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Author | Journalist | Speaker

  • Ken Ilgunas

I will be publishing fewer posts and newsletters on this site as I begin to shift my writing onto the Substack platform.

You'll see prompts on this website where you can add your email address to my Substack list.



Land and Sons (Iceland, 1980) I don’t know how anyone would access this delightful little film, but I watched it on a connecting flight from Toronto to Reykjavik. It’s about a young man who’s apathetic about his country life. His father, neighbors, dog, horse (and a fetching milkmaid) all love him and want him to remain on the farm, but he is so drawn to the city that he’s willing to abandon everything. It’s set in Iceland, but it’s a universal story about rural exodus and shaking one's roots free, for better or worse. B 


The Teacher’s Lounge (Germany, 2023) A nightmarish “educational thriller” about a teacher whose sensible decisions get misinterpreted by an inflexible bureaucracy. It reminded me a bit of the French film, The Class, in which small mistakes by a well-meaning teacher lead the teacher to the edge of ruin. I didn’t get the ending of this one, though, which means that it was either cowardly and noncommittally ambiguous or smarter than me (probably smarter). B-


American Fiction (USA, 2023) This film blends cultural commentary with a conventional romantic side-plot. The film is at its best when it’s skewering culture; it feels like warmed leftovers when it’s trying to be normal. Sometimes a movie leaves you with an “it was fine” feeling. There’s nothing that special about the plot of the TV show, "The Bear," but what elevates "The Bear" is aesthetic vision, risky artistic choices, innovative editing, and a killer soundtrack. American Fiction had no style, which could have elevated it into something special. B-


The Iron Claw (USA, 2023) Zac Efron definitely deserves an Oscar nomination. This is an important movie about family and masculinity, pointing us in the right direction. B


Showing Up (USA, 2022) Kelly Reichardt is a top-3 director for me. Her Night Moves (2013) is one of my favorites and has weirdly been all but ignored. Showing Up is a lesser Reichardt but a lesser Reichardt is still a good movie. B  


Poor Things (USA, 2023) **spoilers** I’ve seen almost every Yorgos Lanthimos movie and I admire how he sets his movies in an alternate universe that is uncannily like our own, but absent of some of our most significant trappings, such as our post-Augustinian puritanical sex mores. In Poor Things, Bella’s narrative arc felt full, but the destination — a dead father, a lobotomized ex (turned into a pet goat), and a sexless husband — had me wondering what the film was saying. Was Bella — who was built and controlled by men — now merely the controller of men? Did she, in her choice of husband, abandon her propensity for sensual delight for upper-class comfort? Did this very naughty film, in the last second, turn stuffily conservative? B


Dune II (USA, 2023) The visuals and action were unforgettable, and this was masterfully made, though I think I wish director Denis Villeneuve had kept making minor and memorable hits rather than getting entangled in another endless franchise. (When will be afflicted with Dune’s first trio of Disney+ spinoffs?) I feel like this trilogy should have ended after this one, as there is seemingly not much to draw on for a third movie. B-


Shot Caller (USA, 2017) This is the sort of violent prison-and-drugs film I’d go out of my way not to see unless it’s recommended by a trusted source, and in this case it was by the team at The Rewatchables podcast. This one worked because of an all-in performance by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister from "Game of Thrones") and one of the most authentic death scenes (there are a couple) by an actor who shall not be named. B


My four-tiered prison movie hall of fame pyramid


The Rewatchables guys talked about their four-tiered, pyramid-style prison movie "hall of fame," which looks very different from my slightly more pretentious hall of fame, with some TV sprinkled in:


Top tier: Shawshank Redemption (USA, 1994)


Second tier: Un Prophete (France, 2009); Escape at Dannemora (2018)


Third tier: Hunger (Ireland, 2008), The Passion of Joan of Arc (France, 1928), American History X (1998)


Fourth tier: Black Bird (USA, 2022); Shot Caller (USA, 2017); Bad Boys (USA, 1983); Louie Theroux: Miami Mega Jail (UK, 2011)



The White Lotus, Seasons 1 & 2


Dark and funny, The White Lotus is laser-focused on locating and then yanking our culture’s raw nerve endings, whether it’s race, male malaise, or non-monogamy. It would be so easy for this show to be nothing more than a cynical satire about rich white people, but it is secretly sweet at its core. The filmmakers love their characters, giving them meaningful arcs in lands of plenty. A-   


Roast of Tom Brady


Did we just watch something culturally significant? There was a palpable air of release on the dais, where a lot of buttoned-up people loosened their ties, untucked their shirts, took shots together and at each other. There was an air of carnivalesque jubilee that became more feral with each passing hour. Comedians said the unsayable and America, all at once, experienced a cleansing release. It says something that football fans (the most cynical and hard-to-please people in the world) were uncharacteristically full of praise: “Best roast I have ever watched”; “Bill was awesome”; “savage af”; “The Hernandez jokes were amazibg.” Nikki Glaser and Tony Hinchcliffe were the night’s big winners.




The Gloria Films


In 1965, three psychotherapists met with Gloria, a divorced mom. The film series was a way of showing the public three variations of therapy (person-centered, gestalt, and rational emotive therapy). These videos are not only instructive but highly entertaining. Gloria is very likable.



Professor Sarah Paine for President!


A podcaster interviews Sarah Paine, a professor of history and strategy at the Naval War College, about WWII, modern China, and the Ukraine/Russia war. You could not spend 2.5 hours any better.




Ezra Klein Podcast with Ari Shavit — I am embarrassed with how little I know about the Israel-Palestine conflict and I have been puzzled by, what I perceive to be, an overly strident and un-nuanced approach by many college protesters. I’ve been trying to catch up via podcasts. I found this one to be the most helpful.


The Art of Manliness Podcast with…. umm… Me! — Brett and I talk about vandwelling, debt, and my quest to re-institutionalize my life.




Last week, I went on a tiny speaking tour, involving a high school in Seattle, a keynote address for Ithaca College’s Sustainability Week, and a talk at a Western New York high school, where they'd assigned my first book, Walden on Wheels. I was glad to see that WoW has themes that are resonating with this generation's upperclassmen. If your high school or college is looking for a reasonably-priced speaker, feel free to send an email my way.


write, sow, and throw


I am now back in Scotland, eager to start up my next rec league softball season and get my hands dirty in the garden. I’m taking night courses to someday qualify as a psychotherapist, which I hope will be a stable side gig that will be independently enriching while helping to support my unstable writing career.


After a three-year pitching hiatus — in which a series of failed pitches snapped my literary spine — I’m starting to send out ideas to newspapers and magazines.

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