99 Dreams I Have Had, Every One a Red Heifer: I read “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”

So I finally read Michael Chabon's novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and in spite of its serious flaws, I was still left with that wonderful feeling, Where have you been all my life? Why didn't I read this thing sooner?The novel's delights lie in its setting, its genre, and its prose. The setting is an alternate history in which the state of Israel was never founded, but the United States agreed to resettle Holocaust survivors and other European Jews in the Alaskan territory. So now … [Read more...]

If We Shadows Have Offended: I read “If We Were Villains”

So you don't have to!No, this trashy novel by M.L. Rio, set at an exclusive arts conservatory where the Shakespeare-obsessed fourth-year students probably kill a dude, could be cheaply summarized as, "The Secret History, but dumb." That's not even necessarily a criticism--lots of smart books are painfully dumb, and some dumb books are unexpectedly smart. I found myself enjoying this book and finding unexpected pleasures in it. It's frustrating and I think for most readers its flaws … [Read more...]

In Italy, They Call It “Battle Royale with Cheese”: I watch “The Tenth Victim”

Did you know that there's a '60s sunlit dystopia flick about a game show/social control mechanism where you hunt folk? Did you know it's also a romcom starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress? The Tenth Victim is wigged-out, askew, sexy in a PG-13 adolescent kind of way, and the most Roman movie I've ever seen. (I've seen The Great Beauty.)I loved this thing. I loved the interview with the "hunter": "Do you believe in God?" "Of course." "Do you believe in the family?" "A little … [Read more...]

Doomed Queen and Beaten Champion: Concert review, Tristen & the Mountain Goats

A few weeks ago I got a chance to see the Mountain Goats in concert. Let me tell you to do this thing if you get the chance. The Mt Goats is sort of one guy, John Darnielle, and the people he gets to help him make narrative, terrifically-structured indie music; I've yapped about their stuff here and here among other places. I super love them but am wary of live music for whatever dumb reason, so when I finally saw them at Calvin College, I was totally blown away. Darnielle was losing his voice … [Read more...]

File Under Sacred Music: Movie Notes

Daisies: A mid-'60s Czech feminist romp, and incredibly enjoyable from the first frame to the last. The costumes and set designs are all about childlike fun; the overall ethos is, "Eat dessert first!"Victor Morton points out the way this film is women's lib, not women's rights, and like all purely liberatory gestures it can't be justified--and Daisies itself acknowledges that! It cheerfully admits that it's unsustainable and gratuitous, utopian in the fullest sense, a Candyland and not a … [Read more...]

I Don’t Believe in Modern Love (But I Do Love “Modern Manners”)

Recently revisited Modern Manners: An Etiquette Guide for Rude People, my favorite PJ O'Rourke. I think what makes it work is the mix of elements. It's mostly corny humor, like the extended segment on food fights ("Use a raw oyster to show someone what a French kiss would be like if she'd married a reptile"). There's also a lot of witticism: a lot of peppy, preppy cynicism. But mixed into all that there is just enough genuine insight (the bit about how modern people have replaced love with … [Read more...]

“The Lady, Or the Lobster?”: I review a brutal new romcom/satire

seriously, this is tough to watch, but ferocious (also I sort of spoil the very end, because this otherwise-excellent movie has the one ending I hate most): I hesitate to recommend that you see The Lobster, since this romantic comedy about a man facing transformation into an arthropod is just too painfully realistic.The Lobster, written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is brutal and hilarious, with satire so sharp it could cut your wrists. The movie is set in a world where anyone who … [Read more...]