Pomo Picks

What to Read, Watch, and Listen to This Week: Oct 22

The content in our queues, from John Carpenter to Run the Jewels.

By Portland Monthly Staff October 22, 2020

Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon in All That Jazz

Given *gestures broadly*, there’s a good chance you’re looking to escape, however briefly, into a show or a book or an album right now. To get the wheels turning, here’s the stuff filling our queues at Portland Monthly this week, from John Carpenter to Run the Jewels.  

All That Jazz

Is there a a more fitting 2020 refrain than "Bye bye, life / Bye bye, happiness"? So goes the musical finale in Bob Fosse's blistering 1979 slice of autofiction, which I chose to just sort of pop in the DVD player on a Tuesday night this week for unknown reasons.

Let's chalk it up to a recently rekindled interest in (*obsession with) ’70s cinema. Or maybe an overdue milestone of personal growth. I bought All That Jazz at Costco circa 2012, watched it once, and since then it's sat on various bookshelves in various cities, waiting for me to face it down again when I grew up a little bit. I still can't seem to reliably eat breakfast before noon, but I am salaried now, and I have a slightly easier time relating to a perfectionist trying to sculpt his life into a flawless document than I did at 16.
That perfectionist is Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider in an Oscar-nominated performance), a Fosse surrogate juggling projects and women and medications in ’70s New York, driving himself deliberately to the brink of a heart attack in pursuit of something like pleasure. We follow his exploits and occasionally flash sideways into a sort of semi-purgatory, where a young Jessica Lange plays the white-swathed angel of death and Gideon's misfortunes become vaudevillian production numbers.
Like Fosse, All That Jazz (streaming for free on Pluto.TV) is exhausting, problematic, and brilliant—its final stretch is some of the most audacious filmmaking I've ever seen, a go-for-broke double helix of razzle dazzle and pitch-black bitterness. Its ultra-bleak assessment of showbiz softened my longing for theater to return while its incredible musical numbers (NSFW if you're still in an office somehow) stoked that longing. It may not be casual viewing, but it shakes you awake, and for me, that's worth celebrating. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor 

Holy Calamavote

Do you need a reason to vote besides *gestures broadly at everything*? How about two: Killer Mike and El-P.
Hosted by Eric “America” Andre, Adult Swim’s “Holy Calamavote” on October 17 featured a performance by Run the Jewels. In the vein of classic telethons, Andre and a crew of phone operators geared up with face masks and body suits are “trapped in a bunker” trying to get viewers to pledge to vote. Meanwhile, even further down the bunker, RTJ performs their fourth studio album RTJ4 in its entirety, featuring remote performances by Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Josh Homme, Mavis Staples, and 2 Chainz.
Between all the silliness of Andre’s interludes and the chuckle-inducing lyrics (“Reality sucks dick, how’s that for wisdom?”), so much about the album comes to life in live performance. “Walking in the Snow,” the album's most powerful track, is amplified by the silence when Killer Mike whispers “I can’t breathe” and raps his next verse a cappella. El-P’s production, too, seems more fleshed out, and the nuances of his tracks come through, moving with lights that swirl around the stage or shift colors.
It’s fun, disrespectful, and moving, and is the reminder (one we didn’t need, mind you) that RTJ is the most entertaining and insightful rap duo in recent memory. When you hit up the polls, tell ’em Run the Jewels sent you. —Gabriel Granillo, digital editor

NPR Politics Podcast

My father and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow are on a first-name basis. This is, of course, unbeknownst to her. But night after night, he settles in to watch "Rachel" preach to the choir, often giving her verbal encouragement from his recliner: "You know it, Rachel, baby! That's the way to tell 'em."

By contrast, though I have covered politics in Oregon on and off for going on 20 years now, I have zero interest in Rachel, or any of her yelling compatriots on the tee-vee, and yet, in this fantastically fraught election season, I do want some sober analysis to ease my always-worried mind. I find myself turning most often to the dulcet tones of the commentators on The NPR Politics Podcast, where the opining is minimal and no one ever, ever screams. (Unless they are playing tape of President Trump at a rally, in which case I sometimes turn down the volume until he's done, to preserve my eardrums.) 

Instead, there's a rotating cast of politics reporters and editors, who have been out in the field and are reporting back, often with behind-the-scenes perspectives and a sense of humor and dignity. Unlike my dad and his buddy Rachel, they don't always tell me what I want to hear, but instead what I need to know, which is the point. Pro tip: On Fridays, the podcast is an extra-long round-up format that finishes with a delightful segment about each guest's can't-let-it-go moment of the week. Often, it's got nothing at all to do with politics—a welcome reminder that the world does keep on ticking, come what may on November 3. —Julia Silverman, news editor

Rose Red

As a forever fan of Stephen King, Rose Red has held the spot as my favorite horror flick since childhood. “Flick” may be misleading, as this three-part miniseries clocks in at over four hours (hard to find now—I have been watching, in chunks, on Dailymotion). Originally aired on ABC over the course of three nights in 2002, it hosts many familiar-feeling characters. Kimberly J. Brown's Annie Wheaton, for instance, holds troubled teen similarities to Carrie White. Filmed in Lakewood at the Thornewood Estate (which I’ve been to!) and set in Seattle, this horror boasts better acting than you’d expect from a King film, equipped with a cameo of the man himself. —Ainslee Dicken, editorial intern

They Live

John Carpenter gets a lot of praise for being a master of his genre (i.e. Halloween, The Thing). But 1988’s They Live (streaming on Starz and available to rent) is far from any hack-and-slash nightmare. It’s a science-fiction film about subliminal messaging in the media that only the former-WWF wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper can see. Did I mention it’s all coming from aliens disguised as upper-class citizens?

Only Piper’s character, John, can see the manipulation caused by the aliens thanks to a pair of mysterious sunglasses. Once John puts on the sunglasses, the hiding aliens are revealed and all advertising changes to its true intended messaging (it’s where graffiti-artist Shepard Fairey got his “Obey” slogan).

What sounds like a goofy premise makes for a goofy film. It’s also a fascinating take on the way advertising influences our thinking. Not to mention the famous line, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum." —Riley Blake, editorial intern
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