Recommendations, 3/29

This week, we love classic samurai movies, boy bands, roast chicken, and sock garters.


I watched Takashi Miike’s recent update of the classic film Harakiri knowing only two things: Miike is always interesting and I love the original film. While Miike’s version is not bad, I couldn’t see a reason for it to exist. It is essentially the same film except with color, a dead cat, and, for those lucky enough to see it in the theater, 3D. Neither the dead cat nor the 3D make the movie essential to a life well-lived in the way the original is. If you have never seen Masaki Kobayashi’s original Harakiri, steer clear of the Miike re-make.

Harakiri (both versions) involves a Samurai scam where wandering ronin come to respectable houses and ask to please be allowed to ritually disembowel themselves in the courtyard. They expect to be hired or turned away with some money for their troubles. The risk, however, is that someone will call their bluff. This is exactly what, excruciatingly, happens at the beginning of the movie. This is not an action-heavy epic, but a gripping moral tale that pits adherence to a code against human empathy. Tragedy begins where empathy ends. A point that is gut-wrenchingly made in Kobayashi’s Harakiri.



Three weeks ago I would have laughed at the thought; two weeks ago my internal monologue was a slew of self-recrimination for the beautiful wool sloppily bunched at my ankles. For the past week, I’ve had a secret smile at work, a glow and confidence that my co-workers can only aspire to.

Pros: Your sock will stay up all day, and the pressure on your legs will be like a tiny, constant hug. You will never stare at a pair of calf-high socks in the morning and decide that your calves are too trunk-like to keep them up. At least once a day you’ll feel that you’ve shared an experience with the grandfather you never met.

Cons: These will not work if you wear shorts. You should expect garter impressions on the skin of your calves after a day of work. Sock garters are not visible, so you will have to flaunt your upper calves if you want the respect you feel you’ve earned. You will regret bragging to your officemates that you wear sock garters.

These sock garters are great, but find your own path.



When I brought up Mindless Behavior the other day, no one in the room had heard of the boy band that’s been around since 2008. Why? Whyyy are we not all talking about Mindless Behavior, who dropped their sophomore album, All Around The World (also the title of a Bieber/Ludacris single), this month. It’s my favorite pop album since Selena Gomez’s When The Sun Goes Down from two years ago. And when I call Mindless Behavior a boy band, I do mean Boy Band.

Having been with Justin Timberlake from *NSYNC to The 20/20 Experience, the latter of which sounds, at times, like FutureSex/LoveSounds (I’m sorry!) which isn’t a bad thing per se, I still wonder if 2013 perhaps should mark the end of our JT experience. The 20/20 Experience is, of course, far more soulful than anything from JT’s dirty pop days, but there will always be a lilt of the boy band in his music. It’s why I love his songs — they’re like elongated meditations on of the idea of the pop ballad, the slow jam. Which leads me back to… Mindless Behavior, occasionally reminiscent of One Direction (another Capital-B Boy Band), except when they totally aren’t: Mindless Behavior works the slow jam, the soulful harmonies (as against 1D’s more zany runs). MB also marks the return of the black boy band, and we really should be more excited in greeting them.

For starters, MB can dance!!! — a defining feature of the Boy Band. 1D are tolerable movers at best, but their ability to “fake it” through their hyperactive singles just reads to me as whitewhitewhite (don’t get me wrong, I love them still). In contrast, watch the swagger in MB’s hot little title track, or see from their early days “My Girl,” which anticipates the current K-pop blow-up on this side of the Pacific. They’re somehow simultaneously suave and sweet, able to rock both a suit and a leopard-print baseball tee, as well as incorporate steampunk aesthetics into their videos? There’s a lot going on.

I don’t really want to delve into lyrics messaging, because all boy bands will unfortunately fail on this count, and if we’re to include the honorary JT in the category, then he definitely wins for most nuance (omggggg “Mirrors”), but it’s also not like JT isn’t over a decade older than both 1D and MB (a fact that doesn’t make any of us feel better). But for what it’s worth: from someone listening to music geared to the age demographic below hers (and that’s a lot of us), MB trumps 1D when it comes to gender politics. By how far, and from what point, is another conversation.



(Like Jane, I can only talk about music as it relates to Justin Timberlake.)

The sexiest new album isn’t The 20/20 Experience (though that is a pretty sexy album too). It’s Woman by Rhye, a new duo made up of electronic musician Milosh and half of the Danish group Quadron. Similarly to Timberlake’s latest record, Woman is seeped in nostalgia, but Rhye is more interested in a sound that recalls late ’80s Sade-esque vocals and the downtempo lounge electronica of the mid-’90s. The beats are clean and the synths run deep. There was much ado about Rhye when they released their first single, “The Fall,” last year. But my favorite songs on Woman move a little quicker, and dare to be even more sentimental. In “3 Days” and “Hunger,” Rhye flirt with smooth jazz saxophone and the occassional blast of horns. The band has drawn some apt sonic comparisons to the XX, but Rhye appears to take itself less seriously. The tones of Woman are so much warmer, more fun, and, in many ways, so much more romantic.



This week, like many weeks before it, I cooked Thomas Keller’s simple roast chicken. It’s probably the single dish I’ve eaten most frequently over the past four years or so (since I figured out how cook real food). It’s easy, cheap, delicious, and reliable. All you need is a dry, well seasoned bird and a hot oven, and you’re rewarded with perfectly moist meat and ridiculously crisp skin. It takes almost no effort, and it comes out looking like something special.

Part of what drew me to the dish in the first place (besides my eternal devotion to Keller) is the wonderful writing in the recipe itself. Keller writes in plain, instructive language, as any good recipe writer should, but he also carefully injects bits of personal insight throughout. He expresses the small, ritualistic inherent in any classic recipe. As far as I’m concerned, eating the fatty bit of tail is an essential part of roasting a chicken, and I doubt I would have learned that from another writer.

Oh, but FYI, trussing doesn’t actually do anything, so feel free to skip that part. Just tuck the wing tips under the arms so they don’t burn.



Tom Gauld has a new book coming out. But of course you already knew that. You recognize his art from The Believer, the Riff section of The New York Times, and The Guardian (he’s Scottish, after all). You instantly know his style (somewhere between Edward Gorey and Native American petroglyphs) and his sense of humor (deadpan jokes about robots, literature, and/or robots quoting literature).

This of course is ringing a bell for you. Because you got his earlier book, Goliath. Maybe you’ve seen his immensely detailed diagrams of Characters for an Epic Tale or Plan for a Gigantic Robot. Or perhaps you saw the little guys on your Diet Cokes cans and knew exactly who drew them, because you are such a huge fan.

Anyway, Tom Gauld has a new book coming out. It’s called You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, it has a Tumblr, and you should pretty much just get the book now, even if nothing I said above applies to you.