjects I did not know was somewhat clouded by a couple of jarring, if minor, errors in his references to science fiction, a subject I do know (Wallace, as author of the somewhat science-fictional Infinite Jest, really should've known better than to call Dune's Paul Atreides "Eutrades" or to refer to author Philip José Farmer as José Philip), reading this book was a fun thing I might very well do again.
Wallace's more recent Consider the Lobster was even more fun, actually, and may get its own entry at some point.
Don Webb. The Double: An Investigation
Mystery, reviewed by Charles deLint in F&SF. A curio. Bizarre, OK, but not all that great.
Colson Whitehead. The Intuitionist
About a fraternal conflict between rival philosophies of elevator inspection (!), and if that doesn't make you want to pick it up I don't know what on earth would. The Intuitionist is a book filled with nuance, many-layered... its black female protagonist belongs to the Intuitionists, you see, whose position as a faction among the pale brotherhood of the Empiricists is much like her own. It's a secret history (who would've thought elevator inspectors even had factions?), one of those crypto-historical narratives that could have happened while everyone else was looking the other way, set against the backdrop of what looks like New York City in the 1930s. Visually it made me think of Dark City (itself an excellent film, by the way, though you have to be in the right frame of mind to see it). Impressive.
Robert Charles Wilson. Blind Lake
Something about this book was nagging me just below the surface, until I realized what it was about a third of the way through: this is Wilson's take on a Stephen King novel. The mysteriously isolated community, episodes of graphic violence, a focus on human minutiae, a cute kid who hears voices... it could all have come out of the pages of one of King's books, if he had ever used quantum computing as a plot hook.
This is not necessarily a bad thing... King is very good at what he does, and one could do much less well than to imitate him. But for Wilson, who's capable of so much better work (like Gypsies, which is one of the best alternate-universe novels ever written, and The Divide, a quiet and subtle poor-superman novel), it felt to me as if I were getting his second-best.

Film - Back to top

Age of Consent
1969 film, Helen Mirren's first. Australian precursor to Sirens. This turned out to be a pretty good period piece, though I think Sirens was better.
The Big Lebowski
"This is not Nam! This is bowling! There are rules!" - mmm, that was a great line.
The Coen Brothers... whoo-ee. Laugh-out-loud funny in places, though really this is one of those movies where things just keep getting weirder and weirder until the climax, as in the Scorsese classic After Hours.
Blue in the Face
Harvey Keitel, not so mmm. This film couldn't decide what it wanted to be - documentary, fiction, humor, slice-of-life - and ended up not connecting for me on any terms.
Code 46
Via Willamette Week, which compared it to Blade Runner, though when I watched this film, I thought it seemed more like Gattaca crossed with Until the End of the World.
An interesting and meaty minor work, set in a plausibly mediocre future (neither unrealistically utopian nor extremely dystopian), exploring bioethical issues of cloning and identity, potential misuses of genetic tracking, and effective techniques of memory erasure, in a substantially more complex way than most Hollywood fare. I liked Samantha Morton, and the soundtrack was very good as well.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Chuck Barris as a CIA operative?!? The book was quirky and mildly entertaining; the movie is much less so, though.
Danger: Diabolik
1967, but there's a DVD. Recommended by MrBaliHai. A visually-stunning, sexy and amoral Sixties movie by Dino di Laurentiis about a master criminal with one hell of a sense of style. If Bruce Wayne had lived in Italy and turned to crime... this is what would've happened.
Not something I would recommend unless you're a Cronenberg completist. Check out Naked Lunch instead, and/or Crash, or even his more accessible adaptation of The Fly, but be warned that no matter what form it takes, David Cronenberg's fascination is with the disturbing and bizarre. His movies are never for the easily squicked.
Existenz is no exception; the visual design of the movie is as lush and twisted as anything William Burroughs or David Lynch could devise. The film's marred, though, by questionable casting and a plot that felt to me like a rehash of a couple of Philip K. Dick stories, a "what level of reality are we on NOW?" sort of thing.
Female Perversions
Billed as an "erotic psychological thriller," but I found it literally unwatchable, and turned off the VCR after 20 minutes of watching this woman beat herself up for no apparent reason - a sort of psychology I find neither erotic nor particularly thrilling.
Four Rooms
Tarantino. Not very engaging, I'm afraid, for all that.
George Wallace
Made for TV movie starring the excellent Gary Sinise as Wallace. Had a gravely historical feel and some fine acting; a good introduction to an important chapter of American history.
Ginger Snaps
Teenaged werewolves. Via F&SF and Pat H. Good enough as far as it goes, but... I am too old for horror films, I guess.
Happy Accidents
Brad Anderson. Time travel. Via F&SF. Slow-moving but with a real kick - two kicks - at the end. Marisa Tomei turns in a great performance. I did guess at the therapist's identity early on, though.
High Fidelity
An excellent film, and a remarkably faithful adaptation from an even better book by Nick Hornby. John Cusack is perfectly cast as Rob Gordon, the record-store owner whose encyclopedic knowledge of vinyl is counterbalanced by how little he seems to know about women. He learns, though.
The Hit
Via Kevin B. Starring Terence Stamp, whom I really liked in Soderbergh's The Limey as well. Set in a dusty, sun-drenched Spain in the 1970s, and interesting for that even if the acting weren't good as well.
I (Heart) Huckabees
Despite its cutesey name, which I refuse to render iconographically, this turned out to be very funny. Recommended by both Tyler M. and the Portland Mercury.
I Married a Strange Person
Bill Plympton animation for grown-ups, found on video 4/21/2000. Plympton unrestrained is quintessentially bizarre. I wish there were more movies like this one. The only other one I can think of is a Zappa rarity, the claymation hallucination The Amazing Mr. Bickford, which I found and rented once and never saw again.
L.A. Confidential
Well-produced film noir with some diabolically-clever plot twists. Highly recommended.
Laurel Canyon
Via Willamette Week. The plot summaries I read made this sound similar to Norman Spinrad's sf novel Little Heroes, which could only be a good thing. However, this turned out to be quite a bit more down-to-earth. A believable tale of repression meeting decadence and coming out somewhat the better for it. In the DVD commentary, the director (Lisa Cholodenko) indicated it was somewhat loosely based on Joni Mitchell. There wasn't nearly enough of Kate Beckinsale, but I thought all the major performances were pretty good.
Little Otik
By the fabulous Czech animator Jan Svankmajer. In some ways this is his most accessible work yet, a straightforward retelling of a traditional fairy tale about a childless couple whose desperation causes them to make a child from a piece of wood. There are some truly poignant - and truly Svankmajer - scenes at the beginning, when the two begin seeing babies everywhere.
Living in Oblivion
Steve Buscemi's multilayered, self-referential take on the independent filmmaker is complex and rewarding, and often devilishly funny. Definitely worth it.
Mars Attacks
A Tim Burton film. According to Village Voice film critic and author J. Hoberman, "This is surely the best movie ever made from a series of bubblegum cards." Jeff G. hated it. Pat H. liked it. I'm in between - I thought it was too slow and not nearly funny enough - a short-subject inflated to feature length. I can see why it would inspire anger, though - it failed badly to live up to the potential that was clearly visible in the concept as well as in some, but not nearly enough, of its execution.
The Matchmaker
1997, Janeane Garofalo. Via Hap, who has an eye for the heartwarming. I'd put this one on the same shelf with Waking Ned - it has, at least, the same sort of open affection for Ireland and the Irish. Garofalo is very much an underrated actress, and this is one of her best performances, as an American political assistant sent to a sleepy Irish village in search of her Senator's Irish roots - which may not even exist - just in time for the village's annual matchmaking festival.
Mulholland Drive
David Lynch. A complicated bait-and-switch, fabulation on the verge of death like Connie Willis' Passage, though probably no one else would see the connection.
No Maps for These Territories
William Gibson documentary road film. Via Salon. You wouldn't think that a film consisting almost entirely of watching Gibson talk while in the back seat of a car would be all that interesting, but Gibson is a keen-eyed raconteur with one eye on the future at all times; what his magpie mind alights upon is never dull.
This low-budget sf film has an almost documentary feel, as it follows two young inventors struggling with their garage-based electronics company who stumble upon a way to build a working time machine. What ensues is exactly what such young men would do with such a device - the plot becomes ever more tangled and hard to follow as they loop back again and again, trying to take advantage of their prescience and correct the mistakes made by their "earlier" selves. A demanding but rewarding film.
Robot Stories
SF tetralogy. Via Willamette Week. These are human stories, with robots in, by relative unknown Gary Pak (who's designed a really cool logo for himself, by the way). Although at times a little too predictable, these interrelated vignettes do explore, with consistent sympathy and humor, the way we think about machines that think.
A Scanner Darkly
Richard Linklater (Waking Life) takes on Philip K. Dick, using even more sophisticated rotoscope animation whose jangly, paranoid appearance meshes perfectly with Dick's storyline. Much as I love Blade Runner, it doesn't cut as close to the bone; Linklater's film is the most faithful adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story to date.
James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Unintentionally funny and hard to watch without cringing in too many places... but this kinky story of two people whose quirks dovetail perfectly does have its charming and, yes, romantic moments.
Session 9
Brad Anderson. Via Looka! A small asbestos abatement company takes on the job of cleaning up a gigantic, derelict mental institution (played by the gigantic, derelict Danvers State Hospital building). Intensely creepy - I could not watch the last few minutes, myself.
David Cronenberg. A languid, meticulous and creepy dissection of insanity, with a powerful cast but, ultimately, little payoff.
Storefront Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock, that is. Jonathan Demme, who also made Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense, puts forth another simply excellent concert film; it's almost all just Robyn Hitchcock and a guitar, although star violinist Deni Bonet (once of the WV band Stark Raven) also makes a dramatic cameo appearance.
The Triplets of Belleville
Quirky French animation - what's not to like? A little too much, perhaps, for very young viewers, but entertaining and accessible nonetheless.
Twisted Brain, aka Horror High
This earnest low-low-budget horror film from 1974, with its explicit link to Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," had preyed on my mind for years, ever since I saw it as a weekend matinee on a black-and-white television when I was much, much younger. I remembered so much about the film - its protagonist's name (Vernon), his pet guinea pig, and what monsters they both became after ingesting poor Vernon's high-school biology lab science project - but not the movie's actual name, and so it took me years to find it again... years which this film failed to weather well. I cannot recommend this film to anyone now, and yet... it does have a certain impact, at least if you've ever been the kind of kid who got shoved around a lot in grade school.
Whale Rider
New Zealand. Via Hap. Reminded me of The Secret of Roan Inish, despite being set halfway around the world. Good for the whole family; its PG-13 is undeserved. A heartwarming, empowering tale of a little Maori girl in a remote coastal village who must assert herself as the rightful heir to the name Pakeia, an otherwise entirely male line of descent from the original who came from Hawa'iki to New Zealand on the back of a whale.
Winged Migration
Visually stunning, with "how did they ever do that?" as a recurring theme. (A making-of on the DVD dispels the mystery.) Good for the whole family.

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Talvin Singh Presents Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground (1997, Quango)
I waited years to get this CD, which came out in 1997; I'm glad to have it now. Anokha delivers on its subtitled promise to provide a panoramic soundscape of Asian-influenced British electronic music. Sounding at times more like Art of Noise (see below) than that collective's own recent efforts, Anokha is nonetheless unique. Its throbbing beats and sinuous melodies are 72 minutes of pure listening pleasure.
Art of Noise. The Seduction of Claude Debussy
After long hiatus, The Seduction of Claude Debussy displays an older, slower Art of Noise - possibly intentionally, as this 2-CD set is billed as the soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist (starring John Hurt as guest vocalist). The slower tempo is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you liked the earlier Ambient mixes, but perhaps it wasn't the best way to return to original album-making. The bonus CD included with the main disc, containing intense remixes of "Metaforce" by various artists, shows the energy that could have infused the entire project. Don't get me wrong - I like what I got, but if it'd been up to me I would've put the hard stuff on the big disc and saved the meditations for the maxi-single.
My Dad Is Dead. "Anti-Socialist II", from the Homestead Records release The Best Defense.
First heard this wry track and its inspired discord on WRVU, Vanderbilt University's radio station in Nashville, TN. The lyrics hooked me instantly:
He said what's the matter
You don't like new people?
Well they put me on edge
And I could go either way...

And then the chorus:

I wanna fix it with my bare hands
I wanna fix it with my bare hands
And I'm tryin' not to lose control
And I'm tryin' not to lose control
And I'm fightin' the urge...

I got it down on tape but wasn't sure of the name of the band or the song; with what I knew, it took me years to track it down.
Turns out it's available online; the My Dad Is Dead site has this and many more releases available for free in MP3 format. The version of this song available there is oddly truncated, but still listenable.

Talking Heads. Sand in the Vaseline
Best-of one of the best, this compilation balances more than fifteen years of the Talking Heads' music on two CDs that combine all of the expected greats (some in lesser-known versions) with early efforts, rarities and more obscure cuts all of which are listenable.

Completely reformatted May 26, 2000.

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©1996-2008 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

Last updated February 19, 2008.

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