Monday, February 28, 2011

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/26

Hey, it's Monday again! And so here's the list of what showed up in my mailbox last week, just like every other Monday. I haven't read any of these books yet, but here's what I can tell you about them even with that handicap:

Kitty's Big Trouble is the ninth book in the "Kitty Norville" series by Carrie Vaughn, and the second to come from Tor Books. (Who get a mild ding here: their card page, listing previous books by the author, only has her Tor titles, and so leaves off the first seven books in this series. I've always thought that was bad, old-fashioned thinking, and it's particularly egregious in the age of the Internet. It doesn't help anyone -- author, reader, or publisher -- to pretend that other books don't exist.) I'm several books behind on reading this series -- despite the fact that I read the first three back at the old job, and did an omnibus of them then -- which is not something I'd recommend; this one of the better contemporary fantasy series going currently, with a well-realized world and a sense of consequences and law rare in that subgenre. (I've more-or-less reviewed the middle three books of the series here -- Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, Kitty and the Silver Bullet, and Kitty Raises Hell. Big Trouble is coming as a mass-market paperback in July, so even you cheapskates can get it right away.

Speaking of series that have been running a long time through many publishers, I also have in front of me An Embarrassment of Riches, the umpteenth "Comte Saint-Germain" novel by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, which began in 1978 with Hotel Transylvania. Embarassment's card page doesn't try to disentangle Yarbro's many novels and series, presenting a not-particularly-useful long list of books published by "Tom Doherty Associates" (the umbrella corporate name for Tor, Forge, and associated imprints) in pure alphabetical order. The Saint-Germain books are historical vampire novels; their hero is the historical charlatan of that name, though, in Yarbro's version, he's an immortal, mostly good vampire who keeps getting into various trouble with mortals. (Or so I understand; I haven't read the series.) Embarrassment will be published by Tor on March 1st, in hardcover.

Also from Tor in March -- this time in trade paperback -- is Demon Song, the fourth book in a paranormal romance series [1] by the writing team of C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, writing under the non-secret pseudonym Cat Adams. The heroine of this series is Celia Graves, who is both half-vampire and half-Siren, though it doesn't seem to be the same kind of half in either case -- she's half-human compared to both of those, which doesn't add up to all human. (Reminds me of the Warner cartoon with a dog that was half pointer, half boxer, half setter, half watchdog, half spitz, and all Labrador retriever -- Porky's Pooch.)

And last this week is a novel for young adults with a very impressive array of armaments on its cover: Will Hill's Department Nineteen. It's yet another vampire book -- I've just noticed that all four books this week have vampires in them, the way an old house has damp in the corners -- in which our young hero has to save his mother, who has been kidnapped by shadowy forces, with the aid of the super-secret portion of the British government that makes up the title. Department Nineteen will be published in April by Razorbill, a sharp (sorry) imprint of Penguin aimed at teens.

[1] I can say that this is paranormal romance, and not urban fantasy, because the book itself tells me so, and I trust it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie Log: Youth in Revolt

A little Michael Cera goes a long way -- his trademark diffident, distracted, high-voiced loser act having been losing interest practically since the moment he unrolled it -- so one might be worried about a movie that has Cera in what's essentially two parts. The good news is that he only plays "Michael Cera" for one of those parts, and the other's role is to shove that character as far away from Cera-ness as is possible in an hour and a half.

Youth In Revolt is funny, in a cartoony way, but never has any underlying seriousness to ground that comedy in anything. Cera's Nick Twisp is a sixteen-year-old boy living in Oakland, CA, whose divorced mother falls for a succession of lousy men and whose father is living with a very young woman whose gorgeousness is just another joke. Nick is our main character, center, and narrator; we never get out of his skull or away from his point of view. (So, if you can't stand Cera at all, stay far away from this movie.) And Nick, like all teenage boys, is obsessed with losing his virginity.

If Youth in Revolt had any balance, or viewpoint outside of Nick, it could have become the Apatow Era's answer to Little Darlings, but it doesn't. On the other hand, it's more sexless than you might expect, since Nick quickly latches onto one girl (Portia Doubleday as Sheeni Saunders) as his True Love and channels all of his adolescent energy into winning her and getting back to her. (They meet at a trailer-park somewhere off to the north of Oakland, where she lives and he vacations with his mother and her then-boyfriend.) For reasons that are sufficient to the plot of the movie, but don't actually make a whole lot of sense, Nick spends most of the running time of Youth in Revolt trying to be "bad," which will get him back to Sheeni but ever-more drive her very religious and controlling parents away from him.

So Nick manifests an alter ego -- the Nouvelle Vague-inspired French-accented "Francois Dillinger" -- who gives him advice on how to be bad at every turn, and rapidly finds himself both in more and more trouble and having more and more fun. If it wasn't so programmatic and constricted, Youth in Revolt could have been honestly, wickedly subversive, so it can be disappointing to see it settle into its solid groove, but there's a long list of good actors working in support of Cera's double act -- from Justin Lond and Zach Galifianakis to Fred Willard and M. Emmett Walsh -- who keep the movie lively.

Cera is fine at the center, and his sunglasses-wearing, smoking Francois could show a way for him to find a different kind of character to play -- he makes a good piece of bored Eurotrash. But Youth in Revolt is, in the end, a movie about revolt that doesn't actually know what it's revolting against; it's funny enough, and a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes, but the fog of lost possibilities is so thick the actual movie can sometimes be difficult to see. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What I Did Today, By Andrew Wheeler, Age Forty-One

So today my two sons and I spent much of the day in the big bad city, doing the following things:
  • riding in on a NJ Transit bus, during which Thing 2 avidly played a Pokemon game on his DS and Thing 1 stared out the window,
  • grabbing a doughnut each at the Tim Hortons on 42nd street, because we had half an hour to kill before the show, because those are some real good doughnuts, and because it would help keep the boys happy until a slightly late lunch,
  • seeing the aforementioned show -- Circus Incognitus at the New Victory, an excellent and very funny one-man circus show with lots of juggling and funny stuff from Canada's own Jamie Adkins (making the Tim Hortons previously mentioned very apropos),
  • catching lunch at the 8th Avenue Shake Shack -- everyone loved the fries, and Thing 1 was completely happy, though Thing 2 (never a big burger man) didn't finish his hot dog and was deeply disappointed in his chocolate shake, which had a unexpectedly bitter mocha/coffee undertone to it,
  • stopping in at Midtown Comics, in a not-entirely-successful attempt to get back into the comic-shop groove -- I haven't seen a Previews catalog in at least three months (and didn't find one today), so I have no idea what's out there or coming these days,
  • zipping back on a bus, with similar reactions as above -- I was playing Angry Birds (the Valentine's Day levels on Seasons), for the fullest picture,
  • and then having dinner, as we do nearly every Saturday, with my mother.

After all that, I'm tired, so no real blogging here. I have been reading Connie Willis's Blackout and All Clear these last few weeks, and hoping that I can drag all of my various thoughts -- there are good things about that bifurcated novel, but many more odd or disappointing things -- into shape within the next week or so.

Friday, February 25, 2011

In Which I Am Too Hard-Working For My Own Good

I have a conference this summer, down in Orlando, at a brand-new Hilton resort. I went to the same conference last year, in a different city, and noted that it had very short exhibit hours. (Long-time readers will remember my occasional laments that my conventions now tend to mean selling books to accountants from 7-7 in a convention center, and may infer that this was a joyful discovery.)

Very short. As in three discrete sessions, of only two to three hours each, over two days.

Long-time readers may also remember that I'm in the habit of taking the family on vacation in Orlando, and may additionally infer that I enjoy certain themed attractions in that vicinity.

Additionally, this conference is taking place beginning the day after my birthday, a time when most people are not looking to increase their workload.

And last, this conference is at the beginning of a three-conference string on two coasts that will keep me away from home for close to two weeks. (The second of those two conferences is particularly busy and complicated, with morning start times usually before 7 AM.)

So one might reasonably expect that I'd be looking to take it easy at this particular event, to keep up my strength for the long slog ahead.

Instead, I've just worked out an agreement in principle to do a lot of marketing-swap with the organization in question and run the official bookstore of the event, which will see me vastly increase the booth hours and thereby make myself vastly busier both before and during this conference. Once again, I'm too energetic for my own good. I hate it when that happens.

Quote of the Week: Happiness

"All I ask is a chance to prove that money can't make me happy."
- Spike Milligan

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Odd Cover Songs We'll Probably Never Get

Back in mid-2002, there was a thread about cover songs over on the Straight Dope Message Board, and I started thinking of things that would be wonderful but that never actually would happen. This was my list:

I'd like to see Nine Inch Nails cover "Horse With No Name" and instantly (with no lyrics changes) make it sound like a song about heroin...

Then I'd like to see Syd Barrett cover any random NIN song and turn "I want to fuck you like an animal" into a whimsical expression of delight. (Hell, I'd like to see Syd Barrett out in public at all...)

I'd like to see Tom Waits cover "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," just because it would be cool.

I'd like to force Billy Bragg to cover "Capitalism" (the Oingo Boingo song), but that would probably take an infantry division.

Britney Spears could do worse than to give an all-Liz Phair concert. Besides "Flower," it would be fun to hear "Fuck and Run" and "Chopsticks"...

How about Elton John doing "Kiss Off?"

U2 could do a killer "Beat On The Brat" if they really wanted to.

And I'd love to see what Yes, circa 1984, would do with "Bitchin' Camaro."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thoughts on Editorial Explanations

It's hell, trying to live up to your own expectations.

I have an image in my head of what Editorial Explanations -- that's my new blog, which launched out of this one, and is still going, over there {gestures vaguely}, in case you've forgotten -- is supposed to be, but I disappoint myself pretty regularly.

It's not supposed to be me making fun of political cartoons that express an opinion I disagree with, since that would just be petty and partisan. (And, likely, not very interesting or fun for long.) But I feel myself always sliding in that direction, and always trying to take a colder look at cartoons and asking "is this one really hard to understand, or do I just disagree with it?"

I also think I've been posting too many cartoons, in the spirit of playing with my new toy as much as possible -- Editorial Explanations should focus on the bizarre, inexplicable, utterly lame, and incomprehensibly brain-damaged, no matter what their political stripe is. And there aren't a dozen cartoons that weird every day. (At least, I hope not -- all of those odd foreign ones I've been adding to the queue are just that horrifying because I don't understand the context, right?)

And, finally, I'm beginning to wonder about myself, because the day right after I finish my big "Book-A-Day" project here, I dove into this new thing -- which wasn't even one of my front-of-mind ideas for the next blogging project. I may need to be kept busy, for my own or everyone else's good.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2010 Nebula Nominees

Every so often, I notice that Antick Musings has wandered away from the SFF world, and I try to drag it back -- I might have lost the best job of my life in a round of corporate musical chairs, and been cast into the outer darkness of Accounting, but I still care about the skiffy world. And so I realized that I've gotten completely out of the habit of posting nominees and winners of those SFnal awards, and that this was a bad thing.

Today the Science Fiction Writers of America announced the nominees for this year's Nebula Award -- the most prestigious speculative-fiction award nominated and voted on entirely by working professionals -- and I might as well let you know what they are. The Nebulas also have recently returned to a sensible calendar-year eligibility period after several decades wandering in the wilderness of Rolling Eligibility, which was a smart and sensible change, and should be celebrated.

Short Story
•    ''Arvies'', Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine 8/10)
•    ''How Interesting: A Tiny Man'', Harlan Ellison(r) (Realms of Fantasy 2/10)
•    ''Ponies'', Kij Johnson ( 1/17/10)
•    ''I'm Alive, I Love You, I'll See You in Reno'', Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed Magazine 6/10)
•    ''The Green Book'', Amal El-Mohtar (Apex Magazine 11/1/10)
•    ''Ghosts of New York'', Jennifer Pelland (Dark Faith)
•    ''Conditional Love'', Felicity Shoulders (Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine 1/10)

•    ''Map of Seventeen'', Christopher Barzak (The Beastly Bride)
•    ''The Jaguar House, in Shadow'', Aliette de Bodard (Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine 7/10)
•    ''The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara'', Christopher Kastensmidt (Realms of
Fantasy 4/10)
•    "Plus or Minus'', James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine 12/10)
•    ''Pishaach'', Shweta Narayan (The Beastly Bride)
•    ''That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made'', Eric James Stone (Analog Science Fiction and Fact
•    ''Stone Wall Truth'', Caroline M. Yoachim (Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine 2/10)

•    The Alchemist, Paolo Bacigalupi (Audible; Subterranean)
•    ''Iron Shoes'', J. Kathleen Cheney (Alembical 2)
•    The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
•    ''The Sultan of the Clouds'', Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine 9/10)
•    ''Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance'', Paul Park (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 1-
•    ''The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen's Window'', Rachel Swirsky
(Subterranean Magazine Summer '10)

•    The Native Star, M.K. Hobson (Spectra)
•    The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
•    Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
•    Echo, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
•    Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
•    Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
•    Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud (directors), Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (screenplay), Sergio Pablos (story) (Illumination Entertainment)
•    Doctor Who: ''Vincent and the Doctor'', Richard Curtis (writer), Jonny Campbell (director)
•    How to Train Your Dragon, Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (directors), William Davies, Dean
DeBlois, & Chris Sanders (screenplay) (DreamWorks Animation)
•    Inception, Christopher Nolan (director), Christopher Nolan (screenplay) (Warner)
•    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright (director), Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright (screenplay) (Universal)
•    Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich (director), Michael Arndt (screenplay), John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton,
& Lee Unkrich (story) (Pixar/Disney)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

•    Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
•    White Cat, Holly Black (McElderry)
•    Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press; Scholastic UK)
•    Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch (Amulet)
•    The Boy from Ilysies, Pearl North (Tor Teen)
•    I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper)
•    A Conspiracy of Kings, Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)
•    Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

I've read much fewer of those works than I would have three years or so ago, but there's some good stuff there, and I may even use this as a reading list. I recommend anyone interested in the field to do the same.

Diagram Prize Shortlist for 2011!

In the middle of a dark and depressing winter, with political strife high, and even the possibly-happy string of mostly-peaceful overthrows of foreign dictators tainted by the fact that oil prices are about to skyrocket, we all need something to take our minds off of our troubles.

And that means it's time for the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of 2010. As always, the prize is administered by the eternal Horace Bent of the UK's Bookseller magazine, and, as always, there is no actual prize for winning the Diagram Prize. But there is glory, and one of the six books on the shortlist will get all of it:
8th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings
Various authors (TWI)
The Generosity of the Dead
Graciela Nowenstein (Ashgate)
The Italian's One-night Love Child
Cathy Williams (Mills & Boon)
Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way
Michael R Young (Radcliffe)
Myth of the Social Volcano
Martin King Whyte (Stanford University Press)
What Color Is Your Dog?
Joel Silverman (Kennel Club)
Voting is now open at the Bookseller's homepage; go forth and make your voice known in the most democratic of book-world contests. For myself, I'm pulling for Myth of the Social Volcano, which is reminiscent of such great winners of the past as How to Shit in the Woods, The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America, and Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

I have a weakness for quick, pointless books that are supposedly funny -- it's one of the few personality traits I share with a plurality of Americans, actually -- so it was inevitable that I would eventually read Sh*t My Dad Says. (I think I follow the Twitter feed, but I've never quite figured out a way to read Twitter and feel like I'm keeping track there, so it doesn't matter either way.)

Justin Halperin was a not particularly successful screenwriter and comedy writer (mostly for online venues) in his late twenties when a failed relationship sent him back to living with his parents a couple of years ago. Halperin's father, Sam, had recently retired in his early seventies, and is the kind of person typically described as "a real character" -- meaning, here as usual, that Sam says exactly what's on his mind at all times, and the things on his mind are often off-kilter. Think of him as a more pessimistic Yogi Berra who swears every other word, and you'll get the picture.

So Justin was home most of the time, since freelance comedy rarely comes with an office. And Sam was also home most of the time, since that's what retirement means. And they bounced off of each other, as aged parents and grown children will, particularly when the former is Hollywood-level "colorful" and the latter is (as he depicts himself) a typically mopey member of his generation. Justin, with such a natural source of comedy in front of him -- and, clearly, annoying him on a daily basis -- began to post some of Sam's pearls of wisdom to a Twitter stream, @shitmydadsays. (The first one, on August 3rd, 2009, was "I didn't live to be 73 years old so I could eat kale. Don't fix me your breakfast and pretend you're fixing mine.")

The power law of the Internet worked in Justin and Sam's favor -- as it does for so few people -- and the twitterfeed got forwarded and followed and quoted massively that fall, to the point where it has over two million followers now. And, since every popular Internet thing must become a book, so @shitmydadsays became the book Sh*t My Dad Says last May (and then the TV show $#*! My Dad Says in the fall of 2010, making Halperin's original career successful in a very roundabout way).

The book is remarkably old-fashioned, a short "my parents are absolutely wonderful" memoir of the kind familiar since the '50s, if not earlier. In this case, the absolutely wonderful parent is also a foul-mouthed grump, but that just says where America is in 2010. It's made up of a dozen or so short chapters, all telling some vaguely heartwarming story about Justin's youth and how his father got really angry and/or verbally abusive at someone, usually Justin. And then, after each chapter, there are a couple of pages of raw Sam Halperin-isms, such as:
"I just want silence...Jesus, it doesn't mean I don't like you. It just means right now, I like silence more."

"They're celebrating you graduating from eighth grade? We just went to your sixth-grade graduation two goddamned years ago! Jesus Christ, why don't they just throw a fucking part every time you properly wipe your ass?"

"That woman was sexy...Out of your league? Son, let women figure out why they won't screw you. Don't do it for them."
It's easy to see how this became a sitcom: it's full of little life lessons and bittersweet moments, and, if Sam Halperin would stand for it one second, it would be full of Aw-Dad hugs, too. Well, the swearing and anger fight against that, but, c'mon! it's a Tea Party country now, which means inappropriate anger and random cursing is very in vogue. Sam Halperin is the face of a new America: old, angry, and absolutely sure that he's right about everything. Luckily, he's funny -- even if it is mostly inadvertently so -- which makes this slim book worth the hour or so it takes to read it.

(Side note: the copy I got from the library was from a printing in July of 2010, and has the second iteration of the cover -- "New York Times Bestseller" has appeared on the top of the cover, but the "#1" has not yet been suck onto the front of that phrase. I'm sure there's an excellent Media Studies dissertation lurking, waiting for someone to do a close examination of the history of Justin Halperin and the Shit that his Dad says.)

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 2/19

Every week, I list the books that arrived in the mail the previous week and write a bit about them -- the intention is to figure out what's interesting or special about each of them, since they'll all have an audience. (And I'm not necessarily that audience for any of those books.) So I work from the publisher's descriptive copy, from my prior knowledge of the author, genre, and book, and from pure guesswork.

Some weeks are easier than others, of course.

And this week is the easiest week yet; there were no books in the mail. So here they are:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fables, Vol. 14: Witches by Willingham, Buckingham, and others

Fables has seriously overrun its obvious ending at this point, proving  that Bill Willingham wasn't planning to write the story of a glorious victory, but instead to continue the story of how a bunch of rarely-unified people muddled through all of the troubles that the world could throw at them. (Well, a few of them haven't managed to muddle all the way through -- there has been a mild body count along the way -- but the central characters of Fables have mostly been safe, and look to remain so.) And this volume sees Fables returning to its own story after the forced "Great Fables Crossover," which served primarily to drag in the main-series characters in to clean up the tangled plots of the daughter series Jack of Fables.

So Witches begins with what amounts to a gigantic "anyway..." and dives backward into the history of our new Big Bad, the Dark Man, explaining how he was captured by the empire of the previous Big Bad, in a single-issue story, "Boxing Days," with art by Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton. It's a decent story in its own right, but serves primarily to litter crumbs in the path of the main story, explaining where things will be going for the next ten or twenty or fifty issues.

The title story then follows, which originally filled up five issues and has art by the main Fables artist, Mark Buckingham. It moves the ball down the field a healthy amount, and begins to incorporate those bread crumbs from "Boxing Days" as it sets a number of major Fables characters off on new paths (such as "Frau Totenkinder," current head of the Fabletown witches) and brings others in (such as Ozma, future head of those witches). It's all good stuff, but it's all middle at this point, and it will take a while to decide whether this particular hunk of middle is working as well as it should -- probably until we get within hailing distance of an ending, I expect.

And then this collection ends with what was a two-issue story -- "Out to the Ball Game" -- with art by David Lapham, in which King Flycatcher deals with a threat to the peace of his still-new land, far out in the former worlds of the Empire. This is a complete story, but it's one part two-finger-exercise -- aping "Casey at the Bat" -- and six parts boilerplate "it's tough to be the king," so it's pleasant rather than particularly impressive.

All in all, Fables is still chugging along professionally, telling new stories out of the cloth its been weaving for ninety issues now. It's not as exciting and new as it once was, and there is a certain undertone of and-here's-another-damn-thing to it, but it's solidly entertaining and occasionally inventive.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Movie Log: Speed Dating Edition

It's been a cold and windy day in my neck of the woods, and it's a bit chilly in this basement right now. I'm also tired after a long and busy week, and not really up to writing anything complicated or overly thoughtful. So, instead, I'm going to catch up on all of the movies I saw over the past eight months or so, while my blogging energies were entirely taken up with Book-A-Day. My intention is to write roughly one sentence for each movie...but I usually write longer than I expect, so let's see how that works out.

Movies I Saw on Video
Lupin 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro -- Hayao Miyazaki's very first full-length movie has some moments and set-pieces that are clearly Miyazaki-ish in retrospect, and is an exciting and always fun entry in a sturdy, audience-pleasing series. But it's clearly a formula, and not a terribly demanding one.

The Dinner Game -- The French original that became Dinner for Schmucks in English (which I still haven't seen). Dinner is remarkably well-written and well-acted, and is staged almost like a play, with nearly the entire action taking place in one apartment. For anyone who can stand reading a movie -- of who speaks French -- it's well worth seeing; it's a great comedy with some real depth to it.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House -- Continuing my intermittent self-study course in the great movies of the past; this one is still very funny and true, though the specifics of place and money add some inadvertent humor now. (That money pit was probably worth over a million by the late '80s, for one thing.)

Adam -- A young man with Asperger's Syndrome falls in love for the first time, in a movie that's thoughtful and moving -- and not nearly as mawkish or afterchool-special-ish as you might fear -- and doesn't go the ways you'd expect. Small, but perfectly formed.

My Wife Is an Actress -- Another French movie -- I find that a good French comedy is superior to all but one or two of the best American funny movies a year -- directed by Charlotte Gainsbough's husband, about a man who is married to the gorgeous actress Charlotte Gainsborough. Slightly less sexy than expected, but a lot of fun.

Popeye -- I hadn't seen Altman's Feiffer-scripted version of the E.C. Segar strip in twenty-five years or more, but my two sons were a great excuse, and Popeye is actually a damn good (if utterly idiosyncratic) movie. Yes, it's a musical. Yes, all of the characters are utterly caricatured. Yes, it does lose track of itself more than once, and starts too slowly. And, yes, the spinach thing is done much less subtly or well than Segar would have. But it's indisputably Popeye -- and miles closer to Segar than any other moving-picture version has ever come -- and a hell of a lot of fun.

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek -- It's a 1944 movie about a girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after blacking out during an "all-night party"; how could I not watch it, once I knew it existed? It's quick and funny, and mostly full of actors we don't think about anymore. 

Foul Play -- Another movie that I hadn't seen in twenty-five years, and which still held up, with great funny stuff from Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. 

Impromptu -- I've complained about the very stereotyped plots that costume dramas about creative types always fall into, but this one is about Chopin more than George Sand, and, luckily, doesn't try to pretend that this series of events was "the basis" for some famous Sand work. In the end, it's a middle-rank costume drama, but The Wife eats those up.

Hot Tub Time Machine -- There's no excuse for this one; it's silly and obvious and could have been much smarter and sharper if the writers stopped laughing at their own jokes and worked a bit harder. But it is a decent silly comedy, in a vaguely '80s mode, so it's worth wasting the two hours or so to look at it.

Jet Lag -- Yet another French movie, this time a romantic comedy with Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno stuck at an airport. It hasn't stuck in the memory terribly well, but it was enjoyable at the time.

In a Day -- A small-budget British romantic comedy-drama with some slight pretensions; it doesn't work 100%, but it does work well enough.

Strange Brew -- So, like, take off, eh? I will never apologize for loving Strange Brew, and I've now made my sons watch it as well.

Bringing Up Baby -- More classic comedy, with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. You probably shouldn't wait until you're forty-one to watch this, like I did.

Fletch -- Now, this one, I hadn't seen before. It was fun, but not as good as it's supposed to be, with a generic and forgettable '80s plot.

Alice in Wonderland -- Tim Burton really needs a high-profile failure or two to bring him back ot earth and get him to engage strong again; sadly, this movie didn't do that. It's an interesting-looking mess, but it's completely a mess, even by the standards of an Alice movie.
Finding Bliss -- Leelee Sobieski is a would-be filmmaker who can't get funding to make her dream script, but (though the usual contrived situations) gets a job editing porn movies and can pretty much work out every plot beat from there. It follows its formula with energy and really believes in itself, but it will never surprise you.

Out of Sight -- I like George Clooney's work, and I've missed a lot of his movies -- this one is a sturdy, smart thriller that I expect most of you saw ten years ago.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid -- This plays really differently in live-action than it did on the page, which I found very interesting to think about while watching it. The book is so cartoony that none of the over-the-top things that happen to Greg are a problem, but they seem less likely with real twelve-year-olds. It's lovable like an ingratiating dog, but about as deep.

City Island -- The comedy version of a kitchen-sink problem movie, circling around Andy Garcia as a middle-aged NYC cop who really wants to be an actor. It all comes together too patly in the end, but everyone is good in it, and it has a fine sense of place.

Date Night -- It fails the Siskel test, in that the viewer keeps suspecting that the jokes that Steve Carrell and Tina Fey told each other in the makeup chair were funnier and less formulaic than this movie, but it is entertaining, and Carrell and Fey are both completely game and utterly likable. Plus, I am one half a boring, married, middle-aged couple in New Jersey.

The Apartment -- Most of the old movies I see are pretty frothy, but this one is more biting, though a lot of that bite is due to the specific sexual mores of 1960, which are solidly exploded now. It certainly had more impact then, and would have more impact for a younger viewer, but it's still a great movie.

Royal Flash -- The only movie made, to date, from George Macdonald Fraser's excellent series of novels -- directed by Richard Lester right after his "Three Musketeers" movies. Malcolm McDowell is a perfect Flashy, and it made me wish I was in the next universe over, where there were half-a-dozen more of these movies, and McDowell was prepping another one right now.

The Taste of Others -- A complicated French romantic comedy -- of the large cast that interacts with each other like billiard balls style -- that I don't remember in detail. Pleasant but forgettable, I suppose.

Ondine -- Colin Farrell drags out his thickest Irish accent in the story of a fisherman who pulls a woman from the sea and can't quite decide if he (and his crippled daughter) want her to be a mermaid or not. It tries really hard, and succeeds at a level only just a bit below what it's aiming for.

Babies -- An entirely unnarrated documentary of the first year of life of four babies, in vastly different parts of the world. Probably only for parents or wanna-be parents, but cute and deeply lovable.

The Secret of Kells -- The surprise Oscar nominee of last year, once it was finally available on video. Visually inventive and heartfelt, but awfully slow for a movie that's not even ninety minutes long, and not without the sound of axes grinding. See it to look at rather than to think about.

Confetti -- A silly British mockumentary about a reality-TVish competition by a bridal magazine for the Most Inventive Wedding of the Year. It doesn't take advantage of all of its opportunities, but it creates some great characters and is entertaining to the end.

Get Him to the Greek -- About as silly and frivolous a comedy as can be imagined, but Russell Brand always delivers, even if Jonah Hill's blustering-twerp persona is wearing ever thinner.

Toy Story 3 -- No one in the family felt the need to see this in the theater; I don't care about any second sequel all that much. It's not as good as #2, but rings some new and thoughtful changes on the thematic material from the first two movies. And there's now a lot of material for a major dissertation on the (almost unveiled at this point) religious undertones of the series.

The Emperor's New Clothes -- Ian Holm is Napoleon, who switched places with a lookalike to escape from Elba back to Paris and reclaim his power. It doesn't work out that way, though he does find love instead. Holm is always fun to watch, and this deviates enough from the costume-drama template to be worth seeing.

Iron Man 2 -- It is what it is: loud, brash, full of itself, but enthralling and ever-so-occasionally smart.

Robin Hood -- Russell Crowe shows us how Hood was dull and depressing, and his life a rough slog through mud and shit. Has almost none of the things anyone wants to see in a Robin Hood movie.

Artemisia -- Yet more costume drama, with a female Italian Renaissance painter who -- in the movie-ized version -- falls in love with her teacher, which leads to Big Trouble. (In real life, he raped and blackmailed her into sex, but that's not Romantic enough for a movie.) It's better if you don't try to learn anything about Artemisia Gentileschi ahead of time.

Shrek Forever After -- Broad, obvious, and massively renormative in all the worst ways. The incidental jokes are funny, as they should be, given how much money and time went into them.

Maybe Baby -- A mostly-forgotten Hugh Laurie movie from a decade ago, which I missed then like everyone else in the world. He's a screenwriter for not-the-BBC, and secretly turns his own wife's fertility drama into a comedy -- the ending runs off the rails for a while, but otherwise it's so good that you'll wonder why it was so forgotten.

Next Stop Wonderland -- A small Boston romantic comedy, except it's not all that funny and not really a romance. It is a good character piece about the two people that the audience knows will eventually get together -- though the movie itself keeps them apart practically the entire time.

The Kids Are Alright -- A masterclass in great acting; there are scenes that hinge on body language or glancing expressions. The central drama is arguably trite -- that a lesbian couple can be just as mixed-up, but still fixable, as anyone else -- but the dialogue is excellent and delivered perfectly.

Easy A -- Emma Stone is damn good, and this movie is smart and sneaky; this is a movie about teenagers, but it's as much for people who were teenagers two or four decades ago.

Soul Kitchen -- A German movie about a restaurant and its various comic dramas; it's sweet and lovable but mildly predictable.

Going the Distance -- The movie that made everyone wonder how close it was to the real relationship of Drew Barrymore and that Mac guy; it's a good view of a relationship that has real strengths and depths but is being seriously tested. All processed through the usual Hollywood rose-tinted lenses, of course.

Inception -- Anyone who had trouble following this is just dumb; I have to say it. It's not as profound or brilliant as some people seem to think, but it's an exceptionally well-constructed and entertaining astonishment machine. (And The Wife and I cracked each other up every time it cut back to the van falling into the water, calling out "Buffering!" as it happened.)

The Other Guys -- The end credits were almost better than the movie, and the movie could have done with a bit more of the credit's viewpoint and cold anger. But the movie, as it did exist, was a decent odd-couple story, and had a particularly watchable set of characters.

Nanny McPhee Returns -- Not nearly as good, or as subtle, as the first movie, and much more of a film for kids. But The Wife and I enjoyed it anyway.

Stuff I Actually Got Into a Theater to See:The Last Airbender -- Yes, well. It's not as bad as some people said, but I saw it in non-eye-straining 2-D, so I may not have seen it at its worst. Shamalyan does have some good camera work, particularly his swooping shots in the battle scenes, but that wasn't enough.

Despicable Me -- This was as good as everyone said, and almost not at all mawkish. I'm beginning to think Steve Carrell can make anything good.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice -- Big, flashy, silly, full of explosions and often losing track of its own rules -- yes, it's a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. It shouldn't be as entertaining as it is, honestly, and no one can see it and feel proud of themselves.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World -- I loved it, and my two sons loved it. Hugely visually exciting, and only very slightly damaged by Michael Cera whinyness. It had better become the hugely popular touchstone cult movie of this generation.  

Red -- An action thriller that does everything right, including pandering to its audience. It's cheese, but some kind of very nice, and slightly classy cheese -- say a nice Stilton.

And why did I think writing all that would be quick or easy? Well, I'm caught up (except for Youth in Revolt, which I saw a few days ago) now.