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Now listen carefully, 007… Oct 05

Is liking Die Another Day a controversial view?

That question came on up on Twitter this morning so I thought I’d find out pseudo-scientifically. I’ve looked at the Internet Movie Database‘s rating for each film and here’s what the people scoring them say:

Graph of Bond scores - raw date in table

2006’s Casino Royale is the clear winner, and there are a few other interesting notes: there’s a clear early peak at Goldfinger – very much received wisdom – but that’s also the most watched (if we count ratings as viewers) of the early films. OHMSS has less attention paid to it than any of the other official Bond movies.

But what of Die Another Day? It hits a relatively poor 6.0, which you can see more clearly in context from the full data, ordering by score:

Year Film Rating Raters
2006 Casino Royale 7.9 253817
1964 Goldfinger 7.8 77120
1963 From Russia with Love 7.5 47393
1962 Dr. No 7.3 61548
1995 GoldenEye 7.2 114333
1977 The Spy Who Loved Me 7.1 41204
1965 Thunderball 7.0 44021
1967 You Only Live Twice 6.9 40873
1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 6.8 32162
1973 Live and Let Die 6.8 40291
1981 For Your Eyes Only 6.8 39364
2008 Quantum of Solace 6.8 163854
1971 Diamonds are Forever 6.7 41574
1974 The Man with the Golden Gun 6.7 38891
1987 The Living Daylights 6.7 38634
1983 Octopussy 6.6 40163
1989 Licence to Kill 6.5 41075
1997 Tomorrow Never Dies 6.4 82866
1999 The World is Not Enough 6.3 93250
1979 Moonraker 6.2 39503
1985 A View to a Kill 6.2 38112
1983 Never Say Never Again 6.1 30605
2002 Die Another Day 6.0 101478
1967 Casino Royale 5.2 15322

So Die Another Day is easily the least popular of the official canon, even pipped by rotten Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again, and only saved from the ignominy of last place by the presence of the weird 60s version of the movie that’s top of the list.

6.0 isn’t, in the scheme of things, a terrible score, so plenty of people must like the film. Nevertheless, from a Bond fan perspective, yes – going out to bat for Die Another Day is a little bit controversial.

Which isn’t very surprising because it is rubbish.

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My top bestest films of all time (subject to change) Aug 02

With the bravado that only a national cinema organisation of great standing can muster, the British Film Institute has decreed which films are the Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. It’s a poll weighted heavily to academics and critics – and, as a result, is rather pseudish, brimming with films that the reviewers’ would like people to know that they’ve seen and appreciated. It’s a selection of highbrow films, lest those who make a living from the movies be associated with something as lowbrow as “fun”.

Not that there aren’t fun films in the list or good films in the list. Of course there are. But it’s not an accessible list; not a list overwhelmed with movies that people who aren’t critics might have seen. I’m sure I’d enjoy many of the films on the list – although of the seven I have seen, there are a couple I’d happily not sit through again.

The only response then – as already demonstrated with Laurie’s Top 20 films of all time – is to share our own lists.

In Doctor Who fandom, a world dominated by lists in the way only true obsessives can achieve, we speak of two categorisations: favourite and best. It allows you to concede that the best story of season 11 is Doctor Who and the Time Warrior while harbouring much stronger personal feelings for the romping finale that is Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders. So this is a list of favourites that I also think are pretty damn good.

There are plenty of good quality films I would include in a more objective list but of which I’m not a particular fan – The Godfather being a prime example. As with the BFI’s, I’ve written a little bit about the entries in the top part of the list.

I reserve the right to change my mind about all of these tomorrow.

The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time

  1. Back to the Future
  2. If you excuse the somewhat dubious application of time travel theory (why would certain body parts disappear first when history is changed?), this is pretty much a flawless film. Fox and Lloyd are excellent, the script is brimming with laughs, the direction is spot on and the theme song is a karaoke classic. Five Deloreans out of five.

  3. Sleuth
  4. Adapted by Anthony Shaffer from his own stage play, this is wonderful. Pompous author Laurence Olivier and upstart hairdresser Michael Caine bound around a big country house attempting to outwit each other. There are twists, turns, a line of dialogue pilfered by The Smiths and a magnificently hammy performance from Olivier.

  5. Clue
  6. This one was never going to get anywhere near the BFI’s list but it’s an absolute joy. Thoroughly silly and unashamedly lacking in any deep meaning, this farce’s three different endings make it particularly good value for money – as it should be with Yes, Minister‘s Jonathan Lynn behind it. The cast are great – it’s Christopher Lloyd’s second film in the top three – but the stand-out performance is Madeline Kahn’s, whose Mrs White is unforgettably weird.

  7. Psycho
  8. Marion Crane comes from Phoenix and eats like a bird. There may be a theme there, although it’s somewhat tangential to the main thrust of the film, as Norman Bates’s naughty mother starts killing visitors left, right and- Well, there are only the two murders. The shower scene is probably the most famous cinematic murder in history, but if anything (and perhaps because of that) the second is the greater shock.

  9. 12 Angry Men
  10. I saw 12 Angry Men for the first time a couple of months ago as part of my attempt to watch all of the films in the IMDB’s Top 250 (I’m up to 108, although it varies because the list changes over time). I was blown away by how good it is – especially since the fame of the film means I had a pretty good idea how it was going to go. The only shame is that, by its nature, there are no women in it at all.

  11. In Bruges
  12. The most recent film in my list, coming from 2008. I should hate it. The posters had actually put me off. A gangster film with Colin Farrell? No thanks. But it’s terrific – and not really a gangster film at all. It’s about the relationship between two Irish criminals, delivered through strong performances and a brilliant, theatrical script that begs to be performed. One of my favourite scenes (in any film) involves Brendan Gleeson on the phone, the only character on screen for several minutes, completely captivating as he trades bon mots with an unseen Ralph Fiennes.

  13. The Wicker Man
  14. Virginal policeman Edward Woodward visits a creepy Scottish island, with less than hilarious consequences. Weird, suspenseful and with a glorious finale, there is the added bonus of Christopher Lee luxuriating in the role of Lord Summerisle. Spoilers: there’s a wicker man in it.

  15. The Princess Bride
  16. A film I’ve perhaps slightly grown out as I’ve become more cynical but this was wonderful when I was younger. A lovely, funny fairy tale, full of memorable scenes (who can’t quote “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”?), and all told to Fred Savage off of The Wonder Years (now 36!) by loveable grandfather Peter Falk.

  17. The Usual Suspects
  18. Not a film I thought I’d enjoy; I was pleased to be proved wrong. It’s good all the way through but earns its high placing thanks to one of the best endings of any film ever.

  19. Kind Hearts and Coronets
  20. Alec Guinness playing every member of an extended family, men and women alike, while Dennis Price tries to bump them off? Sounds off but the result is one of the delightfully fine British films ever made. (Yes, a third black and white film in the my top ten. That must make me all arty and cool.)

  21. Vertigo
  22. With its iconic Saul Bass title sequence and much-copied pull back and zoom effect (as notably used in Jaws), Vertigo follows clean cut Jimmy Stewart as he gets increasingly obsessed about a woman he saw fall to her death. That’s not going to end well.

  23. The Thomas Crown Affair
  24. Before you nod approvingly at my choice of a sixties classic, hold your horses – because this is the 1999 remake with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. More quickly paced, sexy and fun, this is far more enjoyable than the original. Clever, stylish, and another film with a terrific climax.

  25. The Lives of Others
  26. Yes, BFI, I can do foreign language films too. This German movie from 2006 is set in 80s East Berlin and examines the results of state surveillance through the ears of a Stasi agent who becomes obsessed with the subjects of his surveillance.

  27. Frenzy
  28. Hitchcock’s penultimate film and one of his less well known, this marks a return to London, featuring a bustling Covent Garden in its dying days as a fruit market. The neck tie murderer (that’s his method, not his victim) is on the loose. While laid-back policeman Alec McCowen attempts to solve the crime (and to avoid his wife’s culinary experimentations), Jon Finch tries to prove his innocence and Barry Foster off of Van der Valk swans about looking suave. A strong, seedy thriller.

  29. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  30. A rolling boulder, a magical Ark of the Covenant, Denholm Elliott, a stonking John Williams theme tune, Steven Spielberg behind the camera and Harrison Ford creating a new sardonic action hero. Oh, and that bit where he shoots the guy with the whip. What’s not to love?

  31. The Sixth Sense
  32. I don’t care if you worked out the twist. I didn’t and went “Ooh” in the cinema.

  33. The Sting
  34. Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer tinkles away, welcoming us to the 1930s Illinois and the 1970s film version of Hustle. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Newman and Redford – reunite to play an experienced con man and the slightly wet protegé who brings him out of retirement to take down gangster Robert Shaw. It won seven Oscars, but more importantly it’s good, twisty fun.

  35. Se7en
  36. Forever destined to be associated with the phrase “What’s in the box?”, this is a second 1995 Kevin Spacey film to grace by list – and he’s suitably creepy in this one. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s police officers – the latter soon to retire, in classic form – are on the hunt for a killer whose methods of murder relate to the Seven Deadly Sins. You’ve got to have a hobby, I suppose.

  37. Goldfinger
  38. Although the third bond film, Goldfinger is the most iconic, featuring golden Shirley Eaton, the laser interrogation, Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, Fort Knox, Oddjob’s hat and that theme tune.

  39. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  40. I was introduced to this a few year’s ago on the outdoor screen at Somerset House. Fittingly, while we were waiting for the film to start, Dr David Owen appeared from the Admiralty and walked through the crowd. Well I thought it was fitting. A very odd Kubrick film with some brilliant moments and one of the best lines in film: “You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

  41. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  42. This one’s in foreign too. I is cultured.

  43. Fight Club
  44. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  45. Shaun of the Dead
  46. Yes, you heard me.

  47. Evil Under the Sun
  48. Another Shaffer script and a load of camp old fun.

  49. Brick
  50. A noir thriller set in a school.

  51. A Fish Called Wanda
  52. From Russia with Love
  53. Twelve Monkeys
  54. Back to the Future Part II
  55. The Fifth Element
  56. Gattaca
  57. Underrated science fiction with Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman. And, I’ve just remembered, Gore Vidal.

  58. Murder on the Orient Express
  59. It doesn’t matter if you know whodunnit.

  60. Being John Malkovich
  61. Inspiredly bonkers.

  62. A Clockwork Orange
  63. Brazil
  64. The Silence of the Lambs
  65. Ffffttttfftttffftttffftt

  66. The Empire Strikes Back
  67. Marginally better than the first one.

  68. Sneakers
  69. More Robert Redford. Has Superman’s dad from Lois & Clark in too. And Danny from The West Wing.

  70. Star Wars
  71. All About Eve
  72. Les Diaboliques
  73. Clouzot, you know.

  74. The Man Who Knew too Much
  75. Hitchcock’s colour remake of his own black and white film.

  76. The Dark Knight
  77. The Game
  78. Michael Douglas has quite a night out.

  79. North by Northwest
  80. Airplane!
  81. I picked the wrong day to give up making lists.

  82. The Truman Show
  83. The Lord of the Rings
  84. Yes, the whole thing.

  85. Galaxy Quest
  86. And why not?

2009 Dec 31

I don’t send round robin letters with my Christmas cards. I don’t usually manage to send Christmas cards. But if I did send cards and if I did include a letter, the tradition would be to brag about how my kids are doing so well in school and how gorgeous our new kitchen is.

Failing that, I thought I’d have a quick look back at some of the stuff that happened to me me me me me this year. I thought it might be cathartic. For me. Me me me. (Links to Twitpics where appropriate.)


I took part in the first round of the Laughing Horse New Act Competition. I made it through to the quarter finals, which was nice. Thank you to the big gaggle of people who came along to support me. One of those was Michael of the thomyk podcast. Oh yes, I’ve been doing stand-up. Not sure I’ve mentioned that on the blog before. So yes.

I am relying on my Google Calendar, which tells me that nothing else of interest happened in January.


Things started hotting up in February when a toffee removed one of my fillings. There followed quite a lot of visits to the dentist and, after the second attempt to install it, a new gold filling. I now genuinely hear a ding! whenever I smile.

February was also the month of a night at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill (acts included this ukulele band); of Twestival, where I met Thom of the thomyk podcast; and of my quiet retirement from the Lib Dem Voice editorial team.


Mid-March was the quarter final of the Laughing Horse competition. That time I didn’t get through to the next round. Ah well. The competition is back in 2010 and I’m taking part again. I should probably take a similar perseverance approach to Mastermind – I had my unsuccessful audition in March too.

At the beginning of the month, I went grave hunting not far from where I live and finally tracked down my great-grandmother’s grave marker in an overgrown and badly kept part of Camberwell New Cemetery.

At the end of the month was Barcamp London 6, a geeky unconference held at the lovely theguardian offices in King’s Cross. I gave a talk on politics and twitter. I’m afraid it was rather dull.


April was the biggest making-stuff-to-go-on-the-internet month. The first weekend saw the 2009 48 Hour Sci-Fi Film Challenge, in which my team produced the short Pressure Valve in less than two days. As part of that, I met Billy from the internet.

At the end of the month, with Michael on one of his many overseas jaunts, I joined Thom as a stand-in host of the thomyk podcast. In retrospect, that episode talks rather too much about Michael Jackson.

April was also the first and currently last time I played squash. Yes, squash.


May was quite a big month. I turned 30 and celebrated/commiserated with a karaoke bash. I do love karaoke. Helen gave me a ukulele for my birthday which, as YouTube will testify, may have been a tactical error.

It was a good Eurovision Song Contest this year: lots of entertainment during the final came from twitter and I won ¬£30 for correcting predicting Norway’s victory.

I did the last comedy gig of my twenties, which was a fundraiser for the film Booked Out. It went well and premiered a New Joke. The month rounded off with a rather fun 40th birthday bash featuring one song from each of the last 40 years.


Following an internal reorganisation at work, I changed jobs immediately after June’s European elections. I visited Google’s London HQ for a seminar and hosted a fundraising quiz for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. The timing of the local election results meant I missed the Liberty AGM, despite having partly joined a year earlier so that Chris would know someone else there. Thanks to a plea going out on twitter from director Ben Miller and star Noel Clarke, I spent a couple of days in Kilburn as an extra in their new film Huge.

Judging from my diary, it was around June that our local pub quiz team formed, a loose collection of regulars and occasional quizzers who would win every week if only the questions were restricted to one particular TV show. And I’m glad it did because it’s given me lots of nice evenings in the pub with a lovely group of people, all of whom I’ve got to know better as a result.


Having missed the Greenwich Beer Festival, the Ealing Beer Festival and July’s Karaoke Circus at the 100 Club, July’s best moment was Blur in Hyde Park, a brilliant afternoon/evening/night where I bumped into a whole load of old friends. I also did my first gig outside London, at the Birdcage in Norwich, thanks to host Dan McKee.

Travelling back to the capital by car, I stopped at a service station and picked up a copy of Your Family Tree magazine. I’d never bought the magazine before but I thought the article on podcasting might be interesting. Turned out I was in it.


In August, I continued what turned out to be a whole year’s run of missing beer festivals by failing to go to the Great British Beer Festival. I returned to my former home of Leeds for a wedding and made suitable noises as the taxi drove past places I recognised and other appropriate noises when things had closed down or been built. I also went to see Nick on the Fourth Plinth.

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe and saw lots of shows, highlights being those by Richard Herring, Tim Key, The Penny Dreadfuls, William Andrews and Robin Ince. I also did a couple of gigs on the Free Fringe. One of them I’ll be professional and refrain from commenting on; the other was a last minute guest slot in Alan Sharp‘s show, complete with minute or two of new material, which was lots of fun to do and probably my best gig so far.


A busy first week in September included Hackney for the Reece Shearsmith’s Haunted House radio recording; a trip along the District Line on a 1938 Tube train with Helen (her video); and Lloyd Woolf‘s Buy a Weatherperson a Drink Party, where I met the lovely Anna, Simone and James, and the Chief Exec of the Royal Meterological Society.

Derren Brown returned to the TV with his lottery predictions and, through the inadvertent magic of search engine optimisation, I got thousands of views on my Derren Brown lottery song. This was also the subject of my contribution to the first episode of new podcast The Pod Delusion.

Because of who I work for, the big thing in September was always going to be a busy week in Bournemouth for party conference. My main memory is being press ganged into doing stand-up in a hotel bar for our department’s end-of-conference get together and being slightly put off when the new Chief Exec wandered in halfway through. I talked more about party conference in the Pod Delusion’s second episode.

September also saw the second Plinther I went to see in person: the other Will Howells (no relation). Annoyingly, I had to leave for conference a few hours before Mike took the plinth.


Michael took the Plinth in October – an early start to a long day that ended with a rare trip clubbing. The following day I went to Dr Debbie’s very interesting talk on Thatcher. I took a leap of faith and upgraded to an iPhone; a week later I was at Broadcasting House for the recording of the Penny Dreadfuls’ Guy Fawkes radio play fumbling to work out how to switch it off. With Michael off on holiday as soon as he had deplinthed, I made a second guest visit to the thomyk podcast to not talk about Trafigura. In other podcast news, I contributed to the third episode of the Pod Delusion and was guest host of episode five.

I went along to Barcamp London 7 and gave an interactive talk on things that annoy me, which seemed to go down much better than my previous talk. Best moments of October though were Mr and Mrs Morris’s lovely wedding and my first visit to the glorious Karaoke Circus, where, amongst others, I met Paul and Kate.


November featured my doomed attempt at NaNoWriMo; a great gig from Jonathan Coulton with Paul and Storm; Robin Ince’s CD recording; a very funny debut show from Los Quatros Cvnts; more karaoke; more stand-up; a trip to the Bletchley Park fundraiser Boffoonery, where I won a painting; my most recent contribution to the Pod Delusion, on the subject of the Large Hadron Collider; and more. Which might explain why my NaNoWriMo was doomed.


Karaoke Circus returned for a brilliant Christmas show at the beginning of December. Lots of great acts though my favourite was Tony Gardner and Ben Miller’s recreation (here it is on YouTube) of Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s awful Little Drummer Boy. I apparently channelled a cross between Sonny Bono and the Boston Strangler for I Got You Babe.

I went to Stewart Lee’s very good new show and the last two episodes of As It Occurs to Me, which – good news – will return next year. I went to Wales and discovered that the Cardiff councillor I was chatting to in the pub is a (very) distant relation. I enjoyed this year’s 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People and in particular Alan Moore, despite never having read anything he’s written. I went to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time and sang Christmas songs and then it was Christmas and stuff, with my own Christmas message and the thomyk pantomime.


At locations as diverse as the BFI IMAX, the Prince Charles in Soho, a local pub theatre and Bad Film Club at the Barbican, this year I saw Watchmen, Star Trek, Bats, Harry Potter and Whatever the Sixth One’s Called, Milk and Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. I also went to the premiere of State of Play. Milk is probably the best of those and, rarely, a film that actually changed my behaviour: I don’t think I’d have gone to the moving vigil against homophobic violence in Trafalgar Square in October if I hadn’t seen the film a few weeks previously.

Bye bye, 2009

Turns out I’ve done rather more than I remembered. And that was quite cathartic, if a bit egocentric. In retrospect, 2009 was a much more positive, productive year than I’d given it credit for. And as for 2010 – well it’s up to us, isn’t it?

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48 hours Apr 19

Two weekends back, I took part in the Sci-Fi-London 48 Hour Film Challenge 2009. The name gives a pretty good summary of the objective: make a science fiction film from scratch in 48 hours.

There now follows a very laborious discussion of how we made our film. If you just want to watch it, I’d skip to the end…

On the Saturday morning, Simon and I joined the hoards at the Apollo cinema in Lower Regent Street for a briefing and to be assigned the three elements we would be required to feature in the film (mainly to prove that it really had been made that weekend).

Eagle-eyed viewers may spot us fleetingly at the beginning of this video about the challenge made by the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival team:

So the three elements I skilfully plucked from the metaphorical hats were:

  • Title: Pressure Valve
  • Line of dialogue: “I do not speak your language and you don’t speak mine”
  • Prop: Five ring doughnuts

The other teams, some already laden with equipment, dashed off. Simon and I did what any sensible person would do faced with turning those three things into a film: we went to the pub.

We quickly threw together a basic concept and some key lines of dialogue (aka punchlines), inspired by our prop and the knowledge that we had no decent location in which to film (having spent most effort in preparation on choosing a team name), and then finalised the overall storyline. Matt joined us for lunch and we then headed to Covent Garden to try to source some key props, including the doughnuts. We bought a dozen in, er, case we needed, er, spares.

Shopping done, we jumped on a train back to south London and our own mini-Pinewood (i.e., my flat). Once there, I grabbed my laptop and started writing. An hour or two later the script was drafted, and that version is pretty much what we handed in at the end, save for some tweaks from the cast (they will insist) and some cuts for time (to which we shall return shortly).

Simon and I popped to his for recording equipment and to gather some more props and then we began the small task of converting a tiny corner of our garage into a secret government lab – a government lab so secret that it is based in a garage, apparently. Then Matt and I donned our costumes and at around 7pm Simon called action on the first scene.

We shot the garage scenes in order. With only a breeze blocked wall to film against, the camera angles had to be more 1970s sitcom than sweeping vistas. We recorded the scenes from several angles, ending with many takes of the final shot of the film (I think we ended up using the first). We wrapped the first day’s filming around 11pm (sorry, this is going a bit Andrew Pixley) and left the set intact in case we needed (and had time) to reshoot anything. Simon and I went back to his where he ripped the footage onto his computer and assembled a rough version of the opening.

Sunday began with more editing before we shot the two remaining scenes. Simon arrived with his voiceover (the first of two scripted) recorded and treated. We worked on fitting various shots together. These mostly worked, despite our fairly blasé attitude to continuity, and the first scene was completed by the time our one extra actor arrived to record hers. Looking at the running time so far, my main concern was now that we would run over our five minute maximum.

Watching @nimbos get ready to film us. Reshooting a scene... on TwitpicFilming in a car sounded like a fairly straightforward task but this scene ended up taking several hours. Disruptions included road noises, aeroplane noises, sirens, a car parking behind us causing big continuity problems, and, most significantly, my forgetting my lines and/or corpsing.

When we final had the scene in the can, we reviewed the rushes (as they say in the business) and decided that it would work better shot slightly differently and as one long take. We had fewer problems this time and managed at least two successful takes all the way through.

As it was a single shot, Simon didn’t have to do much editing on the scene – just trimming the start and finish and adding our flashback effect – but the one take also meant there was no scope to cut lines if we overran. We therefore chose the second, shorter take, despite some sound problems and a tiny fluff in one of my lines.

Assembling the final scene, we threw out my last line, a section of Matt pacing around, Simon’s second voiceover (the only bit of the script never recorded), and a second flashback – probably a whole page of the script in total. We had to cut back a little further so the action we had filmed still made sense without these parts. That still left us a fair few seconds over so we went through looking for any moments we could remove. We trimmed the title card, overlaying it onto the action; we reduced the beginning and end of the car scene; we shortened some shots; and finally we excised four seconds from one of my speeches, covering it by cutting to a new angle.

The film now dead on five minutes long, all that remained was for Simon to master the DVDs and then for us to get a copy to the church cinema on time. The DVDs were finished around midnight on the Sunday, resulting in this breathless 12seconds video:

We did it! #sfl09 on

I had taken the Monday off work to make up for not having had a restful weekend and so delivered the film to the Sci-Fi-London team with an hour or two to spare. And this morning, I went back to the Apollo and saw it on the big screen. There’s something quite cool about seeing yourself on a cinema screen, even if you are hamming it up. (Once all the films submitted are online, I’ll post up a link.)

So after that deeply insightful behind-the-scenes romp, you’ll be left wondering where this magnum opus is. Wait no longer. The Middlemen present Pressure Valve:

Update: Read about the making of another entrant, the Pink Bear Club’s Kromwell’s Theory on Robin Fry’s blog.