Staff Picks: ‘Chewing Gum,’ ‘The Lost City of Z,’ ‘The Mad Magician’

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. Scroll through for our picks below.


Chewing Gum

Michaela Coel’s Netflix series (based on a play she also wrote) sees her playing Tracey Gordon, a 24 year old woman who’s been in an eight-year relationship with an ultra-Christian, and thus, despite all of her attempts to seduce him into being a Bad Ultra-Christian, she’s still a virgin. But when they break up (or, when he gets hit by a car while chastising her for trying to seduce him), her desires are unleashed on the world — well, specifically, a man in a nearby unit, and so begins the display of Michaela Coel’s hilarious physical comedy.

What the show lacks in plot, it makes up for in its panoply of larger-than-life, sexually idiosyncratic characters (Tracey’s new beau’s mother, for example, likes to dress as a baby while hooking up with men she’s met online; her ex-fiancé, meanwhile, is a Bible-obsessed gay man who spent eight years resenting Tracey for having desires, and breasts), depicting an East London housing project and its inhabitants not in the drab light often shed on public housing in film and TV, but rather instilling it with color (the series almost looks to be shot in technicolor — like Beautiful Thing through the palette of the Wizard of Oz), life, and lighthearted absurdity, while exploring it as a hotbed for comedy of class, race, religion, and clearly, sexuality. (Tracey, through her sexual awakening, is never far from her nosy sister and devout mother — and everyone here of course lives their life just a bit too close to everyone else.) — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor


The Lost City of Z

James Gray hasn’t ventured too far from his native Brooklyn in his previous films, but his latest, The Lost City of Z, is a globe-spanning saga, hopping from England to Bolivia to France and back again. As swashbuckling as that sounds, it’s not exactly an action-adventure movie; Gray never quite follows the typical rhythms of any genre, as evidenced in his 2008 pseudo-romance Two Lovers and his 2013 historical drama The Immigrant.
Based on David Grann’s nonfiction book of the same name, The Lost City of Z tells a rough approximation of the story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), an explorer who made several trips to Amazonia in the early 20th century in an attempt to find an ancient lost city. In Gray’s hands, what could have easily been a boilerplate action film is a much more somber, contemplative narrative, not unlike Martin Scorsese’s Silence — another real-life tale of enterprising European men seeking fulfillment in a strange land. If you’re in the mood for a rather pensive adventure film, try The Lost City of Z, in theaters now. — Lara Zarum, TV Editor

The Mad Magician – In 3D!

When Columbia marketed this Vincent Price programmer in 1954, they made no secret of its similarities to the previous year’s hit House of Wax – the trailer even promised “That ‘House of Wax’ Man At His Terrifying Best!” And the resemblance isn’t subtle; it’s another period story with Price as a disrespected and humiliated would-be artist who exacts his grisly revenge in eye-popping 3D (they even swipe the earlier film’s zowie shot of a random performer spinning two yo-yos at the screen). But it’s still a lot of fun the second time around, an ingeniously plotted and surprisingly grisly thriller with another terrific turn by Mr. Price; he’s good throughout, but there’s something particularly delicious about the nutty intensity of the scene where he cracks. Twilight Time’s outstanding Blu-ray release not only replicates the original 3D presentation – it supplements it with a pair of Columbia’s contemporaneous Three Stooges 3D short comedies. Pardon My Backfire, which casts the boys as auto mechanics, gives us the usual Stooges cartoon violence, but aimed at the lens (fingers, forks, knives, cake, water, oil, fire); the supernatural Spooks supplements those effects with hypodermic needles, a flying skeleton, a vampire bat, and so on. Overall, it’s a top-notch package of vintage stereoscopic cheese. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor


Diane Wiest in Happy Days

Yale Repertory’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, starring Dianne Wiest (at Brooklyn’s Theatre for a New Audience) gives the actress the chance to use her voice — a sustained, quaint, melancholic coo — and facial expressions to steer an entire play; her body certainly can’t, as she plays Winnie, a character buried waist (and eventually neck) deep below the earth, who finds, or deludes herself with, beauty in the bleakest, most stultifying life. As part of the whole stuck-in-the-ground thing, she’s trapped in the desert with an unsetting sun, a bag full of toiletries (and a gun), and her oafish, negligent husband grunting and/or masturbating occasionally somewhere nearby.

Charlie Kaufman’s wildly underrated Synecdoche NY‘s final scene is one of my favorite film endings — largely because it features similarly bleak words spoken by Wiest in her hypnotically pleasant tone. Occasionally, in her Happy Days performance, Wiest gets caught up a bit too much in her own rhythms, making the few moments in the character’s life that are impromptu sound a bit too unintentionally anticipated. But for the most part, her speech here proves a brilliant messenger of the simultaneous thrusts of universal futility and the human urge to make things matter. — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor


How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying) on Blu-ray

When Bert Cooper kicked the bucket near the end of Mad Men’s run, his sendoff got a huge grin from musical theatre/movie nerds across the land – because the series, usually bound to a stylized reality, gave him a full-on musical number finale, and thus served as a reminder that Robert Morse, the actor who played him, first came to our attention via his leading role in the Broadway smash How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying) and its subsequent 1967 film version. That adaptation recently hit Blu-ray, via Twilight Time, and it’s remains a frisky, giddy blast. Morse is an affable leading man, treating the audience as his co-conspirator as he adroitly climbs the corporate ladder, and the songs and dances (adapted from Frank Loesser and Bob Fosse’s original stage choreography) are as thrilling as ever. Sure, the gender politics are as of-its-moment as Mad Men’s (but without the self-awareness), but that anachronism aside, How to Succeed is a blast. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor


A Girl in Every Port

Groucho Marx’s solo comedy vehicles never exactly set the world on fire, and this 1952 effort from writer/director Chester Erskine – recently made available on DVD, for the first time ever, via Warner’s Archive Collection – is no exception. But Groucho gets off a few good one-liners as a Navy seaman and double-talk specialist, and he gets a fine, brotherly chemistry going with William Bendix (star of the then ubiquitous, now forgotten Life of Riley) as his rather dopier pal. And the great Marie Wilson (another big star at the time, for the radio, film, and TV series My Friend Irma) is terrific, playing the “dumb blonde” role with brassy verve, yet finding the vulnerability beneath it. The script can’t match the appeal of its stars, sure – but few scripts could. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor