Wednesday, December 19, 2007

These Are a Few (More) of My Favorite Things

With 2007's movies out of the way, let's move on to the rest of the world:


One comment I recently read on a blog put it perfectly: "Stay away from the Scrabulous, it's a writer-slayer." And how. I'd estimate I've spent 70 hours playing since I joined up in mid-October. When I used to play countless hours of high-speed Tetris (on Nintendo) in high school and college, I would sometimes have trouble falling to sleep at night because the board was imprinted on my eyelids like the sun. Now, I sometimes spend the moments before dozing off calculating the value of words that just pop onto the board in my head: "tingles," on double word score, with bonus for using all my least 66 points. "Extras," with the x on triple letter score, 29 points. That kind of thing.

This is unhealthy, is what I'm saying.

It would be easier to see it as worthwhile if it genuinely improved my vocabulary, but mostly I'm learning that words like "EA" and "OI" can help out in a pinch. In other words, Scrabulous may be helping me to communicate better with mice.

I've used all seven of my letters 25 times (the site keeps track for you -- I'm not that far gone...yet). My favorite instances were "airliner," "reallot," and "shuteye."

Someone at a party told me -- and I believe everything I hear at parties -- that Scrabulous is, amazingly, not associated in any official way with Scrabble. Huh. Kind of makes me want to start my own site -- Monopolitude. I bet there's money in that.

Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe
and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Robinson's book came out in 2005, maybe even 2004, but I'd be remiss to leave it off the list, because I finished it in '07 and it's one of my favorite novels. I've already focused on it twice -- here, and here -- so you can refer to those posts. Read the book if you haven't.

Gilead is modest, quiet but profound in both craft and effect, and Jamestown is a pyrotechnic event, in which Sharpe reimagines the settlement by imagining a futuristic version of it. In this version, Pocahontas sends IM messages to people under the handle "CornLuvr." That detail will have to suffice as a description of the book's genuinely goofy spirit, but the goofs add up to something substantial. It would take more time than I have here to get at that substance, so I'll just say that I think Sharpe's novel was one of the more underappreciated of 2007. I saw it in manuscript form while at my previous job, and it was a wild rebuke to the sameness of novels about nothing in particular. It's possible that Jamestown verges on being about too much, but that seems like a good problem to have these days.

(Tangentially, for those of you interested in the science of human reflexes, I can't seem to type Sharpe without writing "Sharper" first -- I honestly did it again when I wrote it just there; that's how ingrained it is. Crazy neurons.)

Time Out Film Guide

I'd been looking for a king of movie guides for a while. I used to rely on VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever, which is still a perfectly respectable choice in my opinion. (I have fond memories of my friend Jason laughing -- at, not with me -- whenever I'd sum up its opinion of a movie with something like, "They gave it two bones.")

Many thanks to another friend named Jason for pointing me in the direction of the London-based Time Out guide. It's elegantly designed, user-friendly, and comprehensive. Those are the three big criteria for such a guide, but Time Out adds a fourth quality to put it over the top: sharp writing. When they say of Night of the Hunter that "(Charles) Laughton's only stab at directing...turned out to be a genuine weirdie," those last two words may sound vague, but if you've seen the movie you know they're right on. And this at the end of the review for Days of Heaven: "Eventually...the narrative collapses, leaving its audience breathlessly suspended between a 90-minute proof that all the bustling activity in the world means nothing, and the perfection of Malick's own perverse desire to catalogue it nonetheless. Compulsive." (I also think its take on Malick's The Thin Red Line is perfect.) Even when it stoops to insult something as great as The Muppet Movie, it does it in style: "...the attitude towards Miss Piggy and Camilla the Chicken is, well, less than progressive."

In Rainbows by Radiohead

Welcome back, guys. I remain firmly rooted in my opinion that The Bends and OK Computer are likely to be their win-place exacta for the rest of time, but this collection of slow burners at least makes them relevant again after the increasingly obscure burbles of Kid A (which has several strong moments), Amnesiac (which runs together), and Hail to the Thief (which I didn't even bother investigating).

30 Rock

I haven't done the rigorous scientific breakdown yet, but I do think the second season of 30 Rock is less consistently funny (by a hair) than the first. It's still better than any other comedy on network TV by a good distance, and it fills the all-important need for a generator of catch phrases: "Me want food!" "What am I, a farmer?" "Banter!"

(I try to keep the blog smut-free, so for those of you looking for a more salacious picture of Tina Fey -- and I don't blame you -- you'll have to click here.

Just kidding, click here.)

Cease to Begin by Band of Horses

It's true that this band's terrific sophomore album is sonically similar to their terrific debut, Everything All the Time, but in 2007 some degree of treading water isn't much to complain about when the water's of such high quality. (OK, that metaphor got away from me.) How many bands currently releasing music do you think you might still be excited about ten years from now? I could count them on one hand, and these guys make the list. Or make the hand. Whatever. I'm leaving this entry before I mangle the language again.

Age Old Hunger by Christopher Denny
and Emotionalism by The Avett Brothers

Like Gillian Welch, Christopher Denny tries to faithfully recreate something that may have never existed: country music that is both rural-inflected and cosmopolitan-tinged, self-aware and unironic. In a warbling, consciously old-timey croon, he delivers songs that sound like they could only be authentically enjoyed by mid-century hobos or sad, hardworking people in bars with sawdust on the floor. What allows him to not only salvage the project but make it feel vital are two things: 1) He occasionally rocks. Several songs on Age Old Hunger -- “All Burned Up” and the instrumental “Goin’ Home,” to name two -- aren’t going to be confused for AC/DC, but they’re designed for the dancin’ that happens when the cryin’ is over. 2) He writes good songs.

The Avett Brothers seem to have one foot (or three of their six feet) planted firmly in the authenticity-averse hipster universe. (Though, in fairness, I learned about both them and Denny from Pitchfork.) Where Denny sings things like, "It hurts me so to look at the stars tonight / 'cause I'm thinking of you and the way that things used to be," the Avett Brothers sing, "Love writes a letter, and sends it to Hate / 'My vacation's ending, I'm coming home late'." Still, they're at least as earnest in their way. If you click on this link (you know you want to), you can see them perform a song called "Paranoia in BB Major" on Late Night. Conan seems geeked out about it at the end, if that counts for anything.

William James

James died in 1910, so it’s safe to say I’m exercising some license with this one. I read The Varieties of Religious Experience in October and recognized almost immediately that: 1) It was the best thing I'd ever read; 2) It was going to send me on a James-related reading spree (which it has); and 3) At 33, I had found some combination of intellectual hero and pal from beyond the grave. I've got much more to share about James, so I'm devoting a week of the blog to him in January. I guarantee it won't be boring. Rather, I guarantee it won't be boring to me. I hope you feel the same. More details soon...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

DAMN Tina!!!

She is so fine.

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Dezmond said...

Good call on the Band of Horses. In the spirit of the old Year's Best Music lists we used to exchange, I went out and bought the two Band of Horses discs recently based on your raves. The sophomore effort is good, but the debut is brilliant.

9:13 PM  

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