What to Read, Watch, and Listen to This Week: July 15
There’s a lot going on right now. Maybe you’re protesting, maybe you’re donating, maybe you’re keeping tabs on the way your representatives are responding to the present moment, maybe you’re buying from one of these Black-owned Portland brands. Keep doing that!
Our lives are not one thing, though, and you’re also probably looking to escape, however briefly, into a show or a book or an album that might help you shut out the world or understand it a little better. To get the wheels turning, here’s the stuff filling our queues at Portland Monthly this week, from Aretha to Antkind to Andy Samberg.
I am barely 100 pages into Charlie Kaufman’s 700-page debut novel, and it has already fucked with my head harder than any number of cake memes could ever dream. This is, of course, par for the course with Kaufman: he’s the dude who wrote Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation., those Y2K hallmarks of trippy self-reflection.
Antkind picks bits from each of Kaufman’s films, blends them on high, and sprinkles in the ghosts of postmodern literary faves from Vonnegut to Calvino. This might sound exhausting, and it sort of is, but it’s way more readable and lively (and hilarious) than the soupy navel-gaze that description threatens. It’s set in the mind of pompous, strenuously woke film critic B. Rosenberger Rosenberg who, while on assignment in Florida, discovers a sprawling stop-motion masterwork from an unknown talent who dies while Rosenberg is screening his film (which is three months long). Rosenberg then tries to transport the film and its bizarre sets back to New York, but the contents catch fire, and he’s forced to recall it from memory.
Kaufman burns through plot and subject matter so ruthlessly in these first hundred pages that I have legitimately zero idea what’s next, which is promising. It’s also funny as hell—like, multiple laughs per page funny—and if a few jokes are too cute by half, delightful sidebars about movies both real and imagined (like Robin Williams’s heartwarming I Am Your Teacher and I Love You) have been enough to keep me coming back. What’s more, Kaufman manages to employ the old “inhabit the mind of a character who sucks, as a COMMENT on people who suck” trick with surprising grace. I have no idea if this will all hold together, but I am pretty excited to find out if it does. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor
Aretha Live at Fillmore West
I have tried so many ways to use words to describe this thing. I simply cannot do it. When you look at it, you might say, “This is a recording of a live music performance.” It is not that. It is something else. I have spent a not-insignificant portion of my life enjoying, discussing, and making music, and it turns out that I still do not possess the tools to describe this thing. Every possible matrix I might use to assess the quality of a piece of music or its performance is simply present. I can’t explain why exactly you need to listen to this, but I think you do, and maybe you will be confounded, like I am, in this most enjoyable way. —Brian Breneman, deputy art director
Friends and Strangers
So maybe you’re still sheltering in place and can’t go to the beach this summer, but you still deserve a beach read. There’s a time and a place to decide you need to read, say, Crime and Punishment for the first time, but right now does not feel like that time. Instead, try J. Courtney Sullivan’s new Friends and Strangers, which fits neatly into my preferred category of summer reading: literate and smart, but also a heck of a lot of fun and a break for my news-addled brain. Sullivan pulls off the neat trick of a book narrated by two people—Elisabeth, a former journo for the New York Times (like Sullivan) now living in that vaguely defined territory that New Yorkers call “upstate” while raising her son and harboring various secrets and resentments, and Sam, the three-day-a-week babysitter she hires from a nearby college who is entangled with an attractive Brit far too old for her and trying to navigate how she should exist when school comes to an end.
The two become enmeshed in each other’s lives, before the inevitable denouement, and while it all sounds Lifetime Movie of the Week glossy, there are deeper themes afoot, including a gimlet-eyed examination of classism and privilege in America and a close look at the complicated terrain between parents and hired caregivers, with the ensuing guilt and resentments that so often accompany such relationships. Not to mention an extremely funny takedown of Elisabeth's Brooklyn Mamas Facebook group, which could absolutely be quoting straight from its Portland counterpart. —Julia Silverman, news editor
Ahhhhh Andy Samberg. The former Saturday Night Live viral cupcake video maker–turned–adorable rascal sitcom star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine now graduates to full leading man cutie pie in Hulu’s new film Palm Springs. The film has a familiar trick I won’t name, but that is part of its delight. Writer Andy Siara uses his first full-length screenplay to take a trope we already know and then continue on with it in ways that feel both comforting and new.
Without giving too much away, Samberg (as Nyles) and his co-lead Cristin Milioti (as Sarah) take us on a weird journey where most days feel the same as the one before, yet a strange unknown casts a shadow on it all. Sound familiar? Give it a go. Revel in Nyles and Sarah’s chemistry and let the nagging feeling you know what they’re going through wash over you. —Eden Dawn, style editor
This Jacob Collier Video
Jacob Collier is an obnoxiously good musician. Our own Brian Breneman put it nicely by saying, “Jacob Collier is a madman: ‘Oh, you only have 12 notes? Cute … there's actually an infinite amount of microtones and I have access to all of them.’” And he really does. Not only can he play just about every instrument imaginable (proficiently, mind you), the big brains at MIT actually built a synthesizer known as a Harmoniser specifically for Collier. I became familiar with the London-based jazz wizard some years ago while living with a musician who’d watch his YouTube videos long into the night. My roommate would come out of his room (which we used to call “the avocado” for its green walls) looking like all he once knew about life, music, and everything in between had been turned upside down and inside out. I had a similar feeling when I saw his recent Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, which is a great watch, but it’s not the video I’m here to tell you about. It’s this one: