Staff Picks: Flavorwire’s Favorite Cultural Things This Week

Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Click through for our picks, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

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Fanny and Alexander (dir. Ingmar Bergman)

Normally, when asked if I am interested in watching a five-plus-hour Swedish film, I would reply with snores. But over the weekend I finally decided to take advantage of my Hulu Plus account and watch the epic Fanny and Alexander. And, boy, am I so glad I did. I was stunned at how gorgeous, brilliant, honest, and heartbreaking the film was, and I couldn’t imagine cutting a single moment of those five hours. Telling the story of a pair of kids mourning the loss of their father and their mother’s swift marriage to a dominating, masochistic bishop, Fanny and Alexander brings together a sweeping cinematic style with thoughtful musings on childhood imagination. It’s a glorious film, and definitely something worth watching while you’re hiding from your family this Thanksgiving weekend. —Tyler Coates, Deputy Editor

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Beyond Inversion benefit compilation

Writer and Split Feet guitarist/singer Jessica Skolnik collaborated with Sean Gray of Fan Death Records and Accidental Guest Recordings to put together the new comp Beyond Inversion. The album skews towards noisy, female-fronted punk — the perfect antidote to holiday schmaltz — and features such excellent acts as Perfect Pussy, Roomrunner, In School, Potty Mouth, and a solo recording by Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz. Best of all, Beyond Inversion benefits the DC shelter Rachael’s Women’s Center. So once you’re done streaming it at Rookie, where Skolnik has also provided some essential tips on making your own benefit compilation, make sure to buy a digital or cassette copy. –Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

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A&J Bakery in Cranston, RI

I’m allergic to many different foods. Too many. I was a vegetarian for years, but became a vegan because of this. Thankfully, I also love to cook (dining out is often impossible), so it’s not totally tragic. The holidays can be a bummer sometimes, though. I associate certain foods with fond memories and family traditions, and I wish I could enjoy them. I made a great discovery last month that has helped a tiny bit with this, especially for those moments I don’t feel like baking. There’s a bakery in Rhode Island, A&J Bakery, that makes delicious stuff in a dedicated nut and gluten-free facility (you can read about the particulars on their FAQ page, which is super helpful). Most importantly, they ship these tasty treats internationally. I purchased their gluten-free stuffing mix, which I’m excited to try for the holidays. There are a few other things I’ve sampled — all delightful, with a home-baked feel — and my carnivore boyfriend (who has no allergies, that jerk) agreed. They even make stuff like candy corn, which is usually processed in a cross-contaminated danger zone for allergy sufferers. A&J Bakery also uses eco-friendly packaging, and certain locally sourced and organic ingredients. Hopefully this helps someone else who is allergic to everything known to mankind and wants the option to buy their holiday treats. —Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor

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The World’s End (dir. Edgar Wright)

Edgar Wright’s The World’s End resonated with me when I first saw it back in August; it’s as fast and funny as Wright’s previous collaborations with co-writer/star Simon Pegg and co-star Nick Frost, but with a melancholy at its center about aging, friendship, and (yes) the end of the world. A second viewing on its just-released Blu-ray reveals some of the throwaway visual jokes and clever callbacks buried in its dense imagery — and many more are revealed by Pegg and Wright in their audio commentary. It’s one of three on the fully packed disc (nothing new for this crew), which also includes picture-in-picture storyboards, deleted scenes and outtakes, featurettes, and many more goodies. An outstanding disc for a genuinely wonderful flick. —Jason Bailey, Film Editor

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The Magnificent Seven (dir. John Sturges) and The Seven Samurai (dir. Akira Kurosawa)

I had a long evening that stretched into early morning when I did nothing but watch films that starred Steve McQueen, spurred by this blog post I found filled with photos of him, thanks to the always-great site The Selvedge Yard. This time around, I was wise enough to finish off with The Magnificent Seven and chase it with the Akira Kurosawa film it was based on, Seven Samurai. I had already watched both films in the past, but never back to back. And even though McQueen isn’t in the Japanese film, I’ve got him to thank for making me watch both movies together. —Jason Diamond, Literary Editor

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“Two Gunshots on a Summer Night” by Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber

I am haunted by this Frontline documentary and its accompanying New York Times report about a potential murder coverup by a police department in Florida. Why the coverup? Well, the victim was the girlfriend of a member of the force. And against all available facts, the sheriff insists her boyfriend had nothing to do with it. A must-read, I think. —Michelle Dean, Editor-at-Large

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The Beach by Alex Garland

I bought a used copy of Alex Garland’s The Beach a while back, and I didn’t know I’d be quite so sad to put it down. It’s an incredibly exhilarating, picturesque read about the discovery and inevitable loss of paradise, the ironic excesses of Western backpackers, and the consequences of growing up with pop cultural artifacts like Mortal Kombat and Apocalypse Now. It’s by no means a perfect book, and it lags somewhere in the middle, but it’s been a very long time since I read a novel that so viscerally made me feel like I was in another place. Garland’s lush descriptions of the Thai tropics will make you want to follow his protagonist into the wild — that is, before he completely pulls the rug out from under your feet. You’ll be familiar with this story if you’ve seen Danny Boyle’s film of the same name, which was universally panned, but trust me: this is a book worth investing in. (And if it makes you feel any better, Boyle also eventually hired Garland to write the screenplay for two of his absolute best films, 28 Days Later and Sunshine.) This is a haunting, vivid novel that will stick in your head, and it’s definitely a highbrow beach read. —Sarah Fonder, Editorial Apprentice

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“Charles Manson Today: The Final Confessions of a Psychopath” by Erik Hedegaard

This week I was captivated despite myself by Erik Hedegaard’s lengthy feature on Charles Manson for Rolling Stone. I’ve never been hugely interested in the Manson mythos — frankly, murderous lunatics hold little fascination for me, whether or not they’ve somehow come to symbolize the decline of ’60s counterculture. But Hedegaard’s writing is excellent, doing a fine job of capturing how despite himself, he finds himself just as perversely fascinated by Manson as everyone else — and, ultimately, just as appalled. —Tom Hawking, Music Editor