Pomo Picks

Pop Culture Worth Your Time: An Art Heist, a Historical Adventure, and a Forgotten Tribute to Andy Warhol

The content in our queues, from Netflix's This Is a Robbery to the oeuvre of Dee Wallace.

By Portland Monthly Staff April 15, 2021

FBI photograph of the crime scene after the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery in Netflix's This Is a Robbery.

A decades-old art heist. America's grandma. An unlikely friendship to rival Thelma and Louise's. Here’s what we’re reading and streaming at Portland Monthly this week. 

The Dee Wallace Oeuvre

When I was a kid, Dee Wallace—or Dee Wallace Stone, as I knew her then—was America’s mom, albeit a very white, blond, and nubile one. But with her roles in such films as ETCujo, and The Hills Have Eyes, she was also its protector, in a way that simply doesn’t apply to others who have worn the mantle of the nation’s parent. Tom Hanks, Brady Bunch matriarch Florence Henderson, Bill Cosby (ewwwww)—none of them ever faced off against anything like what Wallace’s characters endured in works from Wes Craven, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and Joe Dante.
After she hit 40, the always-busy actor started playing more characters with names like Margaret, Mildred, or Mary-Ann, less likely to be scantily clad and covered in blood but still 100 percent survivors. This winter I randomly clicked on a Murder, She Wrote episode on Peacock, and there she was, strong and long-suffering. (The episode also featured Roddy McDowall, Jenny from Muppets Take Manhattan, Bill Maher, Bill Maher’s mullet, and freaking Brad Dourif—I felt like I’d won the lottery.)
But I don’t need to click on some ancient rerun on Peacock to get a glimpse of her. The actor, now in her 70s, might be America’s grandmother for my daughter, who knows her as Kelly’s Grandma Becky on the wholesome witchy Amazon series Just Add Magic and a grandma-to-be to Jennifer Love Hewitt and Kenneth Choi’s impending bundle of joy on Fox’s 911. This pro’s IMDB filmography is a seemingly endless scroll that never slows down. She’s been in everything, on everything. Her character always has a dark secret, and she always powers through. Sheer mom energy. Sheer power. —Margaret Seiler, managing editor

Miss Benson's Beetle

Is anyone else having trouble focusing on a book these days? Objectively I know from past experience that I am a happier, gentler version of myself when I have a book to look forward to at the end of the day. In practice, and especially during this pandemic year, I’ve been too scattershot, too addicted to doomscrolling, to commit to a book. Every so often, though, there’s a happy accident, and so it was with Rachel Joyce’s Miss Benson’s Beetle, plucked off the shelf at Powell’s for me by my 12-year-old daughter who said, “Here, Mom. This looks like something you’d like.” She knows me too well. Set in post-World War II-era Britain (check), this is the story of the unlikely friendship between two women (check) who set off on an adventure to the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, about a thousand miles off the coast of Australia (check please!).
The Miss Benson of the title is a dispirited domestic science teacher with a lifelong pash to become an entomologist; after one humiliation too many at the hands of her pupils, she impulsively sets off on a quest to capture a rare golden beetle, rumored to be found only in the northern forests of New Caledonia. She places an ad for an assistant, and winds up with the unlikeliest of accomplices, a dishy blonde named Enid Pretty who is far more capable than she appears, and perhaps also not quite on the right side of the law.
The book follows their journey, from their passage by sea to Brisbane, trailed by a mysterious stalker, to the painstaking attempt to blaze a trail to the top of a tooth-shaped mountain, leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of the elusive beetle. It all reminded me of the book I recommend to anyone who asks me for a literary-yet-diverting read: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Like that best-seller, there is self-discovery here, but it’s never maudlin and in the end, things turn out semi-okay, a little opaque, and certainly far better than doomscrolling. —Julia Silverman, news editor

Songs for Drella

Let's get this out of the way: Yes, I'm 25 years old. Yes, I'm only now having my Andy Warhol phase. This week alone I watched Flesh—Warhol’s pissed-off, Paul Morrissey-directed answer to Midnight Cowboy—and bumped The Velvet Underground enough to permanently alter my Spotify algorithm. After last week's treatise on The Rolling Stones, I've unfortunately morphed into a crusty record store ghost who has feelings about Dylan going electric and the heyday of Creem magazine. This is cute, perhaps, on an angsty 17-year-old cosplaying as a grown-up. But on an actual grown-up? No comment!

Anyway, my time spent with the Velvets led me to an unknown-to-me project by its two most high-profile members. In 1989, shortly after Warhol died during routine surgery, Lou Reed and John Cale set aside their creative differences (Cale unceremoniously departed the band after its second album) to produce a tribute to their mentor and former manager. The title is a nickname given to Warhol by one of his superstars, a portmanteau of "Dracula" and "Cinderella"—one he hated while he was alive, if that's any indication of the egos at play.

The songs are funny, poignant, theatrical, and alive, and Reed's fraught relationship with Warhol means they resist cheap hero worship. Warhol's demons, eccentricities, genius, and ridiculousness all feel fresh through the eyes of people who knew him as a person first and an icon second, and the Reed/Cale creative spark that animated the first two Velvet Underground albums is on full display. Cale vowed, after recording Songs for Drella, that he'd never work with Reed again, and he didn't. But Drella stands both as a truly human tribute to an artist who typified "larger than life," and as a reminder of the value in sticking to what works. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor

This Is a Robbery

The most expensive art theft in US history took place in 1990, when two men entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and helped themselves to some Rembrandts, some Degas, a Manet, a Vermeer, a Flinck, an ancient Chinese vase, a Napoleonic finial—in all, 13 works with a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars. Three decades on, and we still don’t know whodunnit.
Enter Netflix’s This Is a Robbery, a four-part series that retells the story of that post-Paddy’s day pilfering, and then follows various theories and investigations into the world of Boston’s organized crime to conclude … what? Full disclosure: I’m only two episodes in at time of press. And yes, when it comes to strangely amateurish art heists—these thieves spent more than an hour in the museum and passed over some extremely valuable works in the process—Netflix has my number. Even if this goes nowhere beyond reminding me of this truly bizarro crime and the world-clashing delights of mobsters and insouciant art thieves and WASPy aesthetes and gumshoe reporters, I’m in, finials and all. —Fiona McCann, deputy editor
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