Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Lenny Abrahamson's Normal People, based on the novel by Sally Rooney.

Image: Courtesy Hulu

News about coronavirus is coming hard and fast, and the Portland Monthly staff is working to bring you up-to-date information about how the crisis is affecting Portlanders. It’s vital we all stay informed and figure out how to help each other through this surreal, challenging moment.

It’s also vital that we take some breaths. Every week, in lieu of a “top things to do this weekend” post, we’re going to pause and share the pandemic-free content that’s keeping us sane (or somewhere close). 

Ema

I accidentally watched Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín's new feature (his first since Jackie) on a double billing with Showgirls last Friday. I already had plans to watch Paul Verhoeven's legendary 1997 sleaze-fest with my weekly bad movie group, but then I found out MUBI was streaming Larraín's Ema free for one day only. Being a staunch member of the Natalie Portman Should Have Won the Oscar for Jackie club, I reorganized my entire evening around it. 

It did not disappoint. This movie has everything: marital spats, flamethrowers, gay stuff, Gael García Bernal. If I was being glib, I would say it was like if Marriage Story and Basic Instinct melted into a ROSALÍA music video. Briefly: it centers on Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo), a young dancer whose marriage to Bernal's Gastón begins crumbling after their adopted son causes a horrific accident. Protective services steps in, and Ema embarks on a twisted maternal tirade whose precise insanity only clicks in the final frames—in the meantime, we get reggaeton dance sequences, intoxicating sex scenes, gorgeous sweeps of urban Santiago, and a dazling 100 minutes of Larraín's signature woozy, fragmented storytelling.

Aside from being my favorite film of the year so far (be warned, it starts slow before spiraling into something so balls-to-the-wall crazy that you would have to be dead to resist), it's a weirdly resonant A-side to Showgirls. Both center dance in a Grand Thesis About Gender (though only Ema's succeeds) and try to wring something sad out of neon-drenched excess. Not sure when it will be widely available again, but when it is, pencil it in. —Conner Reed, Arts & Culture Editor

Normal People

In advance of my I’ve-already-cleared-my-schedule binge of Lenny Abrahamson’s Normal People (which came to us on Hulu late last month to displace Tiger King as the new, and hopefully more exacting metric for quarantine TV) I finally opened the Sally Rooney original last week and I’ve been spinning ever since.
Yes, I grew up in Ireland and attended the same college where much of the book takes place, and yes, I fell intensely in love back then too like nobody and everybody else. But it’s not just the throb of nostalgia for place and time that sets this book on the top of the pile for me. There’s a mastery here that makes Normal People at once painfully intimate and universal: people are full and the language between us flails as it looks for purchase. We swim, we sink. (And then, I guess, we make a hit TV show). —Fiona McCann, Senior Editor-at-Large

Back Issues of Sassy Magazine

Disclaimer: This week's pick is not quite fair. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a colleague who was also an angst-filled teen in the early 1990s, who just so happens to have saved her mint condition collection of Sassy magazines from that era, and is willing to drive across town to share them with you (all social distancing rules observed, of course) in the haul of your literal dreams. What, you think you don't know SassyOh, you know Sassy.
 
 
It was the teen magazine for would-be riot grrrls back before feminist culture was cool, the precursor to every snark/sass-filled blog and podcast you love. Without Sassy, there would have been no Rookie, no Bitch, no Bust. Leafing through them now, I'm astonished at how fresh it all still feels—why, yes, I do want to read about what it was like to be presented at a black debutante ball in Georgia in 1991, and how it felt to grow up as the daughter of a Montana polygamist in 1992, and I definitely, definitely want to take that quiz about whether I am obsessive-compulsive. And as someone who worshipped at the shrine of the OG 90201 (Donna Martin GRADUATES! Now and forever), I can't get over how the sisterhood of Sassy editors manage to mention that daggiest of shows in nearly every single issue. There are Brenda Walsh paper dolls, for God's sake. If you need me, I'll be reading these back issues until Gov. Kate Brown forces me to leave my house. –Julia Silverman, News Editor

Outlaw Ocean

Not long ago, I considered going pescatarian. I knew the seafood industry had its troubles, but Doing the Fish Thing seemed a more sustainable, responsible choice than supporting the industrial poultry and cattle industries. It felt like a pragmatic compromise.

Well, this weekend I picked up NYT reporter Ian Urbina’s book of collected stories from his years reporting on the world’s oceans. It’s equal parts white-knuckle adventure and sobering, depressing reality. And frankly, a quarter of the way through, any thoughts of pescatarianism went out the window. The seas Urbina describes are teeming with life—above and beneath the waves. He tells the tales of pirates, poachers, and vigilante environmentalists crowding the largely unregulated and lawless oceans, hauling in catch after dwindling, illegal catch and supplying the world with shark fins, livestock feed, and “Chilean seabass,” a term a marketer made up in the 1980s to make toothfish more appealing to Americans.  

The book is a hoot—tales of deep-sea adventure usually are—but it’s a dark reminder that the world has big problems besides viruses. –Marty Patail, Editor in Chief
 

Red Dead Redemption 2

Lately, after the child has gone to bed, I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption 2 (available on all platforms) as a mental escape from the confines of my house. Released in 2018 by Rockstar Games, it’s a lush, picturesque adventure about the end of the American west. It follows the story of Arthur Morgan, a thief and a killer, who rides with a gang of other thieves and killers led by the charismatic Dutch van der Linde. As with many of pop culture’s best stories these days, it has an eerie similarity to current events. 
 The tale of a dying way of life, told against beautiful landscapes viewed on horseback, it echoes our current obsessions with the onslaught of automation and seeming dissolution of the American Dream—not exactly lightweight stuff. But that’s all in the eye of the player. If you choose, the game can be as relaxing as a hike in the woods. Roam the land hunting for pelts or climbing snowy peaks; bond with and care for your trusty steed; trade with the locals and live your simplest Wild West life. Or, engage in the storyline more closely and find plenty of drama.
 
Side stories abound and the characters are a delightful mix of weirdos and kooks, a true spaghetti western journey. The game has a mind-boggling level of detail, though the structure of the missions tends to be repetitive and tightly scripted, like most of Rockstar’s big open-world fantasies. But if you ignore the prompts to join the story and opt to roam wild and unfettered, you can find a little of that freedom we’re all looking for these days. –Mike Novak, Art Director 
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