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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.

Tim's Vermeer

Penn and Teller’s Tim’s Vermeer

Penn and Teller’s first attempt at filmmaking was the 1989 film Penn & Teller Get Killed, a forgotten item that I and about two dozen other people dearly love. (Seriously, seek it out, it’s so grisly and weird and great.) Their latest effort couldn’t be more different: the documentary Tim’s Vermeer, co-written by the duo, produced by Penn, directed by Teller. The acclaimed doc — which I shamefully missed when it was released late last year — concerns the pair’s friend, millionaire inventor Tim Jenison, who becomes obsessed with the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, determining that the Dutch master’s photorealism couldn’t have been solely the work of a naked eye. He thus attempts to solve the mystery, ultimately replicating the technological wizardry that he believes Vermeer perfected, and duplicating one of the painter’s works. As a documentarian, Teller is a great magician; the filmmaking is basic, sometimes bordering on amateurish. But he’s telling an incredible story with wit and intelligence, and the film ultimately asks some compelling questions about the purity of art and the place of technology within that world. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

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The Leopard (dir. Luchino Visconti)

Amid the disposable summer superhero movies and franchise reboots and superhero franchise reboots, it’s easy to lose sight of how powerful and permanent cinema can be. This week, I reminded myself with a viewing of Visconti’s Palme d’Or-winning 1963 epic, The Leopard, on the enormous screen at BAM’s Harvey Theater. Adapted from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel of the same name, it follows an aristocratic 19th-century Sicilian family through the social strife of Italian unification, sticking particularly close to patriarch Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina (Burt Lancaster). The film is as rich psychologically as it is politically, finding parallels between the march of history and the prince’s painful meditations on aging. The Leopard is over three hours long, but it’s beautifully shot and captivating all the way through — especially in its final third, which mostly consists of an elaborate ball scene that serves as a climax for Lancaster’s midlife crisis. (It’s also only 20 minutes shorter than the newest Transformers shitshow.) — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Patricia Arquette Boyhood

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood 

Choosing Boyhood as a staff pick this week would have been the equivalent of saying “my favorite country is Earth” – it’s simply too superlative, too all-encompassing to box into any idea of “favorites.” It’s slightly less daunting to compartmentalize and talk about a favorite element, so I’m going with Patricia Arquette’s performance. As someone only five years out of adolescence, I found it harder to connect to the Ellar Coltrane’s child character than Arquette’s mother character – as children, we observe our mothers while we, ourselves, just happen without even being entirely aware that we’re happening. Children are expected to grow, and that growth is celebrated; but when adults start aging, it creates a fissure between themselves and their former goals, their bodies, and society.

Patricia Arquette’s character is an incredibly devoted mother, but doesn’t quite know how to deal with this fact, and makes some poor decisions because of it. What makes Boyhood so perfect is that it’s not just about a child growing up: it’s about adults subjugated by the same passage time that uplifts the young. Minor spoiler: in her final scene, Arquette delivers one of the movie’s most simple but astonishingly perfect statements. After an outburst as her son is leaving to go off to college, she concludes, “I thought there’d be more.” It’s a funny statement coming from a film that gives so much, but then you realize that the film is almost over, and no matter how much it could possibly give, at its close, you still want a little more time with it. — Moze Halperin, Editorial Apprentice

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The Toast on Kristen Stewart in Jenny Lewis’ “Just One of the Guys” Video

I would pick “cannibalism as a sign of things going very wrong in dystopian novels and films,” but I don’t want to spoil anything for you, dear reader. So I will choose something lighter and funnier. Please read this piece, along with the rest of The Toast. Mallory Ortberg is such a good comic writer, working at such a furious pace, that it’s absolutely mind-boggling. She’s wonderful on a whole host of topics, but she is especially enjoyable when she is discussing Twilight’s Kristen Stewart being let free to goof off magnificently in this video:

— “Everything you found objectionable about her in the Twilight films — and you found her objectionable; I have read the internet — was the result of a lion being forced to wear housecat drag.”

— “She takes, she is not taken.”

— “Heterosexuality cannot contain her; neither can this white suit.”

— “She is a sexual murderer, and you have never understood her, not even a little bit, not even once.”

Mallory is right; we, as a people, are not ready for the magnificence of Kristen Stewart. We do not understand her. Maybe someday. Perhaps this video is a start. — Elisabeth Donnelly, Nonfiction Editor

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Drunk History on Comedy Central

I spend so much time praising Nathan For You that I often forget to add that its lead-in, Drunk History, is equally hilarious. There is no denying that it’s one of the silliest shows on the network — people get hammered and then try to retell historical events to the best of their knowledge — but it’s also consistently funny. The guests this season are amazing (Terry Crews, Weird Al Yankovic, Laura Dern, Retta, etc.), and the storytellers are all on fire. What could have quickly become a tired gimmick is still laugh-out-loud funny in its second season. — Pilot Viruet, TV Editor

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