Recommendations, 4/26

This week: improv comedy, underrated period films, comparing NBA players to obscure Playstation games.


Tim Duncan just turned 37. He’s one of the best NBA players of all time, and he managed to play some of the finest basketball of his career last year, in his 16th season for the San Antonio Spurs. This should be a big deal, on par with Kobe Bryant’s similarly age defying campaign in ’12-’13. But the national media paid far more attention to Kobe than Timmy because, sadly, casual NBA fans find Duncan boring.

This is a perennial sticking point for NBA nerds, who consider Duncan’s efficient, fundamentally sound, defensively focused game to be poetry in motion. The only problem is: how do you sell the general public on his greatness? Writing for Grantland, Steve McPherson has found a way: by comparing Duncan to the obscure 1997 Playstation game, Bushido Blade. Bushido Blade features tense two-player samurai duels, where one hit can kill, and timing, patience, and strategy are everything. As one of the improbable few who have played the game and also appreciate Duncan, I can confirm that this it’s a perfect analogue for his success. He thrives on guile and instinct, as does the master Bushido Blade player.

Or so I imagine. I was like ten when I played it, and mostly just liked throwing my sword at people.


This week, I watched Cheerful Weather for the Wedding and I’ve not stopped thinking about it since.

IMDb users give it 5.2/10 and it’s not that I’m arguing with that (though I do think it merits higher), it’s just that… rating films out of ten is stupid. We all agree on this right? Some films, like Stoker, might be wholly unsubstantial but still be so. utterly. beautiful. as to reach you at the level of pop. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is one of those films, even if it knows it’s a Shameless British Period Piece Starring Mom From Downton Abbey As Mom To Felicity Jones a.k.a. New It Girl From Across The Pond. (No spoilers but I suspect the low rating is due to viewers not being able to deal with the ending.)

Oh em gee, I love period pieces, and I love Felicity Jones (Downtown Abbey not so much), and I love how this film looks with its pretty, pretty people in their pretty, pretty clothes. What makes it: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is based on an interwar Julia Strachey novel and it’s full of anthropologists! And precocious children! It screams lost generation modernism and the movie translates the Not Much Going On-ness of British fiction during that period so well. The ending is a gem.

So, watch it for the pretty people. Leave with feelings about the marriage plot you don’t often get from film that Looks This Hot and Proper. It’s actually quite the mindfuck.


Button mashing is a good strategy in some contexts. Marvel vs. Capcom 2, for instance, which is a thing that I discovered last week. But arcade game strategy is not what I’m here to recommend (though, for the record: Captain America, Wolverine, and that Egyptian statue-looking guy seemed to do the trick for me). [Ed note: this is what Darryl playing Marvel vs. Capcom 2 looks like.]

Let’s say you pride yourself on your typing speed and/or your button mashing skills. This Sporcle quiz challenges you to see if you can hit the spacebar 225 times in 30 seconds.

Easy, right? Well, as long as you don’t mash so fast that you register multiple keystrokes at the same time, which will clog up the answer bar. And as long as your fingers don’t get so sore that you start choking worse than Tony Romo.

My personal best is 192, and that’s not even the 90th percentile. Who are these people who can get to 225? Also, OUCH, MY THUMBS.


Even as a long time devotee, I understand that it’s difficult to get into improv as an audience member. It’s unpredictable, generally only available live in large cities, and those performances that are recorded compete for attention with meticulously scripted comedy.

While those who live in one of the improv-meccas of the U.S. — Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles — should drop into a local show, those in the wilds can start with Heather & Miles. They had a legendary 49-week run as a two-man team at Upright Citizens Brigade’s LA Cagematch, and many video highlights of these shows can be found on YouTube.

Not only are they a fascinating duo, each taking on multiple insane, misfit, waco characters in a scene, but their approach to Improv is slowly invading the LA scene. If you’re in the area and interested you can learn from Miles himself at the Miles Stroth Workshop.


I think of the poet James Wright (1927-1980) as an honest transcendentalist. Whatever spirituality the reader finds in his poems is the kind that rises from a slag heap of rotten Midwestern dreams, not idealized Romantic fields of daffodils. Even his muse, Jenny, is pretty much just a girl. Maybe his poems are idiosyncratic to people not from the Midwest. To me, Wright’s poems sound like talking. So here at the tail end of the cruelest month, I recommend reading James Wright. Start with the bleak, angry stuff: his poem about high school football (Wright was from Martins Ferry, Ohio, not far from Steubenville) and his poem about the WPA swimming pool. Then read the poems where nature takes him far from Ohio to a place bathed in the light of a sublime something (that’s the transcendent bit).


I can’t argue with FILM CRIT HULK on this one:

Earlier this week, I caught up on the first two episodes from the new season of Veep, Armando Iannucci’s American take on his excellent British political satire The Thick of It.

Veep came out fully formed a year ago. Foul-mouthed Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) spent the first season trying to prove herself to the administration, always falling short, always asking her secretary if the President has called (he never does). This season, the POTUS remains an off-screen presence, but one that has noticed Selina’s good work on the campaign trail supporting the party’s midterm election candidates. Now that she’s gotten what she wanted, Selina and her staff are floundering in their new responsibilities.

What sets Veep apart from similarly mean-spirited sitcoms like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Workaholics or Curb Your Enthusiasm is its political setting. These aren’t just bad people acting like jerks; they’re a product of their environment. The central joke of Iannucci’s work — The Thick Of It, its film counterpart In the Loop, and now Veep — is that the machinations behind the political process are so circuitous and muddled that the characters who inhabit these offices have no choice but to be cruel and selfish and confused. The swearing and name-calling is all a way of coping for the fact that everyone is helpless in his or her own way.

Which, as it turns out, is really fucking funny.