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What We're Loving: Unpopular Opinions, Hidden Upsides, Deleted Context, Specialized Pitching

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison makes a bold statement, Jonda Robinson fails greatly, Amanda Hahn needs a mind break, and Ryan Callahan goes to the bullpen. imgresSometimes I really hate popular opinion. There’s a collective hive mind that we all participate in and often times cinema is significantly affected by it’s whims. You’ll hear about this amazing movie that “everyone” loves, set plans to see it opening night, and then realize within five minutes that Benjamin Button is terrible. But you can’t say anything about how much you hated it because it gets nominated for Oscars and stuff. The opposite happens too and it’s even more disappointing. There are so many movies that our pop culture group mind simply rejects and we’re not supposed to give them a chance. Then, like an idiot, I see one of these flicks, love it, and can’t talk about my adoration for it in fear of receiving palpable judgement in return. The current film I feel self conscious about really enjoying is something that was released on DVD this past week: Muppets Most Wanted. AND IT’S WHAT I’M LOVING THIS WEEK. There, I said it.

Where are you going?

Don’t run away yet!

Hear me out on this. Yes this commercial failure that you didn’t hear anything good about is not a great film. With that said, there are numerous factors that make it highly enjoyable to watch. First, you’ve got solid performances from Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell. See, that’s not so bad! You liked them in that other thing you liked, so that’s gotta count for something. Also, it’s basically a musical and contains about ten full length songs, most of which were written by Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords). Flight of the Conchords was your favorite show! Plus, McKenzie won an Oscar for the tunes he wrote for the previous Muppets film, so that helps. Oh and it’s the Muppets! You remember how much you loved them as a kid? You would’ve killed another child, straight up murdered a newborn, to go to Muppet Treasure Island with the gang.

So give this movie a shot. Even if it means sneaking it home in a pizza box and watching it under the cover of darkness so that your friends don’t judge you. - David Allison 9780345472328_p0_v2_s260x420

Lately I’ve been trying to look at the positive side of failing. For example, last week I was visiting a friend and we decided to go eat at a certain restaurant. We got a cab and made the trek across town during rush hour, only to find out that they were closed. Sigh. Trying to look on the bright side, I told her that it wasn’t a total waste because it was a mistake we’d learn from. She appropriately rolled her eyes at me.

In an effort to prepare for another year of teaching middle school, I’ve been learning more about the concept of learning through failure from the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck. Dweck’s theory is that there are two kinds of mindsets that you can have: the fixed mindset, in which you believe that your intelligence and talents are fixed and do not change, and the growth mindset, in which you believe that your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. For the fixed mindset, failure is a terrifying thing that says, “You’re not enough.” But for the growth mindset, failure is a perfect opportunity to learn and become better than you were before. According to Dweck, you get to choose which mindset you approach life with. If you’d like to see which mindset you currently lean toward, there’s a quiz for that! And if you’d like to attempt to change your mindset, there are steps for that!

Some of the most fun things I have done in the past year, from taking a sketch writing class to wakesurfing, were scary things that I at first said no to because I was afraid of failing. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to try, I highly suggest that you go for it, even if you’re afraid you’ll fail at it. It’ll help you become a cooler, better version of yourself. And if you need something to help you get motivated, check out Dweck’s book to give you that little push that you need. - Jonda Robinson

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The end of each semester is typically unusually busy. This summer’s semester has been no exception. Sometimes you just need a mind break from everything. I found the perfect one: Ads Without Context . The name is misleading because it’s more like “ads re-contextualized” than ads with no context. And thank goodness it is. This entire feed is just .gifs from infomercials with captions giving new context to the melodramatic ads. The mix of the silent overacting overlaid with the captions is endlessly silly and delightful.

Some are simple.

Some are gross.

Some make me laugh out loud.

Some are weirdly sad.

And many more are endlessly re-watchable.

So turn off the TV and tune into No Context Ads. The infomercials are way better on there. - Amanda Hahn

51fbRsn29aL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_You ever find a book and feel like it was written just for you? That's how I feel about The Setup Man: A Novel, the debut thriller by T.T. Monday. The book introduces Johnny Adcock, a 35-year-old lefty relief specialist for the fictional San Jose Bay Dogs. Johnny only pitches when the Bay Dogs have a lead, and only against left-handed hitters. He works about ten minutes a night. Most guys in his position would be content to chew on sunflower seeds and let the money roll in. Not Johnny Adcock. He's the restless sort. He needs something to fill the rest of the day. That's why he works as a private detective. Worried your wife is cheating on you with the pool boy? Someone from your time in the minors trying to blackmail you? Johnny Adcock is your man.

The Setup Man combines my two favorite things: Private detectives, and private detectives who are also other things. Private detectives are my favorite fictional characters. As a child I loved them all: Encyclopedia Brown, Thomas Magnum, Rick and A.J. Simon. The A-Team was essentially a private eye super team. In high schoool I discovered Humphrey Bogart's Phillip Marlowe, still the greatest onscreen P.I. ever. After college I devoured the Continental Op stories of Dashiell Hammett, such as Red Harvest, for my money the best P.I. novel ever. I've spent many an afternoon or evening binge watching reruns of Psych or Monk. Private detectives are the best.

But the private detective who is also something else is even better. How can something be better that the best? Here's how: What would be better than a private detective who investigates the paranormal? Oh, I don't know, maybe a  private detective who investigates the paranormal and has a day job as a lifeguard. What could be better than a private detective played by Andy Richter? A private detective / accountant played by Andy Richter! And what could be better than a private eye who investigates the seedy underbelly of Major League Baseball? A private eye who investigates that seedy underbelly while having to pitch to lefties every couple of days.

I started reading The Setup Man late Tuesday night and finished on Wednesday. Once I started, I had to keep reading. That's about the highest praise you can give a P.I. novel. I needed to know what happened next, and I wanted to see how Johnny Adcock would solve the case. The book isn't perfect. There are a couple thudding moments of authorial intrudsion that feel like an after-school special, and the book jacket inexplicably features a right-handed pitcher, but the plot moves, the tone is charming, there is a vivid cast of characters, and the details about day to day life in the majors seem authentic. I can't wait for Johnny Adcock's next adventure. - Ryan Callahan

What We're Loving: .Gif Stories, Street Music, Heart-Breaking Car Rides, French Crime Novels

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week David Allison travels the information superhighway, Amanda Hahn pines for Europe, Jonda Robinson dances in her car, and Ryan Callahan revisits a description of violence.  imagesYou guys and gals should check out the popular world wide website named http://www.reddit.com.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, please start here.

Reddit is comprised of many popular subreddits (Communities) that normal, well adjusted people would enjoy.  There are also less popular subreddits that cater to internet weirdos that believe sitting on balloons to be sex.  One of the pages that falls somewhere in the middle is r/behindthegifs. And this week that page is, let’s all say it at the same time, WHAT I’M LOVIN’ [Insert raucous cheering].

.Gifs are tiny moving pictures that look grainy and normally involve a dog (This is the world champion).  Part of the appeal of a good .gif is that there is no context.  A funny video is chopped down to like four seconds, sound is eliminated, and it never stops.  r/behindthegifs takes the best abrupt clips and adds an absurd backstory.

You should check out the entire subreddit, but here are some of my favorites that I’ve discovered so far.

There are a trillion great ones, so please check out the subreddit and comment with your favorites.  Let’s create a community of people appreciating this internet community! - David Allison

800_370I love street musicians. I love walking through a park and hearing an acoustic guitar in the distance. On the rare occasion I take public transportation, I love waiting at the stop with a sultry singer banging out a rendition of Summertime. It’s something I rarely hear in Dallas. I hadn’t noticed the lack of street music here until I recently traveled to a popular world continent named Europe. If you’re unfamiliar with it, start here.

Almost every time I stepped out of anywhere to go from point A to point B, I would bump into one or more people performing. Performances ranged from one man and a guitar to a band of young drummers. They’re not always the most talented people, but it’s heartwarming to watch someone do something that they love to do. The only times I can think of that I have thought to myself, “I wish I loved anything as much as that person loves doing what they’re doing” have been when watching someone sing or play an instrument. Street musicians allow me to get up-close and really watch them love what they’re doing. I put some of the musicians I enjoyed watching the most in a playlist that I watch whenever I miss eating gelato and people watching on the steps of an old cathedral.

But this doesn’t have to be something that I miss! Or that any of us miss! So this week, I am putting out a call to action. Musicians of Dallas: Take to the streets! Find a park, find a bench, find a tunnel, an alleyway, a corner, a roof – wherever! Play for us. Please. Play a little soundtrack for our lives. Let us watch you do what you love. We’ll love you even more for it. - Amanda Hahn

17JasonIsbell37This summer has found me spending a good amount of time in my car, traveling here and there. My favorite thing to do while driving is put on some good music, sing along at the top of my lungs, and, when the song calls for it, do just enough car dancing to make other drivers wish they were having as much fun. Lately I’ve had a variety of artists riding shotgun, from Loretta Lynn telling me that I’m not woman enough to take her man (she’s right; I’m not) to Vampire Weekend asking who really cares about an Oxford comma (I do, guys! Use it!). One artist who I keep returning to, though, is Jason Isbell and his album Southeastern. With today’s music, it’s usually hard for me to find an album that I enjoy from beginning to end, but Isbell’s stands out because it’s consistently good. It’s got an Americana/Country sound to it, and it showcases his ability as a songwriter. My hands-down favorite song on the album is “Elephant.” I highly recommend you give it a listen, but I’m also giving you a warning: It’s heavy, it’s haunting, and it’s a heart-breakingly beautiful ride. “Traveling Alone,” “Cover Me Up,” and “Different Days” are some of my favorites as well, and “Super 8” is a fun, upbeat track. Overall, Isbell’s weighty lyrics and stories have been just the break I needed from the sugary summer anthems that radio stations have on heavy rotation.

Next time you’re roadtripping or just stuck in traffic, I highly recommend you crank up whatever your current jam is, sing it like you mean it, and car dance like no one is watching. But trust me, other drivers will be watching--and they’ll be wishing they were half as cool as you. - Jonda Robinson

productimage-picture-the-mad-and-the-bad-376As I've mentioned once or twice, I'm a big fan of crime novels.  This week I dove into the works of French crime novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette.  I was introduced to Manchette thanks to the New York Review Books Classic series. His first solo crime novel, The Mad and the Bad was the July selection for the NYRB Classics subscription series. The novel tells the tale of a immoral industrialist, the mentally unstable woman he hires to babysit his nephew, and the professional hit man  he hires to murder them both. I devoured the novel in two sittings. Not the most impressive feat; the book runs about 150 pages.

After reading The Mad and the Bad, I tore through two other Manchette books: Fatale, the story of a cold-blooded  blackmailer and murderess who grows tired of her lifestyle, and The Prone Gunman, about a CIA hit man and his disastrous attempt to return Gatsby-like to his hometown and reclaim his long lost love. Like The Mad and the Bad, both novels are short and well worth your time.

I consider Manchette a kindred spirit with American crime master Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me, The Grifters). Both write with  a lean, straightforward style that perfectly captures the pitch black comedy of their borderline absurd situations. Manchette's characters are broken people doing bad things, unable and unwilling to stop themselves. Like all great noir, his characters are on a one way journey to the abyss, and they have a sense of humor about their fate.

Manchette's terse, propulsive style creates some of the finest action sequences I have ever read. There is one particularly impressive sequence in The Mad and the Bad. A confrontation in a department store leads to some impromptu arson leads to a bloody shootout in the street. I found myself rereading the passage over and over again.

Reading those Manchette books had me so jazzed, so in love with the possibilities of the crime novel. It is my favorite genre, by far. After finishing those books, I found myself stuck on what to read next. Ultimately I settled on tackling an author I have long neglected, Raymond Chandler. You can expect to read more about him next week. - Ryan Callahan