Fill My Queue: An Open Poll

My Netflix queue has close to 200 titles just sitting in it, but most of them are your basic fillers, those films that look mildly or even more than a little interesting but that only make it to the queue because otherwise you’d forget about them completely. I’ve got some stuff on there that I’m excited about, yes, but most of it’s not that thrilling.
So I’m asking the literally sevens of people who read this blog to give me any and all ideas for movies or TV shows I should see. A handy list of almost every movie I’ve ever seen can be found here.
Okay. Let me hear it.
UPDATE: These suggestions are all great, and also helpful reminders of things I’ve actually left of the master list. (Like Punch-Drunk Love, which I actually own, and Real Genius, which is classic for so many reasons, from the boy who looks like Sarah Jessica Parker to the ending strains of Tears for Fears.) My Netflix queue is about to swell to epic proportions, but it’s gonna be worth it.

Plus He Probably Smells Good: An Online Transcript

Sis: welp
me: yep
i like obama so much i wanna name my kid barack
Sis: 🙂
i bet there will be kids named barack starting soon
me: i bet if you say the name barack 3 times a pony appears and takes you on a ride in the sky
Sis: ooh ooh ooh
try it!
me: i can’t type right now, MY PONY JUST ARRIVED
me: i bet if you whisper barack’s name to a tree it sprouts fruit
Sis: haha
if you sing barack’s name facing the sky, will it rain?
me: it’ll rain gumdrops!
Sis: wow!
me: if you say barack’s name in the shower it gets rid of any lime or mildew stains
Sis: if you write barack’s name on a slip of paper and leave it under your pillow at night, you’ll wake up 5 years younger
me: i have to try that!
if you get a puppy and name it barack, it will never die
Sis: [changes bama’s name to barack]
if you chant barack’s name while taking 10 steps backward, then jump in the air and yell “change!,” a genie will appear to grant you three wishes.
me: if you think barack’s name underwater, you can hold your breath for up to an hour
Sis: if you stare at your reflection in the mirror, without blinking, and repeat barack’s name five times, your eyesight will correct itself
me: if you say barack’s name while doing laundry, all your stains come right out
… basically, barack’s name is possessed of many talismanic qualities
Sis: it appears that way
[The Sis and I have also spoken about related matters.]

All In The Game: Thoughts On Getting My Ass Kicked By “The Wire”

In a lot of ways, I don’t have anything new to add to the juggernaut that is “The Wire,” David Simon’s uncompromising, engrossing, and completely fantastic series that’s nominally about the lives and misdeeds of a group of Baltimore detectives but is more accurately a Greek tragedy about the decline of the American empire and that decline’s fallout in urban environments. Coming late to the party and seeing a show only on DVD and only after it’s ended its on-air run is always a bittersweet experience: Even as you revel in the glory of a show that’s new to you, you’re hit with the knowledge that you could have been watching it week to week, or month to month, or holding out each year for that hallowed day when the show, your show, returned. But then, absorbing the show on DVD offers that rare pleasure of instant gratification, with each episode’s viewing determined not by the whims of the network but only by how fast you’re willing to burn through the series.
I began the series one summer night, and viewing it consumed the next several weeks of my life: Rented movies sat unwatched on my shelf, and I was glad that the other shows I cared about had yet to return for their fall seasons. (Although I have not yet begun to process the eventual disappointment that will set in when I return to watching [even admittedly good] pop TV shows after spending the summer with Baltimore’s finest.) Watching a series like that always lets you fall in passionate love with it, like reading a genuinely engrossing novel, and Simon and his critics have all talked at length about how the show is in many ways a visual novel, presenting a definite arc and structure with each chapter, whether it’s the drug trade, the port unions, politics, education, or the media. Every season is connected, but each one also has a definitive end, a moment where the story concludes. I quote my sister in regard to the show’s unflinching introspection: “Simon’s epic is a tragic one, and he’s not content to end the best series in the history of television on a light note. He’s too let down by everything, especially the newspaper industry. But it’s real, and unflinching, and it tells the story of what really is going on in America’s cities.”
Everything about “The Wire” is superb, and a lot of the love I (and others) feel for it can I think be traced to one of the tenets of how I view art and film and life and criticism and everything in the first place. When I was a kid, I had just a raging temper problem, lashing out at my family with a regularity that would’ve driven weaker parents to give up. One of the things my father drove home on the occasions I was lectured (and these were many): “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” His point was one about the way in which anger manifests itself in speech and personal interaction, and while he was right, that maxim has come to mean so much more. A lot of TV series that receive critical attention or success with viewers are lauded for their content, when what’s actually being applauded is the idea of the content. In other words, people sometimes don’t make a distinction between the story and the way in which it’s presented. It doesn’t matter how nuanced the performances are in, say, an arc about a father condemning himself to save his son; for some people, the fact that the story exists in the first place is enough to excuse anything from lack of polish to whole great swaths of broad characterizations that leave you with caricatures of people pretending to say things no one would ever remotely say. Look at Don Draper; look at Jimmy McNulty; you will know the difference.
Anyway, here are a few clips. They’re spoiler-free and, as such, pretty random, but still enjoyable:
The tale of Snot Boogie:

Bunk teaches McNulty about trace evidence:

“It always starts with something true”:

Avon reflects on the game:

McNulty and Bunk reconstruct a crime scene:


Music Video Of The Week — 19

Almost Famous was on cable the other day, which is one of those movies I am physically unable to not watch whenever I stumble across it. In addition to realizing once again that Cameron Crowe will never make a better movie (or Kate Hudson, for that matter), it reminded me how much I still enjoy Led Zeppelin. In that spirit, here are two of my favorite songs from the band:
“Going to California”:


In Which My Sister And I Invoke Aaron Sorkin While Unconscious (Or Anyway She Does, And Brings Me Along)

My sister emailed me to relate her dream last night:

Last night, I had a dream that you and I were at some sort of small gathering somewhere, a lecture-type setting, and the guest speaker was John McCain. We were total assholes, muttering things under our breath and eventually outright heckling him. Eventually, I stood up and started demanding answers from him on a variety of topics. And then the showstopper: I ended with “This is a time for American heroes, and we reach for the stars. THE STARS.” Yep. Then Bama woke me up, so who knows if Secret Service tackled me or not.

It’s possible her dream was caused by our reading and discussing this opinion piece via email and Facebook messages, though she and I are also big fans of the speech in question.

Poor Yorick

(Photo by Steve Rhodes via Flickr)

David Foster Wallace killed himself over the weekend, and I’m still figuring out how to process it.

I spent the summer after I graduated college reading Infinite Jest, which is really the only way to read it. I turned 22 that summer, and spent my days waiting tables at a steakhouse for cowboys who tipped poorly, most likely out of resentment that fate had given me them instead of the blond in the denim skirt. But with everyone I knew having moved away and my own departure for sunny Southern California still a couple months off, I had little else to do with myself than plow through David Foster Wallace’s massive, sprawling, gorgeous book.

I loved everything about it. The story burned itself into my central nervous system as few had before or ever will. If a great film is one that keeps playing in your head long after the lights have come up, then surely a great book is one whose characters and situations never stop resonating and whose worldviews become tied into your own. I still see Joelle Van Dyne, and Hal Incandenza, and Bimmy. I still see them. The book was huge, and dense, and footnoted to a ridiculous degree with an appended section of everything from clarifications to conversations to whole flashbacks. Reading it was finding something new and wonderful.

And that was what made me fall in love with Wallace’s writing. More than just enjoying his short stories, novels, and narrative nonfiction, I can usually remember where I was or what was going on in my life the first time I read a given book of his. (E.g., I remember reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again when I went home for my sister’s college graduation, and also trying to bite my tongue in the airport while reading “Getting Away From Already Being Pretty Much Away From It All,” a piece about Wallace’s trip to the Illinois State Fair that made me convulse with quiet laughter so much that people actually looked at me funny.)

His stuff was sharp, and big, and he felt like mine, you know? Films are communal things by virtue of the nature of their consumption, but a book is a private thing, and no two people will read something or take it to heart the same way. “Big Red Son” is a glorious essay, and “Authority and American Usage” rubbed the grammar nerd in me in all the right ways. Wallace was fiendishly smart, and he used that intellect both to strive for a higher quality of writing and to joyfully break the rules when he wanted to. I know Wallace was lauded for his ambition and skill and genius, all of it deserved, but while on one level I mourn the loss of a great author, on another I’m brokenhearted that that part of me will never get anything new. Rereading his books now will bring with the act a sense of sadness and regret that the words I’m reading are part of a finite supply.

Wallace’s books are complicated and challenging affairs, but they’re also rewarding: You’re ushered into a world so thoroughly realized and so painfully real that the story becomes more meaningful than you’d have guessed. Infinite Jest (and The Broom of the System, and others) builds toward a frantic ending that stops short of where a more conventional narrative would end, but to have gone on longer would have been to serve character over the need to create a certain style and kind and way of story. I can’t help but reel at the sad parallel between Wallace’s life and that kind of tragic pre-ending some of his stories offered, but I can’t help but smile weakly at the way it all came out. I will miss this man and his works, but damn if he didn’t change my life.

Here are a few links I’ve found. They offer a fractioned glimpse at the man’s style and thoughts, but for newcomers, I’d recommend Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. And of course, Infinite Jest. It’s worth the time.

• Profile of Roger Federer
• “Host”
• “Consider the Lobster”
• “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley”
• “Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think”
• “Authority and American Usage”
• Some of the above can be found in this round-up of pieces Wallace wrote for Harper’s, available as PDFs.
• “David Lynch Keeps His Head”
• “F/X Porn”

• There’s also John’s wonderful appreciation of DFW.
• Additionally, KCRW’s Bookworm has added a pair of DFW programs to its archive and will be doing one in memoriam that will undoubtedly find its way there before long. The first is from May 1997, the second is from August 1999.

I Still Fly Even Though I’m Gonna Fall, But I’m Too Far Gone To Let It Get To Me

Just to get the obvious out of the way up front: Seeing Kasey Chambers live is a pretty fantastic experience.
I caught her Wednesday night at Hotel Cafe as part of a brief U.S. tour to promote Rattlin’ Bones, which has been out for a little while in Chambers’ native Australia but is just seeing stateside release this month. It’s a fantastic record — my favorite song might be “Once in a While”, but really, it’s hard to pick — so I was excited to get to see her tour behind it. But more than just plug the new record, she and husband Shane Nicholson, with whom she recorded the new album, put on an amazing show that featured deep album cuts from her older stuff. Her dad, Bill Chambers, was there playing and singing backup like he’s been doing for a while, and watching the three of them play together was wonderful. Their harmonies are fierce, and they opened up with an acappella version of “I Still Pray” that almost made me lose control. She did “Still Feelin’ Blue” and talked about her love for Gram Parsons and Carter Family stuff; she did “Last Hard Bible,” a rootsier version of “Barricades & Brickwalls” that still had Bill on electric guitar; and she did a gorgeous piano arrangement of “The Captain” that, among other things, reminded me of John’s observations about an artist doing two drastically different but equally impressive versions of their own work.
I’ve included a partial set list below (blame the fact that I don’t know all of Nicholson’s songs), as well as videos where available. She’s playing a few other dates soon, including an in-store show at Amoeba and a concert in Austin, so at the risk of writing something that’s gonna be dated in just a little while, I strongly encourage my friends in Austin/central Texas to catch her at the Cactus Cafe in Austin on Sept. 13, which is this Saturday, if you can make it. You will enjoy every song and leave a better person.
As for me, I was just happy to see her live. Who knows how often she’ll tour the States, let alone play the kind of venue in L.A. that weeds out anyone who doesn’t know about this kind of music. Sometimes I think Los Angeles is the best place to live if you like really good country and alt-country; you’re in a devoted minority, and you get shows as amazing as this one.
Set List:
I Still Pray (a cappella)
Last Hard Bible
On a Bad Day
Still Feelin’ Blue
Short Fuse, Part 2 (Nicholson solo)
Rattlin’ Bones
Monkey on a Wire
The Captain (on piano)
These Pines
Barricades & Brickwalls
Sleeping Cold
One More Year
Woe Is Mine


I look forward to the day when all the veterans from World War II and Vietnam are finally dead and gone.
That probably sounds unimaginably harsh, but I can’t help it. I don’t hate the men, but what’s become of their duty in pop culture. Those were the last two major wars that used a draft, and the last ones to become a kind of milestone or clearinghouse for large sections of American youth. Men of a certain age who are running for office are now expected to have participated in those actions, and those who haven’t are painted as being somehow less committed. No one thinks war is a good thing, but a vet running for office is still happy to have the experience under his belt. But the wars of my generation are scattered, mismanaged affairs, and in 30 years a candidate for office will — I hope, I pray, I plead — be able to say, “No, I didn’t fight in either of the Iraq wars. I thought they were bad ideas, so I went to college and got a job instead.” I’m just sick and exhausted of having to assume someone is better or stronger or more courageous simply because they went to war. They’re not, and that’s a dangerous way to elect someone.

Plus There Were Typewriters: An Online Transcript

me: there’s one of these next to my office on the sidewalk:
(sends link)
Sis: nice
me: yeah
kind of a cool jab at, you know, change
i mean, the business sucks right now, completely
still, nice to see someone keep swinging
Sis: seriously
me: like, watching Wire 5 makes me want to be a reporter, but an old one 30 years ago
some old guy who won’t even use a fax machine
Sis: right, totally
it makes you sad that you missed the boat
me: yeah
work some small-town rag, know everyone at the hall, flirt with secretaries, where’s my hat janet i’ve got a meeting
Sis: 🙂
me: “you tell the mayor he can put an egg in his shoe and beat it! we’ve got the exclusive!”
[goes maybe a little overboard]
Sis: hehe
i want to work at your newsroom
me: we don’t have a lot of dolls, but if you’re thick skinned enough, we could use you
Sis: ok
i promise i won’t get my skirt in a knot
me: do it and you’re out on your keyster

Things That Would Make Me Vote For John McCain

• At every speaking engagement and debate until the general election, John McCain and Sarah Palin must perform a duet of “A Whole New World.” Bonus points given for attempts at choreography/set design/dialogue intros, but the song is key.
• McCain must promise to make my dad Secretary of Discussing Where to Get a Good Burger in South Texas.
• At the vice presidential debate, Palin must, whenever not speaking, remove her glasses and chew thoughtfully and (just barely) playfully on one of the stems. Bonus points for complimenting Joe Biden’s posture.
• McCain must promise to put congressional funds into a task force designed to discover a solid financial model to help newspapers adjust to the digital age.
• Four-day work week. Seven hours a day.
• He must make Schlitterbahn a national landmark.
• McCain must spend one debate with Barack Obama discussing the differences in cultural impact between, the psychological profiles of, and the general interpersonal combat readiness of Batman and Superman. It doesn’t matter specifically which side he takes; what I mean is, though I would side with the Caped Crusader, McCain can totally come out swinging for the Son of Krypton. What matters is his knowledge, oratory strength, and critical reasoning.
• He must work the text of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” into every speech and radio address. Example: “When I was in Hanoi, all I could dream about was getting back to my family and friends. I could still remember what life was like before that war: we were young and restless. In a way, we needed to unwind. But I knew nothing could last forever.” Or whatever, you know? Have fun with it.
• Buy my mom a new car.