What to Consume: Russian Rot and How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Movies The Return (2003), Leviathan (2014), and Loveless (2017) These are all Russian movies by director Andrey Zvyagintsev. These films are bleak, but it’s hard to take your eyes off of them, both for their stark beauty and their nightmarish fairy-tale feel. One theme tying all these films together is the “rot” at the core of the Russian family: submissive and materialistic mothers; negligent and violent fathers; a crazy grandma... The kids are the only pure ones. Russia’s youth (if they only got to healthfully pass into adulthood) would be Russia’s salvation. But the kids will inevitably be swept into the vortex of generational dysfunction. One of these movies ends with a scene of a mother, wearing an Olympic "Russia" shirt, walking on a treadmill. It’s as if Zvyagintsev is saying the country is going nowhere. A- How to Blow up a Pipeline (2022) I was impressed with how unequivocal the film was. The script doesn’t condescend to its environmentalists or their high-minded ambitions. It’s a movie about an act of violence that doesn’t apologize for the violence. You could say it's almost endorsing the violence. I'm not saying I'm endorsing it (here I go equivocating), but I respect their choice to say, "the hell with it, let's say something bold." B+ Limbo (2020) I watched this film, along with the 1949 film, Whisky Galore!, in cultural preparation for my late-summer trip to the Outer Hebrides, where these films were filmed. This one is about a group of refugees who wait in a state of limbo — on a bleak and windy Scottish island — while their refugee status is determined. It’s a nice mixture of comedy and somber drama. B Night of the Hunter (1955) This movie ultimately feels dated and does not stand the test of time, which may be the case with all movies before 1970. Halfway through, I could no longer suspend disbelief and my emotions left the room. But a dated film can still be a worthwhile watch if watched analytically: perhaps to get a glimpse of a bygone culture, to see how types of people were depicted, or to take note of, what must have been, cinematic breakthroughs. In this one, I noted how the cinematography was inspired, whimsical, magical. (See the haunting image at the top of this newsletter.) And the story of a religious nutter with a repressed sexuality, who wishes to delude the simpleminded and make their lives equally miserable, retains its relevance. C Disappointments: I had high hopes for the 2022 indie sci-fi Lola (about a machine that helps the British see into the future during WWII). Great idea, but it ultimately felt artificial and frivolous. I was equally disappointed with David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, which had the potential to say profound things about our changing bodies, environmental defects, and transhumanism, but the parts that may have been worthwhile were lost in silly scenes of people poking themselves with knives and having sex with wounds, all wrapped in a convoluted and dissatisfying noir plot. Like Wes Anderson, I fear Cronenberg cares more for exercising his style than telling a worthwhile story. TV The Bear (Season 2) - Enough praise has been showered on "The Bear," but I wish to add my own. I thought it was superb, with brilliant editing and a soundtrack worth re-streaming. I was half-disappointed with the decision to cast well-known actors for episode six, “Fishes,” but I thought every celebrity actor hit it out of the park and I consider the episode to be one of the most mesmerizing hours of television I’ve ever watched. Poldark (1975) - I adore Winston Graham's Poldark book series, as well as this 1970’s BBC adaptation. There’s no one in literature, who I (aspiringly) identify with more than Ross Poldark. I’m nowhere near as bold, but I am equally irritable and I have the same “I don’t need to smile for you” disagreeability. Plus, those first few Poldark books — when Ross’s life implodes due to a failing mine, impending bankruptcy, family betrayal, medical mishaps — somehow capture the difficulties of mid-adulthood, when you’re suddenly loaded with responsibilities and don’t have all the answers. Anywho, the actor, Robin Ellis, who plays Ross, and Angharad Rees, who plays Demelza, are outstanding and perfectly cast.
Podcasts “What can a man do?” on The Unspeakable Podcast - Meghan Daum and writer Christine Embe talk about the “crisis of masculinity.” WTF with Marc Maron - Maron has had on some spectacular guests recently:
Naomi Klein on her book Doppelganger, about the strange left-to-right slide a lot of yoga teachers and massage therapists have taken.
Jeff Sharlat on his book Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, about how fascists on the right are arming up for a civil war of sorts.
Comedian Maria Bamford talks about group therapy and her mental health.