Ahead on Differential

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Shout out to the Criterion Collection for these sick banners.

Here are ten things.

  1. For the last five weeks, I've had lots of fun on laserdisc.party running the Movie Bowl, a week-long single-elimination poll tournament where 16 movies, selected CFP-style with a deliberately obtuse mix of “box office performance, awards performance, critical reception, long-term popularity, and a vague secret sauce [we're] calling 'canonization',” vie for the title of best movie of that year. We just wrapped up the event for 1999, which The Matrix won quite handily from the 6-seed, defeating the 16-seed Cinderella The Mummy by a score of 83-42. The Matrix joins previous winners Fargo, Jaws, The Princess Bride, Spirited Away, and The Shining.
  2. I got the daily Wordle puzzle in two guesses, two days in a row.
  3. Cam Macaulay, a student at Syracuse University, released the first act of The Chronicles of Syracuse Men's Lacrosse. This series is obviously indebted in spirit and style to the work of the great Jon Bois (especially The History of the Seattle Mariners), and it sometimes feels like regional Boispolitation, but Macauley's own passion, voice, and choices make this an engrossing piece of work in its own right; there's a bigger focus here on institutional forces and, uh, straight-up historical dominance than in the Bois projects. I can't wait for Act II to drop, and from the looks of it, so does Jon.
  4. On her 40th birthday, New Yorker writer Helen Rosner tweeted out a thread of great advice. A relevant entry for yours truly:
    “You can just write things. An article. A poem. A book. You don't have to wait for someone else to say you should. You can just do it. This is still unbelievable to me.”
  5. I watched the Robert Greene wrestling doc Fake It So Real. It follows a troupe of down-on-their-luck wrestlers in North Carolina during the lead up to a big show. Heartbreaking and invigorating.
  6. I had myself an Alfred Hitchcock triple feature of The 39 Steps (good), The Lady Vanishes (great), and Rope (HOLY SHIT!). Hitch sure knew his way around a thriller.
  7. RIP Sidney Poitier and Peter Bogdanovich. In the Heat of the Night and Paper Moon would be my suggested double feature here.
  8. I got a big box of belated Christmas gifts from my family, including a pair of Doc Martens from my eldest sister. I heard third-hand that people in their 30s dress like the cool teen they wanted to be, and between these boots, the long hair, and the new tattoos, I think that would explain a thing or two.
  9. Speaking of Christmas gifts, I used the Mystic Mondays tarot deck Steph gifted me to draw myself a spread for the new year, courtesy of Yoshi Yoshitani. It's a lot of info to parse, but I'm not super duper thrilled about that Tower card for December.
  10. A poem, from the ever-delightful Wikipedia Haiku:
    Politeness, among
    just a few other things, seems
    to go a long way

#tenthings

  1. There's no way #1 wasn't going to be publishing a whole damn book, right? Well, it's a poetry chapbook, but it's a book nonetheless. It's called My House But Not My House, and I've taken to calling it “15 poems about dreams, obsolete tech, the Apocalypse, and other shit.”
  2. The same publisher that put out my book, Montreal's Cactus Press, also put out great work by some friends of mine: Xenia by Willow Loveday Little, Selected Leavings by Jacalyn den Haan, and The Wrong Poem and Others Like It by Jerome Ramcharitar.
  3. Sharing my work on the stage and elsewhere, like that time in August I was filmed reading my poem “The Pearl.”
  4. Vaccination. Kind of speaks for itself.
  5. I got my first two tattoos at the age of 33: the knowledge band from Fantastic Planet on my inner left forearm, and the Rider-Waite-Smith Fool tarot card on my inner right forearm. A thousand thank yous to Valeria from the Grey Market Salon for her wonderful work.
  6. I wrote some blog posts I liked this year, and one of them was “In Praise of Giant Ox”, which is one part my philosophy of playing Magic: The Gathering, one part bad card apologia.
  7. Another blog post that I kept going back to was this one on movies that are “short, good, and secret,” because my movie recommendations could use a little spicing up.
  8. I am eternally grateful to my friends for indulging me in probably the dorkiest thing I ever coaxed them into doing: Big Picture-style movie drafts.
  9. The work of cosmic country troubadour Dougie Poole, specifically his superlative album The Freelancer's Blues.
  10. My Halloween costume, and my friend Emily's Halloween costume.
  11. Every new Doc Destructo is a cause for celebration. His third entry in his Narratives of Disaster series, “Tito Is Just Standing There”, is delightful.
  12. The canon of “American Anime”.
  13. Getting to watch movies in a theatre again, however briefly.
  14. Blaseball continues to be the more interest experiment in emergent storytelling on the whole damn internet. Go Garages!
  15. No pandemic or health mandate will ever be able to destroy the games behemoth known as Jank City.
  16. This October, I went on my first-ever writer's retreat near Mont-Sainte-Anne. It was fun as hell, surprising precisely no one.
  17. Rediscovering nail polish.
  18. Like much of the internet, I was captivated by the “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?” saga.
  19. Jon Bois heads already knew, but this year, scorigami went viral, first thanks to the great Mina Kimes, and then with the help of the Shield itself.
  20. I have fallen down the snake-infested moon crater known as Shutdown Fullcast, the funniest, most freewheeling podcast I've had the pleasure of bingeing this year.
  21. Thanks to the Fullcast, I am now a card-carrying member of the cult of San Diego State's cannon-legged punter Matt Araiza, aka Punt God. Alex Kirschner wrote a great profile of him for FiveThirtyEight.
  22. Season 3 of Joe Pera Talks With You, continuing a run of hilarious and gentle normcore television.
  23. I am super duper ill-read, but I did tear through Patricia Lockwood's No One Is Talking About This, which is funny and perceptive and melancholy in equal amounts. Novels by poets just hit different.
  24. My pal Ian clued me into the work of Vancouver dream-pop band Readymade, which I immediately fell in love with. “Terminal Sounds at Night” was in heavy rotation.
  25. My friend group's private Spotify playlist broke 1,500 songs.
  26. That same friend group organized a surprise 30th birthday party for my friend Catherine, which was a highlight of my summer.
  27. I wrote 46 whole-ass poems; maybe in 2022 I'll hit one a week.
  28. The War on Drugs's fantastic, shimmering new album I Don't Live Here Anymore.
  29. One of the new movies I was fortunate enough to watch in a theatre (specifically and the wonderful Cinéma Moderne) this year was Pig, which features a soulful, subdued performance by the great Nicolas Cage. Mild spoiler: the credits song is an absolutely killer rendition of Bruce Springsteen's “I'm on Fire” by singer-songwriter Cassandra Violet.
  30. At the same theatre, I saw a beautiful 2K restoration of the bugnuts Canadian cult comedy Crime Wave.
  31. I was entranced and befuddled in equal amounts by the Sparks-penned musical Annette. The Mael brothers had a big year besides that; they were also the subject of the very thorough, very enjoyable documentary The Sparks Brothers, directed by superfan Edgar Wright.
  32. From the twisted mind of M. Night Shyamalan comes Old, the exact kind of nutso thriller you want to see on the big screen.
  33. My favourite documentary of the year is Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror, directed by local legend Kier-La Janisse. Thorough, engrossing, informative, stylish.
  34. My second-favourite documentary is The History of the Atlanta Falcons, Secret Base's spiritual sequel to last year's Seattle Marniers doc. As much as I like Jon Bois as a writer, his work as a director is simply staggering.
  35. Rediscovering the simple pleasures of brunch.
  36. My 12th anniversary with my wonderful partner Steph.
  37. Lazy days lounging in athleisure, all tights and tees and hoodies.
  38. Growing my hair out again; I haven't gotten a haircut since last July.
  39. My buddy Alex's work as Dads FM, the ambassador of all things smooth.
  40. Reading tarot for my friends.
  41. My favourite Montreal band, Men I Trust, put out their awesome fourth studio album, the cheekily-titled Untourable Album.
  42. Speaking of awesome fourth albums: Atlanta's finest Faye Webster released the dazzling I Know I'm Funny haha; “In a Good Way” is one of my favourite songs from this year.
  43. The collected online output of Melbourne-based writer Dakota Warren, especially her YouTube channel.
  44. The cinephile deathmatch known as the Movie Bowl.
  45. The top 50 favourite older movies I saw for the first time this year: a thread.
  46. Wojciech Kalinowski's Nova Cut typeface.
  47. My most-watched director this year was the Oklahoma-based filmmaker Mickey Reece and it wasn't particularly close. I discovered him thanks to Katie Rife's awesome profile in the A.V. Club and proceeded to tear through his available back catalogue (check out his bizarre Elvis “biopic” Alien and his wayward-nun riff Agnes).
  48. I got really into sentence diagramming this year, specifically using the Reed–Kellogg system.
  49. Every pet that saw the beginning of the year also made it to the end; shout out to the cats Koopa and Ruby, and the rats Aurora and Dottie.
  50. Austin Kleon continues to be one of the most interesting people I follow on the internet; once again, I must not that I've stolen this whole gimmick from him. His newsletter continues to rule.
  51. Speaking of newsletters, Laura Olin's weekly missive continues to be one of the best things in my inbox.
  52. Matthew Ogle's poetry newsletter Pome is a perfect tiny object.
  53. My friend Amelia is still writing her hilarious Lifetime movie newsletter Don't Threaten Me With a Good Lifetime.
  54. For The Ringer, Ben Lindbergh on the great film writer Danny Peary and his seminal tome Cult Movies.
  55. For Pitchfork, Cat Zhang on city pop.
  56. For Blood Knife, RS Benedict on the sexlessness of the modern blockbuster.
  57. Will Sloan on his time in the fim-crit trenches.
  58. For The New Yorker, Richard Brody on Paul Schrader
  59. Also for The New Yorker, Mike Sacks on the legendary Simpsons writer John Swatrzwelder.
  60. For the Hollywood Reporter, Seth Abramovitch profiles the great Shelley Duvall.
  61. A look inside Bay Area projectionist Paul Clipson's book Reel.
  62. A brief history of the Cheez-It.
  63. It's always fun when an expansion team lands in a major sports league. To that end, say hello to the NHL's Seattle Kraken! Here's a video breaking down how their logo came to be.
  64. For GQ, Chris Gayomali on blink-182 bassist/cancer survivor Mark Hoppus.
  65. Bo Burhman's ourobouric comedy special Inside, just about the best piece of art about the long-term effects of being terminally online.
  66. F.D. Signifier's two-part video essay on the relationship between Kayne West and kayfabe. Part one is here.
  67. Titane, Julie Ducorneau's bizarre, gloppy, emotionally knotty Palme d'Or-winning thriller. This thing is destines to see a million midnight screenings.
  68. The delightful action movie junk food of Nobody. Bob Odenkirk just murking dudes is a sight to behold.
  69. black midi's cavernous, cacophonous every-King-Crimson-album-playing-at-once opus Cavalcade.
  70. Deerhoof are one of those bands I fear I take for granted, because their records are so consistently great. This year they released another one of those, Actually, You Can.
  71. Producer Floating Points, jazz legend Pharoah Sanders, and the entire god damn London Symphony Orchestra got together and created Promises, the lushest and most hypnotic album I've heard all year.
  72. Toronto-via-Charlottetown rockers Kiwi jr. dust off their Pavement and Kinks records and follow up their impressive debut Football Money with the just-as-impressive Cooler Returns.
  73. New York dream-pop band Lightning Bug keeping the 4AD flame alive with their awesome sophomore record A Color of the Sky.
  74. Musk Ox, the finest goth-adjacent instrumental chamber folk trio in the Ottawa Valley, put out their fantastic new record Inheritance.
  75. Everything you need to know about Richmond, Virginia-based Dazy's collection of delectable power pop nuggets is right in the title: MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD.
  76. The Weather Station put out Ignorance, her flirtation with 80s sophisti-pop. Cool as ice.
  77. Two wonderful guitarists, Marisa Anderson and William Tyler, joined forces and released the beautiful, winsome Lost Futures. Music to watch sunsets by.
  78. Steph got me the beautiful Mystic Mondays tarot deck. The edges are holographic and the artwork is vaporwave as hell.
  79. That one time I got super stoned and ate 5,000 calories of Domino's and Krispy Kreme.
  80. The continuing excellence of my favourite podcast All Fantasy Everything.
  81. Brian Raftery's podcast miniseries Gene and Roger, chronicling the relationship and legacy between film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Catnip for an Ebert-head like me.
  82. It's been another stellar year of podcasting from the great Merlin Mann, but his Wisdom Project might be his magnum opus.
  83. My Mastodon instance laserdisc.party trucks on!
  84. A wonderful late-summer road trip to a lakefront cabin in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.
  85. Blank Check's excellent miniseries on the films of John Carpenter, They Podcast.
  86. Using Inktober prompts as springboard for poems.
  87. Some Quinton Reviews video that I can only describe as self-flagellation in the form of media criticism: 220 minutes on FRED, 334 minutes on Victorious, and a staggering 500 minutes (that's eight-plus hours over two videos) on iCarly. You simply must respect it.
  88. Montreal institution Argo moved to a new location a bit further up Sainte-Catherine Street.
  89. Pandemic MVP Jackbox Games put out the highly-anticipated (by me and my friends, at least) Jackbox Party Pack 8. The masters of local multiplayer deliver yet again.
  90. My buddy Ben's brie melt.
  91. 2021 was, much like 2020, the year of the Blue Nile. They were the band I listened to the most and it wasn't particularly close. Hats continues to be a masterpiece among masterpieces.
  92. Baccarat baseball, which is probably the dorkiest thing I've ever come up with, and believe me, there's stiff competition there.
  93. My friends and I's zodiac playlists: Cat's Big Aries Energy and Big Leo Energy, Emily's Big Pisces Energy, and my own Pisces playlist, ZODIAC AQUAMAN.
  94. The good ship Middlebrow Madness inches along, slowly but surely adjudicating the IMDb Top 250 in search of the greatest movie of all time*.
  95. A great Letterboxd list: films that in some shape or form anticipated the notion of being too online.
  96. Petsitting.
  97. The deceptive depth of Wikipedia Haiku.
  98. Remember Lingo? (Any Game Show Network heads out there?) Well, meet Wordle.
  99. FilmGrab, a wonderful repository of film stills.
  100. I'm calling it now: 2022 is the year I get really into Mojave 3.

#top100

And this is the cover

Well, I wrote a chapbook. It's called My House But Not My House. It's fifteen poems about dreams, obsolete tech, the Apocalypse, and other shit. I know for a fact that the first printing sold out, but you can still order it from Cactus Press, the mightiest little independent press in Montreal. Best of all, it'll only set you back ten bucks.

This is still so wild to me. If you've even so much as glanced at my poetry in the past, thank you, thank you, thank you.

#poetry

Here are ten things.

  1. It was Halloween! Because I am an incorrigible dork, I went as Luke Wilson as Richie Tenenbaum. My pal Emily went as Owen Wilson as Eli Cash. It was uncanny. Bonus: true to her handle, Steph went as the softest bunny.
  2. A bunch of us had a quiet night in of costumes, snacks, and the new Jackbox Party Pack. The standout game for me was Job Job, where players use words in each other's answers to prompts to answer completely different questions. A little Survive the Internet, a little Quiplash.
  3. The new big update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons dropped a day early, sending all the Nookheads I know into a tizzy.
  4. Blaseball is back, baby! This new run of seasons, called Short Circuits, is taking place in a different part of the Blaseball metaverse, so the continuing adventures of Jaylen Hotdogfingers will have to wait. But for now, my beloved Seattle Garages are the best team in the Solid League and have an eight-game lead on their nearest division rival. Damn, now I know this is an alternate universe!
  5. Pen nerd shit: I've been having a fun time writing with these Pilot Razor Points. I'm just a sucker for an ultra-fine felt tip pen.
  6. Indianapolis Colts 45, New York Jets 30. I love gridiron football games that have Arenaball scores, but that's not why I'm including this game as one of the ten things. I'm including it here because 45-30 is scorigami, baby! I still love you, Carson Wentz.
  7. Speaking of football: we turn to the college ranks for the silliest news story of the week, in which the Texas Longhorns special teams coach's exotic dancer girlfriend's emotional support monkey fucking bit a kid on Halloween. Yes, you read that correctly. Alex McDaniel at USA Today has a good write-up of the story so far, and the legends at Shutdown Fullcast dedicated an entire episode to it.
  8. Speaking of podcasts (damn, look at this fool go, two segues in a row): We'll Take This One, a podcast about advice columns that is hosted by some online buddies of mine, has shaken off the cobwebs and dropped a new episode. A passing reference is made to the great Wayne White, which made me remember how dope the documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing is (that's a Short Good Secret Hall of Famer right there).
  9. The new War on Drugs record I Don't Live Here Anymore fucking goes. It is precisely my shit.
  10. A poem, via Matthew Ogle's essential newsletter Pome:

I believe in steep drop-offs, the thunderstorm across the lake in 1949, cold winds, empty swimming pools, the overgrown path to the creek, raw garlic, used tires, taverns, saloons, bars, gallons of red wine, abandoned farmhouses, stunted lilac groves, gravel roads that end, brush piles, thickets, girls who haven’t quite gone totally wild, river eddies, leaky wooden boats, the smell of used engine oil, turbulent rivers, lakes without cottages lost in the woods, the primrose growing out of a cow skull, the thousands of birds I’ve talked to all of my life, the dogs that talked back, the Chihuahuan ravens that follow me on long walks. The rattler escaping the cold hose, the fluttering unknown gods that I nearly see from the left corner of my blind eye, struggling to stay alive in a world that grinds them underfoot. —Jim Harrison, “I Believe”

#lists #tenthings

Here are ten things.

  1. I've been loving the Blank Check miniseries on the films of the great John Carpenter. Their last episode at time of writing was on the Chevy Chase vehicle Memoirs of an Invisible Man. This movie is by most accounts Carpenter's first out-and-out dud, snapping an impressive 11-movie winning streak that lasted from 1974 to 1988. Who else had comparable runs? QT? Miyazaki? Malick? Kurosawa?

  2. This leads to my hot take of the week: if you don't have a run of ten good movies (not even masterpieces, just good movies), you're disqualified from the GOAT conversation. Sorry, Steven Spielberg!

  3. I went on a writing retreat out east with nine other writers and it was fun as hell. Aside from getting some actual work done, the experience reminded me of all the positive parts of dorm life (communal meals, drifting in and out of several coversations, spontaneous group activities). My freind Laura went HAM and made the lot of us a four-course meal on the Saturday. I ate panna cotta for the first time. It was rad.

  4. The collected life wisdom of podcaster extraordinaire Merlin Mann.

  5. The Argo, the oldest independent English-language bookstore in Montréal (and the first place I ever read poetry IRL), has settled into a new home.

  6. The new Elvis Costello & the Imposters single “Magnificent Hurt” fucking whips.

  7. What are the records in your Autumn Album Canon? This thread has some dope answers, but my fall listening habits consist of alternating between Neil Young's Harvest and the Clientele's Strange Geometry.

  8. Goth Derek paid me a visit: I got a wild hair up my ass and painted my nails for the first time in over 15 years. My girlfriend Steph said it best: “It's good to be adorned.” For those playing the home game, this is what I ended up using.

  9. RIP Alan Hawkshaw, an English musician and legendary figure in the world of library music. The great Jon Bois eulogized him in a tweet, and there are tons of sick tunes to check out in the replies.

In an effort to get people to look into each other’s eyes more, and also to appease the mutes, the government has decided to allot each person exactly one hundred and sixty-seven words, per day.

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear without saying hello. In the restaurant I point at chicken noodle soup. I am adjusting well to the new way.

Late at night, I call my long distance lover, proudly say I only used fifty-nine today. I saved the rest for you.

When she doesn’t respond, I know she’s used up all her words, so I slowly whisper I love you thirty-two and a third times. After that, we just sit on the line and listen to each other breathe.
—Jeffrey McDaniel, “The Quiet World”

#lists #tenthings

art by Jason Rainville

Here are ten things.

  1. Like most of the internet, I've been transfixed by the ongoing “Bad Art Friend” saga. Two new wrinkles: a list of corrections Dawn Dorland sent to Gawker regarding their blog posts on this whole kerfuffle and a New Yorker review of the Sonya Larson short story at the heart of the matter.
  2. Even though I consistently go 1-2 and get my ass stomped, Jank City, my Magic playgroup's flagship draft event, is always a blast when it happens. My pal Neil won the day with a dudes-heavy Gruul deck powered by the Mythic Conspiracy card Hymn of the Wilds. We have now banned this card from future play.
  3. I'm always tickled by the stuff Wikipedia Haiku pulls out. A sample:
    It was said the lights
    were clearer on the eve of
    a lunar New Year
  4. What horror movie character are you? My answer: “the guy who gets fucked up by an animal-shaped demon because he wanted to pet it”
  5. Speaking of horror, I watched Gremlins 2: The New Batch for the first time as part of my ongoing spooky season viewing project, and as it turns out, it's a masterpiece. For one brief shining moment, Joe Dante was the American Jacques Tati.
  6. Further viewing: I also watched Alien 3 and thought it was... fine. Admirably downbeat and textured in the way those early Fincher movies are, and not a whole lot else for me to hang my hat on. I talked to my friend Isabelle about it (she's a massive Alien 3 booster), and it was kind of an insight into disagreements about art. Often, it's not so much about misreading or not getting it or whatever, it's differing aesthetic reactions to something both people correctly identified.
  7. Whoever designed the packaging for the Criterion edition of The Celebration deserves a promotion and a raise.
  8. The new black midi record Cavalcade fucking whips ass. Plays like every version of King Crimson at once.
  9. The newest episode of Shutdown Fullcast is a doozy: “What's the dumbest fight you've ever witnessed?”
  10. I'm going to take a page from Laura Olin's playbook and end with a poem I stumbled onto.
    Now we gather worshipful.
    The gears in his legs shine down.
    He lifts his head.
    Here he comes!
    We’re erecting a maypole with green ribbons.
    His legs are four probes.
    And his back is a ship and his eyes are holes in the curtain.
    We’re eating cookies in the shape of him.
    The icing is gold and silver.
    He’s’ shedding gears, here he comes tripping!
    He is casting off the elastic bindings.
    Now we’re hanging giant flags.
    The wind-up key sticks in his side like a blade.
    The wind rocks him on his wheels.
    Here he comes, crawling!
    The bright obvious shines in his body.
    Here comes the electric, the burning mystery!
    —Sarah Manguso, “The Deer Comes Down the Mountain”

#lists #tenthings

HOSS HOSS HOSS HOSS

I love Magic: The Gathering but I think I play it incorrectly.

This isn't to say that I'm bad at it. Though truth be told, relative to the amount of Magic I've played, I am pound for pound the worst-performing member of my playgroup. I say I play the game incorrectly because the specific format I'm drawn to is jank draft. Standard metas generally bore me. The big-ticket eternal formats are too insular and cost-prohibitive for my taste. I am spectacularly awful at cube. But I love the sustained build and egalitarian nature of drafting. And something about specifically drafting the dregs of Magic's history, the 17,000 or so outcasts and urchins of our game, speaks to me. Losers love other losers.

I am a crazy cat lady for edge case barely-playables. Case in point: I started really getting into Magic during Kaladesh block. I immediately fell in love with the vehicles. All the vehicles. The flavour, the mechanics, everything. Since the dominant format of my playgroup's meta was Commander, I put together the cheapest, jankiest Vehicles deck I could make, placing Depala, Pilot Exemplar at the helm. That's right, a deck where if you play it right, you'll never win on Commander damage; the only real path to victory is vehicular homicide. Somewhere in that deck's early iterations was science's greatest failure, Lupine Prototype. I love this card. Unless your opponent is in a hurry to dump their hand or you keep Mind Rotting yourself for some reason, Lupine Prototype does less than nothing. Can't attack, can't block.

But boy can it crew.

It's alive! And it can drive!!!

Imagine the anguished howl Dopplering into your nightmares as this Frankenwolf conducts a locomotive into Hell's very heart. A thing of cracked beauty. Lupine Prototype is still one of my favourite gimmick cards; in a Commander deck full of hammers and drills, it was the bent paperclip I used to jimmy open my phone's SIM card slot.

Some people piece their decks together like they're setting rubies onto rings. Some people enjoy playing in such a way that their opponents don't get to play (pillow fort pilots are sadists, do not @ me). I like to see someone MacGyver their way to victory. Any bozo can win with a thunder-bringing Limited bomb like, I don't know, Grave Titan or whatever. But what can you build out of a broken mini-USB cable, a rotisserie chicken carcass, and 44 cents in loose change? And more importantly, can you win with it? At one jank draft I held, I saw a guy piloting a 41-card deck deliver a coup de grâce with a Tormentor's Trident strapped to the hood of an Ovalchase Dragster. A terrible scrapyard unicorn barrelling down the bend for lethal damage. It was, again, a thing of cracked beauty.

Which brings us to Giant Ox, a white two-drop with only two things to its name: an unbreachable hide and a valid driver's licence. I suspect this card was a complete nonentity in its native Limited environment. The Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas branded the beast with a grade of D during the Limited Resources Kaldheim set review. Yeah, D for “dat booty,” I bet. With all due respect, LSV, are we seeing the same stats there? Six toughness! Absolutely nothing in those dollar store packs I'm drafting will get past that absolute diesel dumptruck of an ass if I get it out on turn 2. Never mind those 1/1 flyers I keep hearing about, we're in the land of dreams here. A land of six-mana conditional removal at sorcery speed and vanilla 5/5 six-drop bombs. A land where you can go turn 1 Consulate Dreadnought, turn 2 Giant Ox, and boom, your opponent is down to 13. All my dreaming here is lucid. That stupid bovine grin was too beautiful for the limelight of the Pro Tour, but it is ever welcome at the table near the bulk singles.

Giant Ox is emblematic of my favourite kind of Magic card: absent from high-level play, surprising when resolved, limited in usefulness, and impractical to deal with. Because who in God's name is running Giant Ox? Are you really going to use your Consign to the Pit on a two-drop with zero power and no keywords?

One of my favourite bits of Magic advice comes from a 2012 Manaleak article written by Paul Mclachlan: “The majority of Magic cards that see print aren't very good. It's not your job to prove that the card is bad. It's your job to prove that a card is worth inclusion in your deck.” Every card in the game is good for something, and jank draft is fertile land for creating those instances. The joy of playing with cards unloved by our game's power users is the sense of expanded scope. By lending attention where there isn't usually much of it, the game itself feels new; my sense of play is thus rejuvenated. I love playing incorrectly, so to speak, because the very concept of what a “good card” gets blown up and reassembled. Every jank draft is a chance for a different Giant Ox to have its day.

#mtg

The Blue Nile The Blue Nile (Photo by Kerstin Rodgers/Redferns)

The Scottish band the Blue Nile has cropped here once or twice before. Their album Hats (1989) is an airy sophisti-pop masterpiece, and has quickly become one of my Desert Island Discs, but given their agonizingly slow work rate (four albums since 1984, zero since 2004), you can plough through their main studio output in an afternoon. So I made a Spotify playlist of what I called “stray songwriting credits, odd production jobs, and assorted collaborations” they've done between their main records.

These songs are all Blue Nile songs in spirit, melancholy songs of pained love and aching loneliness, but they vary in their genesis and interpretation. Robbie Robertson up and hired the band in 1991 to record a pretty convincing Blue Nile soundalike he wrote called “Breakin' the Rules” for his album Storyville. Paul Buchanan, the Glaswegian Sinatra who fronts the Blue Nile, spent a chunk of the 90s in L.A. and wrote the most early-90s-ass white-boy R&B song for Michael McDonald. Annie Lennox covered “The Downtown Lights,” and the Scotsmen co-wrote “The Gift” with her in return. I've even included a collaboration with American trumpeter Chris Botti called “Midnight Without You,” which is a Blue Nile song in all but name, which gives a glimpse at the sort of course correction that the band would undertake between the strummy, AOR-inflected material of their third album Peace at Last (1996) and the conscious throwback feel of their last album, High (2004).

The oddest song of the bunch might be the Buchanan-penned “Let's Face It” as performed by cult country singer Matraca Berg, who is perhaps better known as a songwriter than as a solo artist. It's strange to hear the Blue Nile-ness of the melodies and subject matter being filtered through rootsy guitar and rollicking organ lines.

As I wrote earlier, the Blue Nile work at a snail's pace, so this playlist is barely album-length, but there's a few gems here that demonstrate the singular skills of this band, chief among them Buchanan's facility with widescreen heartbreak.

#music

Bo Burnham via Netflix

Here are ten things.

  1. Like most of the world, I watched Bo Burnham's latest special Inside on Netflix. It appears to be pretty divisive in my circles, but I quite enjoyed it as a collection of skits and songs about the performances we all put on, for everyone and no one, on the Internet.

  2. Blaseball is back from an extended Siesta and my beloved Seattle Garages are as dogshit as ever. We're in a strong position to win the Underbracket, but I have mixed feeling about that.

  3. Auckland-via-Detroit filmmaker/festival programmer Doug Dillaman challenged people to program a film festival to “replace” the postponed New Zealand International Film Festival using a specific set of rules. Here's my crack at it.

  4. Reporter Lee Sanderlin finished dead last in his fantasy football league, and as punishment, had to eat his way out of a 24-hour stay at Waffle House. This is his saga.

  5. Quinton Reviews goes waaaaay long on two artifacts of millennial junk culture, Fred and iCarly. The only conclusion I can draw after watching 8.5 hours of this is that this is media criticism as a form of self-flagellation. #FREDPILLED

  6. On the most recent episode of The Big Picture, co-host Sean Fennessey spoke with filmmaker Alex Ross Perry about home video distribution, how canons get built, and movies that fall into the cracks of history.

  7. I filled a big gap in my personal filmography by finally sitting down and watching Singin' in the Rain. I was winded just watching this movie. Here's Donald O'Connor doing “Make 'em Laugh,” and keep in mind, this dude smoked four packs a day and was hospitalized after this because he simply went in too hard.

  8. I revistied Brian Eno's Another Green World, which is a great piece of work. I love it when Robert Fripp's distinctive guitar shows up anywhere.

  9. A compendium of design objects used in Star Trek and who made them, via Jason Kottke, because everything online worth seeing passes through Kottke.

  10. I wrote a poem about bathroom smells, but not the ones you're thinking of. It's called “Sense of Smell, Sense of Time.”

#lists #tenthings

When a friend asks me to recommend them a movie, I never have a title in the chamber and ready to go. Call it choice paralysis: Letterboxd, a favourite website of movie dorks like yours truly, puts the total number of movies in the world at just south of 600,000 and counting. So to help whittle down the list of candidates for my aforementioned friend that totally exists, my answer is usually another question. “Well, what kind of movies do you like?” This helps, but only a little. If my friend says they like science fiction, well, that limits the number of relevant titles to, oh, just a hair above 13,000. This new genre-specific pool is a couple of orders of magnitude smaller that Every Movie Ever Made, but hardly more manageable.

Another example: once upon a time I was on the phone with my mom, and she asked me about westerns. Specifically, she told me that my stepdad was in the mood for a western that evening, and she deferred to my so-called expertise. Surely all that film school book-learning is worth something! So I told her they should watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, to some the greatest western ever made

It was the last time she asked me for a film recommendation. This was years ago. They did not like it at all, and I suspect the film's hefty runtime and rambling pace had something to do with it. Maybe I did no favours my hyping to shit out of Sergio Leone's finest hour.

I learned the hard way that helping someone sort out Movie Night is not the time for a flex. Not everyone shares your tastes and your interests, and that's cool. When you're recommending movies to people, there are always going to be swings and misses; you are, after all, two different people with two sets of cinematic pleasure centres. What I'm trying to devise here is a way to keep from striking out, so to speak, and while this method may yield precious few home runs, it'll compensate by delivering way more slap singles into the gap. Sports!

I. Is it short?

I've said it once and I'll say it again: God's runtime is 87 minutes.

I don't want to besmirch the good names of the many excellent epics and exercises in slow cinema that exist, but when I give someone what amounts to pop-culture homework, I want to be respectful of their time. It happened to me more than once that a trusted friend gave me a hearty recommendation only for me to groan at the runtime. Yes, I'm sure Sátántangó is every bit the masterpiece people say it is, but 439 minutes is a steep cliff to climb, especially when I work 5 Sátántangós a week. It doesn't even have to be that extreme: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly's 161 minutes was a deal-breaker for my mom. And you know what? I don't blame her. Two-plus hours is a lot of time to spend with something you might not like.

I think there's something psychologically inviting about a double-digit runtime. The gulf between 99 minutes and 100 minutes is vast. So for the purposes of this method, I'm going to set a runtime limit of 100 minutes. Why 100? While 100 minutes is completely arbitrary, it does fit snugly in between “just over an hour and a half” and “almost two hours.” You can stretch it to 105 if you want a clean hour and three quarters. Remember: this is a recipe, and like any recipe, you can adjust some parts to taste.

II. Is it good?

I absolutely adore the 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow. I love its fucked-up sensuousness, its hazy pacing, and its druggy synthesis of 40 years' worth of genre-film brainmelters. I would never in a million years recommend this movie to anyone unless I was 100% sure we were simpatico. Beyond the Black Rainbow is a perfect your-mileage-may-vary movie. There are movies you like that other people scratch their heads at, wondering what all the fuss is about. That's cool.

Now that we've established that something as seemingly simple as “good” is wildly subjective, let's talk about the wisdom of crowds.

Podcaster Merlin Mann has occasionally quipped on his show Reconcilable Differences, and I'm paraphrasing here, “Why would you ever want to watch a three-star movie?” Ignoring the fact that a three-star movie means something different to everyone, I'd argue that the three-star movie fulfills a very specific role in one's media diet. A three-star movie is a competent, unsurprising piece of work that neither arouses nor offends. It is built from stock parts and familiar faces. It is the perfect cure for a hangover on Sunday afternoon. It is the sweatpants of movies, and everyone owns a pair.

Small sidebar: the burden of masterpieces is very real. If you keep insisting to your friends that something is a masterpiece, there's bound to be a pushback, either explicit or implicit. There's also a strange pressure to like movies that are considered canonical, even though you may not like them at all. The fact that something is considered great might, counterintuitively, be a turn-off to some.

Since the point of this exercise is to create a high-floor approach to recommendations, I've decided to set the minimum “quality” threshold for this method of recommendation at an average rating of 3/5 on Letterboxd. As with the runtime, you can adjust this threshold as needed. If a large spread of people think something is at least “good,” it makes for a solid baseline of agreeability.

III. Is it secret?

I deliberately wanted to avoid the word “obscure” for this section because of the film-snob vibe that word can connote, but we do want to privilege movie that are underseen. Why? The 6,000-ish films that make up the 1% of the most popular films on Earth are in the cultural ether. Your Aunt Brenda probably knows that Parasite (741,000+ ratings on Letterboxd at time of writing) exists already in some capacity. So for that reason, this method caps popularity at 10,000 ratings on Letterboxd. Why 10,000? Again, arbitrary. Plus, it looks good next to “100 minutes.”

If I really wanted to commit to using Parasite as my yardstick, having my popularity cap be 1% of the people who've seen the most popular film on Letterboxd has a bit of poetry to it, but honestly, I just like big round numbers. Plus, it's not inconceivable that Parasite cracks a million ratings at some point future. But this method is more about vibes than stats, and other movies with ~10,000 ratings fit the vibe I'm going for: something about as seen as John Boorman's Point Blank or Walter Hill's The Driver.

Part of recommending a film to someone is making the effort of combing the stacks for them, not just the shelves in the front. This may or may not be true for the specific person coming to you for a recommendation, but for our purposes, you're just playing the odds. My strawman cinephile, whether they've seen Pulp Fiction or not, very likely has heard of it. There's a good chance they'll get there by themselves, since the 1% or movies are the ones we tend to absorb by cultural osmosis anyways (how many people get to Kubrick through The Simpsons, or Scarface through hip hop). They've probably heard of every Quentin Tarantino film. As much as I love those movies, I don't think QT needs the help. People can and do get there by themselves. Miami Blues needs the help. Deep Cover does too (even though, at 107 minutes, it falls just a bit outside the purview of this post).

Plus who doesn't love a diamond in the rough? Nothing beats having a new favourite thing that you didn't even know existed the day before. By using this method, hopefully you'll find some hidden gems of your own. Here's a list of 20 of them to get you started.

#movies