Wunderlist to-do app
I’ve always felt bashful about buying to-do list apps, because why the hell do you need an app to make a list and check things off of it? I’ve come to terms, though, with the reality that an app can help me accomplish things when I’ve got a busy day ahead. I gather that Wunderlist has many wonderful features, but in terms of function, I just care that it does the only three things I want from a to-do app. It lets me create new tasks quickly, which is essential because otherwise organizing my chores feels like a chore in itself. It syncs between my various computers and iGizmos. And it lets me break tasks down into smaller, intermediate goals. Just as important, Wunderlist looks and feels great. I revise my lists while I ride the train into the office each day, and by the time I’m done, my stressful mess of deadlines has been transformed into an orderly, attractive menu that induces far less anxiety. And when I check off a completed task, it slides away with a satisfying whoosh that acts a tiny reward. (B.F. Skinner would be proud.) These are just psychological effects, but psychology matters when you’re trying to get things done, and Wunderlist goes a long way toward placating my work-related anxieties so I can be relaxed and productive. [John Teti]
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
I finally picked up Bring Up The Bones after finishing Wolf Hall over a year ago—not because I was dreading picking up the sequel or anything, but rather because I knew it would be so good that I wanted to keep it on my shelf as something to look forward to. Wolf Hall tells the story of Henry VIII’s master secretary, Thomas Cromwell, as he comes to power from inglorious origins and orchestrates the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533. Bring Up The Bodies is more tightly written and a bit more elegant, tracking Cromwell’s efforts to dethrone the queen he spent years crowning. Wolf Hall is somewhat triumphant, even though a whole bunch of people end up dead; Bring Up The Bodies, as its title indicates, bloodier and more ruthless. Mantel makes Cromwell a fascinating character, one who is as aware of the silk braid trim on the nearly ex-queen’s sleeves as he is of the coded language he’s getting from the king, who will never outright ask Cromwell to get rid of Anne but expects him to do so, all the same. Mantel makes the history meaty and alive—so much so you can almost smell the stink of her unwashed nobles, the sharp iron blood oozing out of an executed body. And her prose inhabits Cromwell’s mind so completely that it sometimes seems scattered in its narration, until the chapter goes on to reveal with devastating clarity the pure essence of the moment—a single soft memory, a tart jiggling on a table, a turn of phrase that haunts our protagonist. Mantel understands living, and she brings it to bear fearlessly in a story of people long dead. [Sonia Saraiya]
Jane Austen’s Mafia!
I can’t remember exactly when my love for film parodies first began, but I can remember when that love solidified itself permanently into my young heart: the day I watched Jane Austen’s Mafia! I don’t know what it is that makes me love this film so much. Maybe that this was Lloyd Bridges’ last performance before he died? That Jay Mohr still had some potential? Or is there something about a grandmother lighting her farts on fire that tickles my funny bone? Mafia! imitates the style and feel of the mobster movies that came before it, specifically The Godfather trilogy. Jay Mohr plays Anthony “Tony” Cortino, the son of the prominent Mafia don, Vincenzo Armani Windbreaker Cortino. When a fellow mob family attempts to assassinate Vincenzo, Tony must step up and take control of the family business. The film interweaves flashbacks of the family’s history with events in the present day, spending a large, hilarious portion of the story following young a Vincenzo as he ascends the ranks. While Mohr plays the straight man to great effect, the supporting cast of eccentrics is what makes the film so enjoyable. Christina Applegate as Tony’s idealistic girlfriend, Diane; pre-Twilight Saga Billy Burke as Joey, Tony’s older, drug-addicted brother; and of course Lloyd Bridges effortlessly playing the role of fictional patriarch. While critical reviews would suggest otherwise, Mafia! is a fun film and completely worth the $2.99 rental fee on Amazon Instant Video. [Ali Bridges]