Procrastinate Better
Slate's guide to consuming culture.

Jan. 4 2011 4:46 PM

Watch Tacky Lifetime Movies on Hulu

I had intended to DVR the made-for-TV movie


—about Philip Markoff, the former med student who allegedly murdered a woman he met through the list—but I forgot about it until the final, gloriously awful 30 minutes. I watched long enough to catch Billy Baldwin's embarrassing Boston accent (he plays a detective busting Markoff), but I missed most of the good bits. Searching for the film online today was fruitless, but I did find this cache of equally appalling

It's unclear when

The Craigslist Killer

is going to be added, as only one movie is put up on Hulu each week. However,


is airing again on Saturday at 9. In the meantime I will have to console myself with the hilarious, though unfortunately sporadically updated,

blog, which recaps the network's original films. Clip of Billy Baldwin discussing his meaty role embedded below.

Jan. 3 2011 3:55 PM

Two Podcasts for Lovers of Movies and Comedy

I was stranded in a distant locale last week when my flight back to New York was canceled because of that massive blizzard . The good news about that is I discovered two excellent podcasts in which comedians discuss movies, and they helped bide the time away from home. The first one is already beloved by many. It's hosted by stand up Doug Benson, and it's called Doug Loves Movies . Every podcast of DLM includes a few, sometimes very famous, guests—past co-stars include Jon Hamm, Ellen Page, and Michael Cera—in a freewheeling discussion about film. At the end of each recording, the guests play something called the Leonard Maltin game. Benson reads a snippet from one of film critic Maltin's reviews, and the guests have to guess what movie it is. This is a surprisingly entertaining diversion when you are a total nerd.

The second podcast is brand new (there's only one full episode so far) and it's called How Did This Get Made ? On HDTGM, Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas, who are on the FX fantasy football comedy The League , along with actress June Diane Raphael, talk about movies so terrible that it's a shock they made it to the screen. The first episode covers Burlesque , and I can't wait to hear what disaster they gab about next. 

Dec. 23 2010 10:35 AM

Vacation Read: Colm Tóibín’s "Brooklyn"

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick.

I read Colm Tóibín’s haunting novel, Brooklyn , in two sittings this fall, and haven’t managed to shake it loose ever since. It’s a bare pen-and ink sketch; the so-called-life life of Eilis Lacey, who lives with her mother and sister in a tiny Irish town in the 1950’s and manages to get herself shipped off to a more glamorous life in New York, against her wishes. Eilis is barely knowable, hardly loveable, which makes her a perfect window into the messy patchwork that is Brooklyn’s Irish/Polish/Jewish/Italian/African American population. She brushes up against the brutality of the mid-twentieth century—the Holocaust and the American civil rights movement—without knowing what to make of them, how to speak of them, or whether they have affected her at all.


The trick of Brooklyn is that ultimately Eilis’ journey doesn’t end where you think it should, but where it began. As her quest winds down, she doesn’t so much find something great as lose something small. If you find yourself with some reading time in the coming days, Toibin’s Brooklyn is a beautiful place to get lost; a dream-world of roads not taken, selves unknown and promises not meant to be kept.

Dec. 22 2010 3:07 PM

Listening to Dylan Thomas Read Auden: An Antidote to Heartbreak

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate assistant Julia Felsenthal .

A friend recently prescribed me some W.H. Auden poems to contend with a broken heart. Reading the poet’s words in my own head helped some, but the feeling of catharsis really came once another friend alerted me to this recording of Dylan Thomas reading Auden’s "As I Walked Out One Evening ."


In Thomas’s tremulous, hellfire brogue, Auden’s allegorical verse sounds like both a sermon and a song. Thomas’s driving voice, rising in intensity and in pitch, builds marvelously towards the moment of reckoning in Auden’s climactic pair of stanzas:

O look in your distress:

Life remains a blessing

Although you cannot bless


O stand, stand at the window

As the tears scald and start;

You shall love your crooked neighbor

With your crooked heart


It’s hard not to feel small against the scope of this poem, and it’s also hard not to listen again and again.

Dec. 20 2010 2:01 PM

Watch the Original "Skins" Before the American Version Debuts

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate technology columnist Farhad Manjoo .

For the last few months MTV has been heavily promoting Skins , its upcoming show about high school kids, trippy drugs, trippier sex, and—if the trailers are any indication— much-too trippy camera work . The show will only begin to air in late January, but it’s already attracted a crowd of detractors —cultists who are worried that MTV will ruin the good name of the original British Skins , which has been running since 2007.


They’re right to worry. The original Skins is thrilling mainly for the surreal touch it brings to a very particular culture: The world of drug-addled, parentally neglected middle-class kids in Bristol. Skins follows in the long tradition of high-school dramas populated by kids who are far wittier than adults, and who do things that actual high school kids would never do (see Dawson’s Creek or Gilmore Girls ) but its real genius is in taking that convention way over the line of realism. The kids of Skins don’t just act like adults, they act like adults in madcap heist movies. Conventional teen problems—romantic hardships, sex obsession, eating disorders, more sex obsession—are joined by completely off-the-wall scenarios: There are stalkers, kidnappers, rampaging drug dealers, Eastern European strongmen, parents who disappear, teachers who sleep with kids whose parents disappear, and kids who get hit by busses out of the blue.

This sounds ridiculous, and often it is. (Though hilariously so. The second season begins with the kids performing a musical about 9/11 whose central lyric will stay with you for days: "Then came the day Osama blew us away…") But occasionally Skins ’ absurdity gives way to deep, touching moments that underline the true difficulties of being in high-school; it’s these moments that make the show unavoidably addictive. I don’t have high hopes that MTV can replicate that joy in the American edition, but that shouldn’t matter—the original Skins is available on DVD and instantly on Netflix . Watch it.

Dec. 16 2010 1:46 PM

The Ideal Package for a Football Obsessive

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate senior editor Josh Levin.

It’s a great time to be an NFL-loving homebody: Every gameis broadcast in HD, slow-motion replays abound, and the yellow first-down linemakes it head-slappingly simple to ref the game from your couch. Nevertheless,there’s still a fundamental problem with televised football—you can’t see allthe players. When the ball is snapped, wide receivers vanish off the side ofyour flatscreen as the camera zooms in on Tom Brady. As Aaron Schatz explained in Slate in 2007 , the only way to see all 22 players at once is to get access to theNFL’s proprietary "coaches’ film." As of this year, it’s proprietary no more.Subscribers to the NFL’s " Game Rewind "package—it costs $29.99 for the rest of the season—can watch online replays ofevery contest, including about 10 plays per game from the eye-in-the-sky perspective.On the coaches’ film, receivers and cornerbacks stay in frame, allowing you tounderstand how plays develop from beginning to end. For football junkies, thisis enlightening stuff—now, if only we could watch the whole game this way.

Dec. 15 2010 10:53 AM

Candid Queue: TV Critic Troy Patterson

Once a week, Procrastinate Better features a peek into the Netflix queue of a staffer or critic. No tampering with the results to make ourselves seem more or less erudite, we swear! Just the brief opportunity to explain (or defend, as the case may be) the choices. This installment comes from Slate TV critic Troy Patterson . More Candid Queues here.



: When last I submitted

, my lovely wife was managing the queue with a capable hand. Six months later, married life continues swimmingly, though the queue merely treads water. Victims of our own idealism, we allowed

, a documentary about killing dolphins, to languish beside the TV set as summer turned to fall, and then we returned it unwatched, having grown sufficiently enlightened and depressed through sheer osmosis.

languished even longer; the missus's curiosity could not trump her squeamishness, and she returned it unwatched. But now we've learned our lesson, and I wager that we'll return

unwatched in a mere two or three weeks. The alternative is to barrel through—hunker down, admire its stark beauty, suffer through a wrenching narrative of horrible things happening in a German village 100 years, and wonder why we didn't look to, say,

(or, for that matter,

) as an light leisure-time alternative.

2. La Dolce Vita : Ah, here's the Fellini. Excellent choice, ma'am. My bride will be taking this tour of Rome this for the first time. I will be looking up from botching one home-improvement project or another to savor favorite landmarks—Christ soaring over the cityscape, Anita Ekberg swanning through the Trevi Fountain, Marcello Mastrionanni fuming coolly in a chic funk.

3. Exit Through the Gift Shop . A quick-witted documentary about the graffiti artist Banksy and his peers and inferiors. I think she'll like it. I will give it a second look in an attempt to sort out why some people believe its portrait of the street-art hustle to be a hoax.

4. There is no four. As mentioned, the queue treads water. I'm adding Airplane! right now.

Dec. 13 2010 3:32 PM

A Wonderful British Radio Soap About Livestock and Love Affairs

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate 's foreign editor June Thomas.

Lastsummer, I discussed the multi-paddock system for optimal livestock grazing witha gentleman farmer. I acquitted myself well, despite being an urban dweller whohasn’t visited an agricultural concern since Jimmy Carter was in the WhiteHouse. I could also have chattered about polytunnels , the economicsof organic pig farming, and the latest trends in hay robbery—all topics I spendquite a lot of time pondering, thanks to The Archers , theBBC radio soap that celebrates its 60 th anniversary on Jan. 1, 2011.


Setin Ambridge, an imaginary rural village in the British Midlands, there is a lotof farm talk on The Archers —the showwas originally intended as an entertaining way to pass along agricultural tips—butthere’s also the usual soapy goodness of feuding brothers, crooked businessmen,and unsuitable love affairs. Last year, when 17-year-old Pip Archer wasdistracted from studying by her first serious relationship (with foul, fecklessJude), I was more worried about her exam results than I was back when I tooksimilar tests myself. And since several of the characters have been on the showfor decades, the treatment of aging and bereavement is often heart-breaking.

Youcan listen to the 12-minute show, which airs Sunday through Friday, on the BBC Web site orvia podcast ( daily orin a weeklyomnibus edition , available every Sunday).

Dec. 8 2010 4:26 PM

A Profane Resource for Dinner Suggestions

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today's endorsement is from Slate associate editor Juliet Lapidos.

On good days, the contents of my refrigerator dictate thecontents of my dinner. Olives, capers, and tomatoes—how about a Puttanesca? Onbad days, when there’s nothing in there save a carton of half-and-half andwilted greens, I resort to the cabinet, where I’m sure to find Kraft Mac andCheese. But every so often I take mymarching orders from WhatThe Fuck Should I Make For Dinner? In all-caps black lettering on anotherwise blank page, the site offers some fucking recommendations, forexample: "HOW ABOUT SOME FUCKING BAKED STUFFED LOBSTER." If you "DON’T FUCKINGLIKE THAT" or "DON’T FUCKING EAT MEAT" the site generates another possible dish, and then another, and another, until you’resatisfied or get carpal tunnel. Even if you’re never in the market for angrydinner recommendations, the site is well-worth checking out for the abrasiveyet poetic contrast between foul language and dainty suggestions. I can’timprove upon "LESSEN YOUR MOTHER’S SHAME WITH SOME FUCKING…POUSSIN WITH OLIVEPUREE AND SWEET PEPPERS."

Dec. 7 2010 1:29 PM

Candid Queue: Tom Scocca

Once a week, Procrastinate Better features a peek into the Netflix queue of a staffer or critic. No tampering with the results to make ourselves seem more or less erudite, we swear! Just the brief opportunity to explain (or defend, as the case may be) the choices. This installment comes from Slate contributor Tom Scocca . More Candid Queues here.

1. Samurai Jack : Season 4 : Disc 2: I think I promised I would watch Disc 1 over the weekend and get it back in the mail. Now I'm not sure where I put it to remind myself. I haven't seen Season 2 or Season 3. Viewing habits around here are erratic.


2. Million Dollar Baby : Viewing habits around here have been erratic for quite a while. First, we were living in Beijing, where there were almost no first-run movies to be had, and where the main source of foreign cinema was the wide-ranging but arbitrary inventory of bootleg DVD shops. So I've seen Mr. 3000 and Bon Cop Bad Cop , and Triad Election . But we're at least six years behind on seeing the midlist Oscar stuff that everybody was supposed to see. Except The Queen . The Queen was fantastic, once we figured out how to change the default audio language on the Chinese pirate DVD from Italian back to English.

3 . The Last King of Scotland : And then we had a kid, which made catching up even harder. In our last apartment, we never even unboxed the DVD player. Now it's unboxed but not connected. We just watch videos on our laptops, after the child is in bed, when we remember to. We saw the end of the remake of 3:10 to Yuma on cable, then we started watching the original on Instant, but we had to pause it and go to sleep and we forgot we were even doing it, so it's like 1:40 to Yuma indefinitely.

4. Atonement : Was this even good? Neftlix seems to say it wasn't. It probably doesn't matter, because while I was seeing if I could select text in the Netflix window, I accidentally dragged Master of the Flying Guillotine up from No. 6 to No. 1, bumping Atonement to No. 5. It was a happy accident; Netflix expects me to like it more, at 4.3 stars, than anything in the original top

5 . Still Life : "Two couples reunite amid the construction of a new neighborhood along the Yangtze River near the old city of Fengjie, which is now under water after the opening of the Three Gorges Dam." I like our odds of getting caught up on Chinese midlist better than the odds for American midlist.

Bonus Instant Queue!

1. Untold Scandal : "Set in 18th century Korea, this retelling of Dangerous Liaisons follows morality-deficient cousins Lady Cho (Lee Mi-Suk) and Cho-won (Bae Yong-Jun) as they scheme to ruin the lives of innocents." I like to think Netflix came up with this by multiplying The Host , which is the best thing we've seen on Instant, by various period costume dramas. I can't imagine this will be less than awesome.

2. The Scarlet Pimpernel : A&E's 1999 three-part series. I think we watched Part 1 and then the other two parts got bumped down by Untold Scandal . The Scarlet Pimpernel is amazingly durable. I've got a million-dollar idea for a contemporary rewrite. Somebody ask me.

3. Gomorrah , 4. I Vitelloni , & 5. L'Avventura : According to Netflix, the recipe for these three recommendations starts with Seven Samurai , plus, in various permutations, Do the Right Thing , City of God , 8 1/2 , and Annie Hall . I'm not going to argue with the computer that reminded me we needed to watch The Host .