Butcher's beef diagram with movies and podcasts instead of cuts of meat

January 2022


Welcome to the first edition of Curated Beef, our monthly list of recommendations, passions, and whatever else has my attention for the next lunar cycle.

I’m still on break between semesters of software develpment classes, so my sleep schedule has been b a n a n a s. During the long dark nighttimes of the soul, I’ve watched a lot of movies and played a lot of videogames. My schedule will be more rigid and far busier starting next week, and I’m mostly keeping up on adulting tasks. And some time in the early summer, I’ll be back in the workforce. So I’m enjoying this career interlude as much as possible with as much discretion as possible. I know that all of you work hard at your jobs and that life is stressful, and I am fortunate that I can focus on classes exclusively until I finish this degree. So it is with knowledge of my privilege when I say that an empty schedule for a full month is not fun, but is mostly exhausting and anxiety-inducing. Every fiber of my quaker-adjacent Methodist upbringing panics at the idea of relaxation and doing nothing.

With that said, let’s get to the collection.


Moving Pictures

Lone Wolf and Cub series


1972–1974. This famous 1970s martial arts series has been chopped up, sampled, and referenced countless times. It seems to be one of those cultural touchstones that, upon viewing, tend to make one say, “oh, that’s where that came from?!”

The executioner for a clan during the Tokugawa Shogunate loses his position and his wife is killed due to a rival clan’s political manuevering. Vowing revenge (“We now walk the demon’s way”), he wanders the land with his baby son Daigoro in a wooden cart, accepting money in exchange for assassinations to make ends meet. Itto never loses sight of his ultimate goal, though, which is the annihilation of the Ura-Yagyū clan for their crimes against his family.

The movies are very short and have beautiful compositions. My wife can attest to my genuine delight at watching these movies, as I would pause every few minutes so that she could come into the room to see a particularly beautiful or heinous scene. There’s a lot of blood. You know the black-and-white scene in Kill Bill, the scene that was black-and-white specifically so that the film could avoid an NC-17 rating? That was an homage to these movies, and these movies have no such limitations. Limbs are lopped off, heads are split, necks are pierced, and everything, from beautiful woodcuts to Itto’s Danny-McBride-style slackjawed countenance, are dripping after every encounter.

These movies are also funny, tragic, silly, and I again want to stress that there are six of them and none is longer than 90 minutes.

Individual movie titles:

    • Sword of Vengeance (1972)
    • Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)
    • Baby Cart to Hades (1972)
    • Baby Cart in Peril (1972)
    • Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973)
    • White Heaven in Hell (1974)


White Lightning

Amazon Prime

1973. Burt Reynolds (sans mustache) plays a man named Gator McClusky who seeks revenge against a corrupt sheriff (Ned Beatty!) who murdered his brother. To get that revenge, he first must get out of prison. Then, he must re-enter the moonshine bootlegging industry of Arkansas as a federal informer, because everyone in Bodean County knows that Sheriff J. C. Connors gets a taste of every bootlegging dollar that goes through his county. If Gator can prove that Connors is corrupt, the feds can prosecute him.

Car chases, Burt at his most charming, some jaw-dropping stunts (that sand barge… wow!), a brisk 100-minute runtime, and nary a Yankee to be seen. Burt’s wily rascals and stunt shows across the 1970s and early 1980s are some of the most fun you can have at the movies. Pure southern exploitation and ham. And this one is directed by Joseph Sargent, who went on to make the absolute classic The Taking of Pelham 123 just a year later.



Theaters, January 28

2021. Everyone knows Peter Dinklage via the single-best character in Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister. His performance kept aloft some of the more plodding moments of the latter seasons even as Tyrion shifted from falstaffian to apprehensive voice of reason. He’s an incredibly charming and versatile actor. He plays the doting son and mob heavy in the excellent thriller I Care A Lot (2021). He is given a thankless role in both films of Death at a Funeral (2007, 2010) but even among mighty comedic casts like those, he holds his own effortlessly.

I’m extremely excited to see him in a Cyrano de Bergerac adaptation, and it’s a musical on top of everything else! Good stuff. Cyrano de Bergerac is a story that you’ve seen countless times even if you’ve never seen it. Cyrano is a witty but shy man who is in love with Roxanne but, unable to get the courage to speak to her, he recruits  guileless beefcake Christian to woo her using Cyrano’s words. My favorite adaptation is Steve Martin’s excellent Roxanne (1987), but this story has been retold a thousand times in a thousand ways, from The Truth About Cats and Dogs to episodes of Seinfeld, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Futurama.

The rest of the cast is interesting, including Haley Bennett as Roxanne (one of the better actors in the execrable The Devil All The Time) and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (The Trial of the Chicago Seven) as Christian.


Hell or High Water


2016. I will make this one very easy for you. There are two reasons that you should watch Hell or High Water, an offbeat bank robbery thriller about the effects of the 2007 recession on Texas farmers.

  1. You watch the tv series Yellowstone. This soapy drama is massively popular, with the highest ratings of any cable show in the past 4 years and an absolute record-breaker for Paramount. Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed Hell or High Water and has written and directed nearly every episode of Yellowstone. If you like Yellowstone, you will like this movie.
  2. You like wry, sardonic, winky performances and stories about working-class desperation. Jeff Bridges chews all of the scenery in this movie, and what he doesn’t chew, Ben Foster does. In addition to them, Chris Pine and Gil Birmingham put in two of my favorite performances of the past decade of crime thrillers. Pine plays a man with everything to lose and zero good options. Birmingham plays a Christian Contemporary music-lovin’ cop of the type we just don’t see in movies (or life) any more, a guy who views it as a job that you stop thinking about once you clock out for the day.


The Legend of Vox Machina

Amazon Prime, January 28.

2022. Your mileage may vary on the nerd-culturally ubiquitous live-play show/youtube/podcast/twitch stream that is Critical Role. If you play tabletop roleplaying games (your Dungeons and Dragonses, Calls of Cthulhu, Pathfinders, etc.), you have watched the show and/or had other people at your table reference it. At one point during Crit Role’s first campaign, I was a regular vewier, but the endless dice rolls, five-hour episodes, and neverending storylines beat me into submission. Life’s too short to watch people roll dice for four hours to resolve a combat with an ogre. HOWEVER, the cast of the show are very funny and very talented voice actors, so their performances kept it interesting despite Dungeons and Dragons being singularly unsuited for live-play storytelling.

Anyway, their adventuring party from the first campiagn of Critical Role is the Vox Machina of the title. Critical Role’s record-breaking Kickstarter campaign and popularity led to their animated fantasy series being picked up for distribution by Amazon Prime. And the series releases on January 28.

The Legend of Vox Machina focuses on the Briarwood storyline, which is why I’m recommending this animated series to you. I really like the premise. The Briarwoods are vampires who murdered the de Rolo family and stole their lands, then slowly brought the entire region under their control. The sole survivor of the de Rolo line is Percy, and he (and his steampunk weaponry) will stop at nothing to reclaim his family estate and kill the monstrous Briarwoods. The story is very Castlevania and very Hammer Horror.

This seems well suited to episodic, animated storytelling. I think that twelve 30-minute episodes—with no dice-rolling—is exactly the amount of time that I want to spend with Grog and Keyleth and Scanlan and Trinket the bear. Sign me up.




PC/Mac via Steam or Epic, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, XBox One

Consider this an eternal recommendation for Griftlands, an incredible deckbuilding videogame with a brilliant rules system. The art style is Mad Max via Dragon’s Lair. You play a stranger with a shady past who enters the hinterlands and must choose sides in a million little aggressions, be it labor versus management in the mines or feuding gangs or corporate espionage. There are three characters, each with a unique playstyle and corresponding deck of cards. The combat system is divided between two spheres: Battle, which is traditional combat with weapons and allies and items; and Negotiation, which is a battle using arguments and rhetoric.

Even if you don’t like deckbuilding games, you are likely to get your money’s worth out of Griftlands from enjoying the design of the world and the novelty of the Negotiation system.



Pretending to Be People

Speaking of live-play podcasts, PTBP is at the other end of the spectrum from Critical Role. Thanks to their use of Call of Cthulhu (technically, a mashup of the variants Delta Green and Pulp Cthulhu) rather than Dungeons and Dragons, the episodes of PTBP hum along. Dice-rolling is infrequent and efficient, and combat is rare and mostly resolved through dialogue. There is no less an emphasis on improvisation and shared storytelling, but rather than melodrama, Zach the GM thrusts his players into terrifying situation after terrifying situation, and they only get glimpses of the overaching conspiracy.

Keith Vigna (née Beans), John Lee Pettimore IV, and Clark Bishop are townie cops in the small town of Contention, Missouri. Like in Blue Velvet or The X-Files, dark things are hiding beneath the surface of their quiet rural world. Though the cops may have training, guile, and an endless supply of armed cousins, they are not prepared for what lies ahead. Because seriously, how does one prepare for machines that swap brains between bodies, time travel, monsters from beyond space, and underground gladiatorial arenas funded by cocaine trafficking?

(Content warning: this is what I’d call a Hard-R rated show. The characters are hilariously filthy and amoral, and Zach’s descriptions of eldritch horrors can be unnerving.)


The Suspense is Killing Us

This has become one of my go-to movie podcasts. Focusing solely on thrillers, the hosts pick a theme for each biweekly episode and then talk about three movies (a recent example: Brown Notes, focusing on the Dan Brown movie adaptations). Their vast knowledge of the genre is impressive, and it has turned me on to countless movies. If names like Sharon Stone, Paul Schrader, and Brian De Palma pique your interest, this pod’s for you.

They end each episode by rating the movies, and even their ratings system shows their dedication to the thriller. The quality of each film is on a scale of 1 to 5 Judds (as in Ashely Judd, queen of the crime thriller), and the sleaze factor of the film is on a scale of 1 to 5 Douglases (as in Michael Douglas, king of cinematic sleaze).

(Content warning: this is another Hard-R show, which given the films in question, kinda goes without saying.)