Archive for the ‘Book/Music/Film Reviews’ Category

It’s been a while since my last post, but it’s also been a while since I’ve read an peer-reviewed academic journal article that cited The Big Lebowski.  Thus, the subject of this missive is the brilliant article “New shit has come to light: Information seeking behavior in the Big Lebowski”  by Karen L. Janke and Emily Dill.

I’m going to take it as a given that everyone’s familiar with Joel and Ethan Coen‘s sublime crime comedy The Big Lebowski.  If not, run down to your nearest branch of the Ottawa Public Library, borrow it, watch it twice, then return to my blog.  Once you can grasp the full meaning of the phrase “that rug really tied the room together”, you may proceed.

Authors Janke and Dill have an obvious fondness for the quirky Lebowski-universe characters.  Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) and his dysfunctional bowling buddies Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi) charge through a Raymond Chandler-esque mystery with only the most rudimentary information seeking skills.  Lebowski is a degenerate alcoholic who stumbles upon clues by sheer luck.  Walter runs purely in instinct and Donnie is so wrapped up in preconceptions and conspiracy theories he often misses what’s right under his nose.  Anyone who has worked in the information or library field will immediately recognize these information seeking behavior archetypes.  Information seeking and detective work have an awful lot in common, and Janke and Dill do a great job of making that connection.

To read the original source material head over to the Indiana Purdue University Scholar Works for a downloadable PDF.  It weighs in at round twenty-five pages, but it’s a quick and enjoyable read with a slew of great insights.   The article is currently in pre-peer review and is set to appear in an upcoming edition of The Journal of Popular Culture.

Further Reading:

Comentale, Edward P. (ed).  (2009). This Year’s work in Lebowski studies. USA: Indiana University Press.

  • A series of Lebowski-themed academic articles.

Falsani, Cathleen. (2009). The Dude abides: The Gospel according to the Coen brothers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

  • A great overview of the many recurring themes in Coen brothers films.  You can trace the common threads through Blood Simple, Fargo, Lebowski and beyond.

Green, Bill. (2007). I’m a Lebowski, you’re a Lebowski: The Big Lebowski and what-have-you. USA: Bloombury.

  • A great step-by-step guide on how to Lebowski-ize your life.  Includes bowling tips, fashion advice (why can’t bath robes be fashionable?) and a recipe for the perfect White Russian.

Tyree, J.M., & Walters, Ben. (2007). The Big Lebowski. UK: British Film Institute.

  • Tyree and Walters examine the film and it’s impact on modern cinema.  Special attention is focused on the annual Lebowski-fest underground bowling tournament.

Be sure to take a look at other journal articles by Karen L. Janke and Emily Dill on subjects such as inter-library loans policy and archiving practices.

Thanks to my friend Alexandra, who alerted me to this article via Facebook.  Check out her blog here:


Seven… that’s a lot of blows. Before your imagination runs away with you, “Seven Blows” refers to seven something else’s. Unfortunately, the plot is so convoluted and the dubbing so poor it’s impossible to tell exactly what. Thankfully nobody watches kung fu movies for the subtext and dialogue.

Produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio, Seven Blows tells the tale of 108 rebels who defended 12th Century China from Sung invaders. In the opening scene, the evil Sung General Golden Spear slays rebel leader Heavenly King using his funky martial arts styles. The rebels quickly embark on an epic journey to recruit Young Dragon Yen Ching, the only man with the mad skillz to best Golden Spear in personal combat.

Set on a mountaintop in mainland China, director Chang Cheh focuses as much camera time on the lush scenery and panoramic views as he does on the actors. This gives the film an epic feel and pioneered a style that’s been copied ever since, most notably in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  The poor quality of the film stock degrades the experience, but the scenery remains breath taking.  The often gory violence almost takes a backseat to the beauty of the background.

As in most martial arts flicks, the real star is the action. You can be guaran-damn-teed that with 108 main characters, there’s a fair amount of fisticuffs. Cheh refuses to stick to the usual “fists and numchucks” standard and incorporates every martial arts weapon imaginable. Even casual fans of the genre would be well served to track down the recently re-mastered version.

This film encapsulates everything that kung fu films are maligned for – incomprehensible dubbing, inexplicable plot twists and sublimely ridiculous dialogue.  Yet, it’s somehow endearing and wonderful.

Other titles in the Shaw Brother’s lexicon include Return of the Five Deadly Venoms: Crippled Avengers, The Sex Life of Bruce Lee, Mad Monkey Kung Fu and Drunk Shaolin vs. Chinese Super Ninja.

Howard Zinn, revisionist historian and professor, passed away today at the age of 87.  Zinn was a hugely influential figure in the civil rights, communist, civil liberties and anti-war activist community.

I’m sure every media outlet in the Western world will be producing their own obituaries.  I won’t attempt to replicate their work.  I’ll include a link to the New York Times obit below.  Instead, I’d like to reflect on Zinn’s seminal work.  One which influenced my life, my education and my widened my political perspective.

As much of a cliché as it is (and as much as I loathe repeating it) history is written by the victors.  For Zinn, the accepted view of American history simply wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t so much that he disbelieved the official version as much as he recognized that it was incomplete.  He believed that school textbooks presented a true, albeit limited chronicle of historical events.   In 1980 he set out to remedy this situation.  The result was A People’s History of the United States, one of the most influential historical texts of the latter 20th Century.

Zinn gave voice to many peoples who had been ignored or forgotten.  A large part of the book deals with the Native American struggle against European colonizers, but Zinn also included the perspectives of slaves, union organizers, draft dodgers, civil rights leaders and suffragette activists.  Few other historians had the compassion to illuminate the lives of those who fought back against oppression – and often lost.

Zinn’s passing leaves multitudes of oppressed peoples without a champion.  I sincerely hope this loss will encourage others to not only read A People’s History but to remember the lives of those history would have otherwise forgotten.

Further References

Zinn’s New York Times obituary:

Zinn was also a favourite guest of David Barsamian’s Alternative Radio, heard on public radio stations worldwide:

Zinn’s own site:

*The above photo credited to Associated Press.

Although his name is overshadowed by the Kennedys and Nixons of the world, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara is one of the pivotal figures of the 20th Century.

While he never ascended to the Presidency, McNamara was a key advisor during the Cuban Missile Crisis and one of the architects of the Vietnam War. He planned the 1945 bombing of Tokyo that resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, yet held America back from a “first-strike” policy against Russia during the Cold War.

Lauded documentary filmmaker Errol Morris reveals the humanity hidden beneath the surface of his misunderstood and elusive subject. Morris’s prime talent lies not in the interrogation of grand historical figures, but in granting them to an open forum to speak their hearts. He skillfully coaxed the 85 year-old statesman into doing something rare amongst political figures – McNamara admits that many major U.S. foreign policy decisions were wrong.

More than simply the memoirs of a civil servant, Fog of War is a biography of every major political event since the Second World War. The audience can’t help but be touched by the pride and regret of a man who realizes his actions have cost and saved countless human lives.

Further References

Dobbs, Michael. (2008). One minute to midnight: Kennedy, Krushchev and Castro on the brink of nuclear war. NY: Thorndike Press.

  • More than most other titles on the subject, Dobbs draws in the perspective of the Russian side of the equation.  One of the most well-rounded versions of the event that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Kennedy, Robert F. (1969). Thirteen days: a memoir of the Cuban missile crisis. NY: W.W. Norton.

  • This book is a rare opportunity to step behind the veil.  RFK offers a first hand account of the moral and ethical battles by the small group of men who literally had their fingers on “the button”.

Gaddis, John Lewis. (2006). The Cold War: a new history. New York: Penguin Group.

  • Gaddis focuses on the clash of personalities that drove the conflict.  The Cold War was as much a personal battle between the Stalins, Kennedys and Castros of the world as it was a political one.

May, Ernest R. (2002). The Kennedy tapes: inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  NY: W.W. Norton.

  • An excellent companion to Thirteen Days, hear the iconic words that decided the fate of the world.

McNamara, Robert S. (1999). Argument without end: in search of answers to the Vietnam tragedy. Washington: Public Affairs.

  • Perhaps no one in history is better positioned to offer answers to what remains one of the most polarizing conflicts in history.



Stanley, a mischievous golden retriever is left home alone. Not only does Stanley get up to all kinds of hi-jinks, he decides to share his newfound freedom with friends. The fun can’t last forever and Stanley’s people are bound to come home…


Stanley’s Party
Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press, 2003
9781553373827 (hc) $16.95 CDN
For ages 4-8
Picture Book – Family – Dogs

Behold the tale of one rather mischievous dog left home alone. The temptations of couches and stereos prove to be more than one dog can endure. Before long Stanley decides his new found freedom is better off shared. The house quickly fills with dogs of all shapes and sizes, but Stanley may have bitten off more than he can chew.

Popular children’s author Linda Bailey teams up with illustrator Bill Slavin (her partner from the Good Times Travel Agency series) for the first Stanley adventure. Between them, they’ve produced over 100 children’s titles and won numerous awards.

Stanley’s antics are perfect for the 4 to 8 year old in your home or story time. There are no major controversial elements, but Stanley does have a precocious streak. It’s natural for kids to want to test their boundaries. Pre-schoolers will squeal as Stanley tests his limits with adventurous but harmless frolics.

The sophisticated wordplay, inside jokes and punditry will get little minds thinking. The host of sound effects, rhythmic wording and action make for an excellent read-aloud experience.

Slavin’s illustrations make excellent use of colour and texture to create mood. Stanley’s facial expressions alone are worth the cover price. Slavin’s sprawling art makes full use of the two page spread. Perhaps his true talent is knowing what NOT to draw, as he manages to pack in loads of detail without clutter. Scenes are shown from the dog’s eye view, a tactic designed to draw the child into Stanley’s world.

The book is perfect for one-on-one reading, and just big enough for story times. Some of the visuals may be lost in larger crowds but there’s still plenty to discover. With solid binding, a sturdy jacket and excellent paper quality this title should withstand multiple re-readings. That’s a good thing because this is a story children will want to hear again and again.