217 m.p.h. in a car without a roof sounds like a very excting way to die.
217 m.p.h. in a car without a roof sounds like a very excting way to die.
Fleabag is a television comedy from BBC 3 available in the US via Amazon Prime.* It’s written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays a single Londoner who’s getting by after a personal tragedy.
That sounds dark. It is.
Fleabag is also supremely funny. It is intelligent. Waller-Bridge makes these asides to the camera that are compelling, endearing and reveal the program’s origin as a one-woman show. On stage, of course, such a practice is invisible, as the performer speaks directly to the audience the whole time. On TV, it can be cutsey, gimmicky or otherwise off-putting. That’s not the case here. Waller-Bridge is brilliant with these moments. The way the asides are used changes in such a smart way as the show goes on, but I can’t say more about that.
The season is six episodes long, and it’s clear that Waller-Bridge knows exactly where she’s going with all this from the start. It gets funnier and raunchier (there’s some sex, FYI) as it drives to a conclusion.
Speaking of: loss hangs over this story. The character has a tenuous relationship with her support system. Bad behavior is the norm and you have to decide, do I root for this person or not? Ultimately she’s a sympathetic character, even as a blatant misanthrope with poor impulse control.
Here’s a bit of a warning: do not watch this on a plan, on a train or anywhere else conducive to a wayward glance from a stranger. But don’t let that scare you away. It’s so beautifully cast and acted, that you’re going to love it.
*No Prime? No problem. You can watch episode one for free right now, and sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime, which will give you more than enough time to binge all six episodes.
A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.
Amazon turned to Audible last week — which it snapped up for $300M in 2008 — for a new benefit for its Prime members. Audible Channels is a mobile app that features curated collections, or “playlists,” of classic short stories and original audio dramas.
It’s absoutely perfect for a commute or an afternoon walk. Over the last week I heard sci-fi stories, a good, old-fashioned zombie story (it is October after all) and more.
I especially enjoyed an origial series called Damned Spot, which looks at the places at which great horrors have occurred. How does violence change a place? After everything has been cleaned up and life has moved on, what remains?
If you love audiodramas, audio books or great radio, this is for you. Snap it up, Prime members, for a story in your pocket wherever you go.
Photography Concentrate with Lauren and Rob has published a fantastic article: Smartphone Photography 101. It’s a very deep dive, covering everything from choosing a phone, composition and sharing. If you simply read my description, it sounds like any number of guides you’ve already read a thousand times. That’s not the case. This is a nice article that deserves your time.
Flybear is a musician with a whole five tracks to his (her?) name. Apple Music suggested I might like the song “Soon…” earlier this week, and it was dead-on right. A dance-y, house-y instrumental track, it’s been putting me in a good mood all week long:
Also, “Flybear” is such a great name.
And that’s what’s making me happy this week.
Here’s a look at some of the amazing, hilarious and thoughtful things that are making me happy this week.
Within the Wires is the lastest podcast from Nightvale Presents, the group behind Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead. Written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson (and narrated by Matthewson), Within the Wires presents itself as a series of “relaxation cassettes” that you, the listener, are to experience when you are calm, quiet and alone. In your designated room. Somewhere inside “The Institute.”
As the 10-episode series progresses, fulfill the narrator’s mandate to “listen, remember, comprehend” and you’ll discover a story within the surrealism. A story with specific instructions. There’s more than mindfulness going on here, and each small revelation adds to the larger narrative. I’m having great fun listening, remembering and comprehending Within the Wires.
Dilemma is a half-hour panel show on BBC Radio 4 extra in which the delightful and hilarious Sue Perkins presents guests with morally ambiguous situations and forces them to defend the actions they’d take if in those very scenarios.
It’s a lot funnier than I’ve made it out to be.
Much like the 1990’s party game Scruples, Dilemma presents a situation and asks players how they’d act. For example, “You’ve been offered $25,000 to give a one-hour talk at a convention put up by [Company A]. The topic is right in your wheelhouse. The only problem is that Company A is owned by your spouse’s nemesis, and s/he is begging you not to do it, despite the fact that you really need the money.”
The reason that Dilemma works so well is Sue Perkins. She’s very fast on her feet, witty and does not let her guests out of giving a definitive answer and defending it. My favorite segment is the lightning round in which contestants have only a couple of seconds to pick the more morally upright item in a pairing:
“One massive eye in your forehead or never eat dairy again.”
“Robocop or Terminator: which is the better middle name for your child?”
“Would you rather the queen’s face be as small as it is on stamps, or that stamps were as big as her face?”
It’s smart and funny.
Last year I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey and now I’m going crazy for this trailer. This atypical zombie story features Melanie, a “hungry” (the book’s term for zombie) who is strapped to her wheelchair every morning, at gunpoint, and wheeled into her classroom. Melanie’s teacher, scientist Helen Justineau, recognizes something in her student that’s beyond her condition or her genius IQ. The story goes on from there.
The trailer seems to retain the smart, subtle horror, heartbreak and moral ambiguity of Carey’s novel. It’s gotten me excited for the film, and that’s a trailer’s job, isn’t it?
Here’s a look at some of the amazing, hilarious and thoughtful things that are making me happy this week.
Open your podcast app. Delete every show you’ve got in there and then subscribe to My Dad Wrote a Porno. Why? Because it’s the only thing you’ll want to listen to for several days.
My Dad Wrote a Porno is a podcast done by a delightful British guy Jamie Morton and a couple of this friends. Apparently a couple of years ago, Jamie’s father asked him to read a few pages of a book he had written. Turns out it was an erotic novel called “Belinda Blinked*,” and it’s every bit as glorious as you imagine self-published erotica with that title would be.
Belinda is the sexy salesperson from the pots and pans company called Steels Pans. She does whatever she can to land buyers for her company’s cookware.
Jamie and his co-hosts James Cooper and BBC Radio 1’s Alice Levine are absolutely hilarious in their take-down of the book. Best of all, Jamie’s Dad — who goes by the amazing pen name Rocky Flintstone — loves the show and all of the attention that his work is getting. When you do a “so bad it’s good” kind of thing, there’s the tendency for the commentary to get mean-spirited. That’s not the case here. It’s all in good fun. Red plastic handcuffs and all.
This probably goes without saying, but the hosts spend each episode reading from a story with very adult situations and language. So be warned.
In HarmonQuest, writer, producer and podcaster Dan Harmon plays a D&D-style role playing game (I think it’s Pathfinder, actually) in front of a live studio audience with a few friends and one rotating guest star. These games are typically funny enough to listen to, but throw in the audience and the fact that the adventures are animated, and you’ve got a goblin-slaying, dragon-taunting, orc loaf sandwich eating good time.
This eight-episode suspence series from Netflix starring Winona Ryder is a sheer delight. It’s a real “kids on bikes” show that is presented though such a dutiful 80’s lens that the decade itself is character. Stranger Things scratches a nostalgia itch for me in a completely satisfying way.
But it’s not just a love letter to the 80’s. Stranger Things is a fantastic little show.
Four young friends are playing Dungeons and Dragons in a basement when mom insists it’s time for the game the end and the kids to go home. One of the kids goes missing along the way, and the mystery begins. There are classic thrills and chills here, and none of the torture porn that’s so popular these days.
Stranger Things feels like an after-school special, a Stephen King story, and early Spielberg all at once. And boy, does it nail the 80’s feel perfectly, from fashion to music cues, in a way that I haven’t seen since House of the Devil.
It’s a compelling show that just works, from the young actors who play the kids (they’re fantastic) to the synth-y, bass-y music and gorgeous type on the title, right on up to the casting of Winona Ryder who does a fantastic job as the harried, lower-middle-class mother who only wants to find her son. I’m already jones-ing for season two.
My friend Ged Meheux of the Iconfactory has made a Pokéball-inspired wallpaper for your iPhone 5 Series, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad and iPad Pro.
Bring your Pokémon GO to another level and be the envy of your Pikachu-chasing friends.
*In fact, the book’s full title is, “Belinda Blinked; A modern story of sex, erotica and passion. How the sexiest sales girl in business earns her huge bonus by being the best at removing her high heels.”
This post is the first in a series that explores my summer working as a temporary school custodian. Enjoy.
“Oh you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” When alarm sounded at 5:00 AM last Tuesday, I was not happy. “Maybe unemployment isn’t that bad.”
The bank disagrees, so I hauled myself out of bed, ate a yogurt, got into the car and started the commute to my new gig.
This week was my first working as a temporary school custodian. After performing more manual labor than this doughy writer has seen in a very long time, I can now strip a floor, wax a floor and paint stairs (work DOWN, now up). I’ve discovered that enamel-based paint simply does not come out, and that every science teacher in America eventually makes the Beaker joke.
I also know that you can play Black Sabbath through a SMART Board.
Additionally, there’s real satisfaction at the end of a day of hard work:
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
I arrived on Tuesday at 6:30 AM and made my way to “the shop” at the edge of campus. The boss man was actually on vacation last week, so Number One (let’s call him “Riker”) was issuing assignments. On this day I’d be stripping and waxing floors.
After doing my time card wrong (I put my arrival time on Monday, not Tuesday, and in the PM slot), Riker and I made our way to the first building for “stripping and waxing.”
It’s not as sexy as it sounds.
The halls were full of the furniture that used to occupy the classrooms, so we could get right to it. Stripping is pretty easy:
Once the floor is dry, things get meditative. First, pour a line of wax on the floor. Then, slowly spread a thin layer, walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
The last step is this: get all Zen with the wax.
First, you worry about doing it wrong. Then you try to line up your efforts perfectly with the edges of the tile. Last, get really, really into spreading the wax.
Like, really into it.
You begin to recognize just how far a puddle of wax can be stretched. You make beautiful, identical arches. You learn — and work to maximize — exactly how perfectly even, thin, perfect a single swi—
You realize someone has been talking to you while you were zoning out with the wax.
The wax takes about an hour to dry, and four coats are applied in total. A couple of tips:
The last room I waxed featured the above cut-out of Captain Kirk, which I took as a good sign.
Aside from a coffee break at 9:30 and lunch at 11:30, that was my day. Slow, quiet waxing in an empty building. It was easy, meditative and well…fun. It sounds ridiculous: here’s a guy with a M.Ed. who’s really enjoying the process of waxing floors, but there it was. I really enjoyed the process of waxing floors.
It was low stress, easy and offered instant gratification. I also began to feel a kind of kinship with my blue-collar brothers and sisters. We’re behind the scenes — which I prefer — doing a job that helps everyone else excel at theirs. Faculty, staff, administration and students can do their thing in a building that’s clean, safe and fully functional. It’s a good feeling.
Plus kudos to whoever put that Kirk cut-out in their classroom. You, sir or madam, are doing it right.
Join me as I blog my gig as a custodian.
In February 2016 I lost my job and man alive, I have not been able to find work. Thanks to some writing gigs and the podcast I managed to just keep my head above water. I also sent out more resumes and cover letters than I recall right now. All of that ends on July 5 when I go to work as a temporary custodian in my local school district.
And I’m going to write all about it.
On Tuesday I’ll wake up at 5:00 AM and head out to the school. It’s a big campus with four or five buildings and a whole lot of summer cleaning that needs to be done. Watch as this out-of-shape writer does more manual labor that he’s seen in a very long time. Read along as I unpack my brown bag lunch. Gaze in amazement as, well, I perform some honest, blue collar work that will get the campus in top shape so that the faculty and staff can do their jobs in September.
I’m looking forward to it, actually. Earning a paycheck and doing some work. Check back every day for a new tale. I’ll see you then.
If you’re going to vote for Trump, know what you’re voting for:
These aren’t the typical political gaffes that happen during a campaign. They are threats to humanity.
“Trump is a messed up guy with a hole in his heart that he tries to fill with money and attention. He can never ever have enough of either and he’ll never stop trying. He’s sick.”
It genuinely scares me to think about a Trump presidency. You should be scared, too.
I love horror movies. 98% of them are garbage.
I recently saw The Conjuring 2 and found it just as predictable and boring as its predecessor. It’s well acted and well shot, but there’s nothing new or interesting here. Incidentally, the same goes for Insidious 2, which is a total bore and just as goofy as the original.
What do you like in a horror movie, Dave? Well I’ll tell you. I appreciate being scared, which is not the same as being startled. Any idiot can jump out and yell “boo.” That’s not scary. To truly unnerve an audience you must be clever, subtle and focused. Lastly, I appreciate a horror movie that avoids — or reimagines in a clever way — the same old cliches we’ve seen since Vincent Price was prowling around. With that in mind, here are five horror movies that I enjoy for being genuinely scary. In no particular order (note: all descriptions are spoiler free):
Boy do I love this movie. It takes the haunted house genre in an atypical and immensely enjoyable direction, without a single cheap jump scare. Aaron Poole is an antiques collector who is taking stock of his estranged mother’s house just after her death. He finds one strange object after another, leading him to believe that his mother was involved with a strange cult, and is using those objects now to send him an urgent message.
Director Rodrigo Gudiño has made a dark, brooding, melancholic movie that offers an unexpectedly satisfying ending.
This is a tremendous movie.
The Babadook follows recently widowed Amelia and her six-year-old son, Sam. Amelia is struggling with raising troublesome Sam on her own, a low-paying job and other stressors that I’ll discuss in a bit. Meanwhile, Sam has a preoccupation with monsters that manifests in paranoid behavior that gets him into trouble with his school and his extended family.
We learn that Amelia’s husband, Oskar, was decapitated in a car accident while driving Amelia, in labor, to the hospital. She has never dealt with this loss adequately. Meanwhile, Sam asks her to read a book she found on her self called “Mr. Babadook.” It’s a scary pop-up book that tells of Mr. Babadook, a spectral creature who torments those who deny his existence. “The more you deny Mr. Babadook,” the book says, “The stronger he gets.” Sam is convinced the Babadook is in their home, terrifying his family.
To jump forward, Amelia’s mental health deteriorates as she begins to see flashes of the Babadook himself everywhere. She stays awake for three days straight out of fear of seeing him while lying in her darkened bedroom. Finally, she is lured into the basement where the Babadook appears in the form of dead husband, Oskar. He tells her to “…bring me the boy.” She denies him and a violent sequence occurs between Amelia, Sam and the Babadook in its true, horrifying form. Sam insists that the Babadook is “in her” and she must “get it out.”
The movie’s climax occurs as Amelia, shielding Sam, looks the Babadook dead in its horrifying, larger-than-life face. She confronts it head on, seeing it for what it is. At this, the Babadook retreats to the basement.
Here’s the bit that really brought this movie home for me. Amelia and Sam are next seen in happier days. They’re about to celebrate his seventh birthday, which is significant as they’ve never formally acknowledged his birthday before. That specific date had always been the anniversary of Oskar’s death, not a celebration of Sam’s birth. Now that had changed.
Later they’re gardening and clearly enjoying each other’s company. We see that Sam has collected a bowl full of worms, which Amelia takes. She goes into the house, warning him to stay outside until she returns. Once inside, she takes the bowl to the basement and places it on the floor, where the unseen Babadook begins to growl and roar. “Shhhh,” she says, reassuring and kind. “It’s OK. It’s OK.” The Babadook quiets and takes the bowl. Amelia returns to the pleasant scene in the yard.
For me, this movie is a fantastic and creative representation of a person dealing with a significant trauma. The Babadook, as I’ve interpreted it, represents Amelia’s anxieties surrounding single motherhood, the stressors of raising a troubled child alone, the trauma of witnessing her husband’s sudden, violent death, as well as the overwhelming survivor’s guilt she’s clung to for six long years. “The more you deny Mr. Babadook,” the book says, “The stronger he becomes.” Note that when Amelia first saw the Babadook in the form of Oskar, he was locked away in her basement.
Now here’s the best part. When she turns to face the Babadook head on, she wins a victory. But, the Babadook DOESN’T GO AWAY. When a person endures a significant trauma, there’s a piece of that experience that they keep forever. The only “victory,” as it were, is to see that traumatized aspect of yourself and be able to say, whenever s/he rears up, “It’s OK, buddy. I got this. It’s all right. I’m taking care of us.”
Amelia does not destroy the Babadook; she learns to live with it. It’s not compartmentalized to a single room of her “house.” She feeds it when it’s hungry, she soothes it when it rages. She acknowledges what it is, and that it will always be there. That done, she can get on with her life.
It’s an excellent movie. Scary, smart, and in a way, uplifting.
The ending of this smart, gorgeous and ultimately brutal movie disturbed me so significantly I still think about it years later.
A down-on-his-luck hitman gets an assignment nearly a year after botching a job. Eager to win back the trust of his employers and earn a living for his family, he agrees to perform three killings for a big payoff. Honestly, I can’t say any more than that without giving something away. You should go into this movie as ignorant of its plot as possible.
Kill List is a master class in the slow burn. It starts off as a crime thriller and morphs into unforgettable, visceral horror. It’s one of the scariest movies I’ve seen in a long time that also features a moral complexity that’s typically absent from the genre.
As an example of the triumph of evil, Kill List is peerless.
The Swedish movie that inspired the recent remake with Chlöe Grace Moretz* tells the tale of forgotten, bullied Oskar and his completely indifferent mother (we never see her face). All is misery for Oskar when, one snowy winter, a girl his age and her father move into their apartment complex.
Eli is a peculiar girl. For example, she never wears shoes, despite the snow, and seems to be able to sneak up on Oskar unnoticed and in complete silence. Also, a rash of killings has coincided with her arrival.
This movie is as much about the beautiful innocence of first love as it is about the lore of the vampire. Beautifully shot with terrific young actors, Let The Right One In avoids the crap that has plagued vampire movies for years. It’s scary, beautifully constructed, heart-wrenching and yes…very bloody.
*BTW if you want to watch the US version, go right ahead. It’s nearly a shot-for-shot remake and very well done.
At first glance, Creep looks like a directionless combination of found footage and mumblecore. A young videographer answers an ad placed by a man who claims to be terminally ill and eager to record messages for his unborn son, as he’s certain he’ll die while the child is just a newborn.
They meet up and the guy seems like an annoying man-child, but ultimately harmless. It isn’t long before things get a little weird and well, creepy. The payoff is an absolute knockout that will leave you slack-jawed. Kudos to Mark Duplass who is fantastic, obnoxious and creepy as hell.
Bonus! (or, I couldn’t limit myself to five)
There you have it.
Five 11 horror movies that are definitely worth your time. Rent them, turn the lights down, make some popcorn at lastly…don’t say I didn’t warn you.
My 13-year-old’s dramatic eye-rolling made me a better iPhone user.
I recently discovered that I can use YouTube for listening to music on my phone without it taking over what’s happening on my screen. Here’s what I mean.
My daughter was describing a song to me, but couldn’t quite recall the title or artist. As a TECH GOD I grabbed my iPhone and launched Apple Music. “Just use YouTube,” she said with the disdain typically reserved for someone who had just kicked your dog.
I would, but YouTube commandeers the iPhone. If you’re using the official app, any video that’s playing stops as soon as you navigate away. The same goes for YouTube.com in mobile Safari. Unless you do the following:
That’s it! Hit the Home button one more time to dismiss the Control Center and use your iPhone however you like while the YouTube video plays in the background. I had no idea this was possible.
Hence the eye-rolling.