Mentions | Issue 5 ​

RYAN DAVID ALLEN, ERIK BAKER, BRAD BOLMAN, TEDDY BURNETTE, MARJORIE CANTINE, SAMUEL DIBELLA, JOHN EBERSOLE, SADIE GRAHAM, SARA KROLEWSKI, ALEXANDER LANGSTAFF, WILLIAM LENNON, SAFFRON MAEVE, MAUREEN MILLER, EWAN MORGAN, MANTRA MUKIM, BRANDON SANCHEZ, MINA TAVAKOLI, ALEXANDRA TELL

RYAN DAVID ALLEN, ERIK BAKER, BRAD BOLMAN, TEDDY BURNETTE, MARJORIE CANTINE, SAMUEL DIBELLA, JOHN EBERSOLE, SADIE GRAHAM, SARA KROLEWSKI, ALEXANDER LANGSTAFF, WILLIAM LENNON, SAFFRON MAEVE, MAUREEN MILLER, EWAN MORGAN, MANTRA MUKIM, BRANDON SANCHEZ, MINA TAVAKOLI, ALEXANDRA TELL

After The End of History |

INTERVIEWS

This new book of interviews with Francis Fukuyama offers CliffsNotes summaries that will be useful to any budding dinner party Grand Strategist. The funniest reveal comes when Fukuyama admits that, before he began dabbling in geopolitical “realism,” he aspired to a career in comparative literature. Among his recollections: a weekend of cruising and partying with Foucault, Julia Kristeva explaining to him “that there was a point to Stalinism,” and his own brief flirtation with “imitating Nietzsche” before he turned to more “down-to-earth” interests like the supremacy of liberal democracy. It makes a strange sort of sense that the man who filled a widespread need for a narrative to replace the Cold War once sharpened his tools on the cutting edge of narrative theory.

A.L.

The Riot at the Rite |

FILM

Russian wunderkind Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring was the first of its kind: a deliberate rejection of classical form — in favor of jerky, recursive movement, like folk dance on Adderall — set to a clangorous score from Igor Stravinsky. The BBC’s 2005 historical drama about the ballet’s Paris premiere is mostly froth, reducing Nijinsky, Stravinsky, and troupe director Sergei Diaghilev to a trio of imperious dandies. In this rendering, Nijinsky falls in love not with Diaghilev, his longtime partner in real life, but with a woman, and the dialogue demonstrates a SparkNotes-level understanding of modernism. “It will be new, and it will be beautiful,” Nijinsky intones, sounding like an Ezra Pound wind-up doll.

S.K.

Sleepcasts |

APP

Produced by the mindfulness app Headspace, these recordings promise to knock you out with a series of relaxing stories, pleasant ambient sounds, and a “wind-down exercise” (a mini-meditation perhaps tacked on for brand consistency). In some casts, listeners are transported to an idyllic natural setting: you’re floating down a river, hiking in a lush forest, staring at a night sky sans light pollution. For the urban apartment claustrophobe, these tend to work well. In other casts, hopeful sleepers visit small businesses and unwind as employees stock artisan soaps or tend to antique furniture, peddling a vision of labor entirely rid of the indignities of the waking world. Presumably, neither genre undergoes rigorous fact-checking, but city-snoozers may question the placid elation of the sleepcasts’ fictional staff. How much is the waitress at the mysterious nocturnal diner in the middle of the desert actually getting paid? Tips, at least, must be difficult to come by.

E.B.

r/BreadStapledtoTrees |

FORUM

The three fundamental rules of this subreddit are, as community guidelines go, forthright: 1. Don’t post non-bread. 2. Don’t post non-stapled bread. 3. Don’t staple it to non-trees. Nevertheless, the group’s nearly 300,000 members often reinterpret the rules to suit their circumstances. A recent post, captioned “double stapled for safety” exploited a loophole — staple quantity was never specified — and was upvoted nearly 2,000 times. One contrarian, who asked, “Can you use nails?” found a less receptive moderator: “Only if moulded into staples and attached the same way.” There are, as rule-enforcers will note, other forums for bread screwed or nailed to trees. But most scorn is reserved for those who question the sub’s purpose altogether. Skeptical queries are met with downvotes and the frequent reply: “Why not?” 

M.M.

Art’s Library |

BIBLIOPHILIA

Art Garfunkel’s personal website includes a series of pages cataloging every book he has read since 1968. In 2018, alongside titles from Madeleine Albright, J. Edgar Hoover, Gabriel García Márquez, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ayn Rand, Naomi Klein, and Marianne Williamson, he lists the latest biography of Paul Simon, but the book did not make his “favorites” section.

R.D.A.

The Lair of the White Worm |

FILM

In this 1988 Ken Russell flick, a subterranean snake-god in Derbyshire commandeers the bodies of immortal lords and ladies to cajole, bite, and sacrifice innocents. An adaptation of the Bram Stoker horror novel by the same name, the movie is a biblically carnal affair, mixing Russell’s taste for blasphemy with a more Gothic-era homoeroticism: picture a fat white snake throttling Jesus on the cross. Ideal viewing for horny atheists who want to see Brits in leather thigh-highs and pearly fangs.

S.M.

Mr. Mucus |

PHARMACEUTICALS

Mucinex’s decade-spanning marketing campaign for its over-the-counter cold medicine stars a plump booger who talks like Joe Pesci. In every commercial, he wears a stained undershirt, takes shelter in human lungs, and, in the climax, gets booted from his home by a landlord in the shape of a juicy, Mucinex-assisted cough. It’s an animation blending eviction, respiratory infections, the specter of a decrepit New York. Movies increasingly feel indistinguishable from TV commercials, but ad agencies have always been good at making special, stupid fables out of real life. 

M.T.

Helen DeWitt’s posts |

ONLINE

The self-professed author of nearly a hundred novels, just two of which made it to print (a third was briefly sold as a PDF on her website), Helen DeWitt also tweets and blogs on Goodreads, casually but earnestly, about specific and mundane parts of her life. “Oh no, someone is awake,” reads one entry. In others, she has expanded on family anecdotes, used furniture, and stray thoughts: “n.b. I have never thought I missed out on [an] alternative career as personal trainer.” DeWitt once mentioned joining “a loose group of people in Windham County (VT) who turn up at each other’s houses to cut/slip/stack firewood.”As with her fiction, which often demands a bit of decoding, full immersion is the key to comprehension. Read just the first tweet in a thread that mentions a “weekend workshop on lockpicking” and risk missing a hierarchy of locks (ranked by complexity), a link to a two-day “Women’s Game of Logging” intensive on chainsaws, and musings on a course that would combine it all. “There cd be intensive language workshops,” she concludes, “(read 10 lines of Iliad after 2 hrs, etc.).” 

T.B.

Ghosted: Love Gone Missing |

ROMANCE

​​In this MTV reality show, Bachelor alum Rachel Lindsay and ex-rapper Travis Mills (fka “T. Mills”) help the “haunted” (read: dumped people) find their “ghosts” (exes). The series frames the phenomenon of “ghosting” as a product of modern pessimism; its somewhat cruel solution is unadulterated optimism, realized through a plot device the hosts call “The Confrontation.” One participant, forced to face her ex over Zoom, hangs up on him when he deflects blame for the break-up. (He cheated.) “All we want is… to give our haunted some closure,” T. Mills muses, “and I think she definitely got that today.”

S.G.

God of Nothingness |

POETRY

The poems in Mark Wunderlich’s previous book, The Earth Avails, depicted a pastoral life that was savage and conflicted, expressed in clipped phrases and urgent consonants: “Meat. Bristled hide that can’t be called skin/never skin — too bristled for that, too dry,” he wrote in “Wild Boar.” But in his latest collection, the poet in crisis seems less troubled. The imagery hasn’t changed (e.g., lots of animals), but Wunderlich’s severe music has given way to something sweeter and more like prose. Here he is, in “Death of a Cat”: “Little beast on the metal table, she took/the needle into her forepaw // and didn’t flinch.” Long sentences, stitched together with soft conjunctions and gentle commas, show a poet impressed less by the coarseness of existence than by the intimacy of its end. “The medicinal death/fit itself inside her, ran the blue and red map,” he writes, “burned up into her lungs and brain, / and heart, which slowed, and she slept until there was no breath left/and her body emptied itself of air.”

J.B.

HEY |

INNOVATION

Launched by Basecamp, this premium email service was designed to fix what’s wrong with email. For only $99/year, you can have an “Imbox” (the “im” stands for “important”), automatically send reply-alls, and spend hours puzzling out who sent what and when, because detangling an email thread requires more close attention than reading the average novel. Gmail may be less than perfect, but at least your address doesn’t end in “@hey.com.”

M.C.

@_everybird_ |

FOWL

A welcome reprieve from the churn of discourse and almost certainly the Twitter account with the most plumage per tweet, this bot’s original aim was to post a picture of every single bird species known to exist. Having already completed that mission, @_everybird_ is now retweeting the original series of birds forever.

E.M.

City of Women |

FILM

In one four-minute interlude in Fellini’s acid trip through second-wave feminism, a carload of women pick up the faded playboy Snàporaz (played by Marcello Mastroianni), who exhibits the slippery charm and entrenched self-loathing of a middling investment banker. Another car approaches, filled with pre-teen girls. Everyone pulls over to smoke, dance, and make faces at each other as Snàporaz looks on, clutching his briefcase. All artifice and moving flesh, the scene could stand alone as an ’80s music video, conveying the timeless message that girls just wanna have fun.

S.K.

The Shelters on Alone |

CONSTRUCTION

The primitive hut, theorized by eighteenth century philosopher Marc-Antoine Laugier as the purest means of shielding man from nature, is the enduring origin myth of architecture. Contestants on the survivalist reality competition Alone — tasked, on a recent season, with spending a hundred days alone in the Canadian Arctic for a million-dollar prize — built several immediately canonical contributions to the hut genre. Highlights include: an Instagrammable A-frame, an elaborate cooktop built from scavenged clay, and a hot tub improvised from a salvaged boat propped over a fire. But the triumphant stone dwelling, “Rock House,” referred to by name like a Victorian estate, stole the show with its laborious construction and attention to heat-retention. For Laugier, the hut represented a return to fundamentals in the face of the ornamental baroque. Alone seems to posit that, despite the drudgery of mere survival, one can aspire to have both.

A.T.

​​Club Friendly |

MOVEMENT

Six years before “Hands Across America” convinced at least five million citizens to clasp sweaty palms for public service, the actor Charles Grodin asked comedian Carol Burnett to collaborate with him on a national campaign to promote friendliness. Club Friendly, they told the talk show circuit, was a consciousness-raising movement to counter the “meaner society” America had become. If Grodin was to be believed, John Belushi was on board, as were thousands of supportive fans who had seen the duo speak in an upstate New York amphitheater and pledged their fealty in fan letters answered by Grodin’s mother. The campaign, interpreted by many as a conceptual performance, lasted a few weeks at most, but Grodin seemed genuinely wounded that his critics found friendliness “boring.” He mourned the “Friendly” movement in interviews and memoirs until his death in 2021. 

M.Mi.

Painting with John |

TV

If most travel shows adhere to a goal-oriented idea of adventure, Fishing with John — John Lurie’s ’90’s short film series in which he took famous friends on fishing trips to remote locations — found its appeal in the opposite. Each outing served as the barest pretext for an extended conversation with no clear direction. Lurie’s new six-part series has a similarly meandering effect, with fishing neatly substituted for painting. In each episode, the 68-year-old renders watercolors from undisclosed Caribbean islands, this time alone. In Painting with John, the main draw is Lurie’s narration, which mixes anecdotes about his decades in New York (snorting coke in a closet with Rick James, dining with Anthony Bourdain just before he died) with asides about his many ailments (cancer, “chronic Lyme”). Lurie recommends painting as a pastime only in the last episode, assuring viewers that it’s good for you. Likely for the same reason, the show was just renewed for a second season.

W.L.

Q: Into the Storm |

TV

This series poses the question: what if one of the world’s worst detectives bumbled across the globe over six episodes trying to trick a band of porn-addicted sociopaths into admitting they are behind QAnon?

B.B.

City Museum, St. Louis |

CURIOSITIES

​​This shoe factory, built to house the literal-minded company “International Shoe,” was reopened as a museum in 1997. Post-industrial detritus — commercial cookware among discarded oyster shells, a decommissioned school bus dangling from the roof — has never been put to better use.

S.D.

The Other Two |

TV

This half-hour comedy, which returned on August 26 after a two-year hiatus, follows Brooke and Cary Dubek, a pair of unlucky thirty-something siblings whose tween brother, Chase (a.k.a. ChaseDreams), hits it big with songs like “My Brother’s Gay And That’s Okay!” Unlike other entries in the social media-critique canon, the show isn’t moralizing so much as quietly amused by the internet economy. In the new season, the Dubek matriarch (played by a sunnily guileless Molly Shannon) becomes the host of her own eponymous daytime talk show — “Pat!” — where she introduces a weekly segment in which $25,000 is given away to gay men who post feel-good coming out videos with their fathers. Later, Brooke catches one winner and his “daddy” kissing; they use the prize money to build a new deck. The series’s winking detachment is best summed up by a dead-eyed party-scene extra: “I’m having the time of my life, and I’ll think back often to just how much fun this all was.”

B.S.

Mentions | Summer 2021 ​

JAKE BITTLE, MICAH CASH, JAMES FOLTA, SIMONE HAYSOM, JOSEPH ILARDI, JULIA KNOERR, BEN LEWELLYN-TAYLOR, PAUL MCADORY, TYLER MCBRIEN, JAKE NEVINS, REBECCA PANOVKA, ALANA POCKROS, QUINN ROBERTS, BECCA ROTHFELD, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, OSAMA SHEHZAD, PHILIPPA SNOW, CHRIS STANTON, NIV M. SULTAN, ALESSANDRO TERSIGNI, KAREN YUAN

JAKE BITTLE, MICAH CASH, JAMES FOLTA, SIMONE HAYSOM, JOSEPH ILARDI, JULIA KNOERR, BEN LEWELLYN-TAYLOR, PAUL MCADORY, TYLER MCBRIEN, JAKE NEVINS, REBECCA PANOVKA, ALANA POCKROS, QUINN ROBERTS, BECCA ROTHFELD, ELENA SAAVEDRA BUCKLEY, OSAMA SHEHZAD, PHILIPPA SNOW, CHRIS STANTON, NIV M. SULTAN, ALESSANDRO TERSIGNI, KAREN YUAN

The Chair |

TV

There is a certain kind of academic who prefers to imagine the university as a resort for cavorting professors. The Chair, Netflix’s glossy new six-part series, is fantasy fulfillment for such an academic: Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) becomes the first woman of color to hold the eponymous chair of the English department at Pembroke, a fictional Ivy League university struggling to update its crusty curriculum and diversify its aging faculty. Seemingly bereft of student workers, staff, or contingent faculty, Pembroke is a battleground where pure culture war can be waged. The students themselves make their only meaningful appearance, en masse, when Ji-Yoon’s colleague and love interest, the disheveled and functionally alcoholic Bill (Jay Duplass), thoughtlessly performs a Nazi salute during a lecture about absurdism. Clips of the gesture are wrenched out of context and disseminated online, and Bill’s students are quick to form a bloodthirsty horde. With brats like these in the lecture hall, it is difficult to understand why Ji-Yoon and Bill are forever declaring, in showy fits of sentimentality, how much they love teaching — and without immiserated adjuncts, graduate students, and staff on the scene, it is difficult to understand campus activism as anything but ludicrous overreaction. Thankfully, real students are rarely so stupid. They aren’t organizing against phantom Nazis — occasionally it’s real ones.

B.R.

Beatriz at Dinner |

FILM

White Lotus fans in Mike White withdrawal might consider the feature he wrote in 2017, in which an uncharacteristically dowdy Salma Hayek plays a masseuse surprised by an invitation to her wealthy client’s party. If the recipe is different, some ingredients are the same: a breezily insufferable Connie Britton, a disdain for white elites that mostly manages to remain self-aware, a third-act death. Both stories share a grim acknowledgement: put-upon staff may fantasize about enacting bloody murder, but it’s coddled white executives who invariably wield the bigger weapon. 

P.S.

Beam Me Up Scotty (2021) |

MIXTAPE

After an extended social media hiatus, Nicki Minaj thrilled fans this spring with an Instagram announcement: a re-release of her breakout 2009 mixtape. The new version came with some fresh material but consisted mostly of the songs that first secured her place in hip-hop — vintage Nicki at her fiercest and most foul. It’s an odd album to revisit; none of the original sixteen tracks would be cut today. Even the spoken-word interludes come across as retro, too vigorous for our trapped-out present. But that’s sort of the point. In re-releasing a decade-old record, she’s reasserting the terms of her stardom, making sure you heard her the first time.

Q.R.

As You Like It |

DRAMA

The perfect play for a season of chaos and dissolution —  more summery than Midsummer, studded with gobbledigook ditties and endless scenes of delirious repartee. Arden, where the action unfolds, is the pastoral flipside of the quarantine period, a place where being outside of time is a blessing rather than a curse. There is a problem, or so it seems; some people sing; some other people call each other cucks; a man pretends to be a woman dressing as a man imitating a woman; the problem is not solved but rather slips by. What story or non-story could be more appropriate as we witness the return of the random?

J.B.

California Split |

FILM

Robert Altman, who spent the seventies making movies with a shaggy, lived-in feel, found his most alluring setting in the rundown casinos and horse tracks of this 1974 comedy, which stars George Segal and Elliott Gould as a pair of charismatic gamblers stumbling through the peaks and valleys of their addiction. Altman, a gambler himself, lovingly renders the lifestyle’s appeal — late-night drinking, friendships based on enabling others’ worst impulses, the gambler’s ever-present conviction in the proximity of riches. But an inevitable emptiness is never far away, and upon finally getting what they want, the pair immediately plunge into melancholy. Recent crypto converts would do well to take note — as the duo grows desperate for their next score, their gambles get stupider. Before long, they’re drunkenly placing bets over who can name all seven dwarves: “Dumbo wasn’t in that cast?”

C.S.

@pomological |

FRUIT

In 1886, the USDA began to catalog the rapid expansion in American agriculture by commissioning 21 watercolor artists, over the next 56 years, to meticulously paint 7,497 works depicting various fruits and nuts, including 3,807 of apples alone. Now, you can browse the results thanks to a Twitter bot that captions each “Pomological Watercolor” with specimen name, artist, and date. The feed is spare and peaceful; scrolling it feels like walking through a small, esoteric museum. The concentration of material, so similar in form and subject, teaches the viewer to attend to the details: the rich layers of purple in Ellen Isham Schutt’s 1905 painting of a “Griffins Improved” grape, the speckles of brown furnished by Mary Daisy Arnold in 1912 on a “Givens” apple. After enough scrutiny, even the common fig begins to look strange.

K.Y.

Vive le Tour (1962) |

DOCUMENTARY

Conventional cycling spectator wisdom holds that the Tour de France’s majesty lies in its gradual progression — a slow burn revealing its plot and subplots over 23 days and 2,200 miles. French filmmaker Louis Malle apparently didn’t have time for all that — his documentary clocks in at only 18 minutes. But that’s long enough for Malle to convince even the most casual viewer that today’s Tour is a betrayal of tradition, a bastardization of a once-great athletic contest. Somewhere along the path to modernity, the Tour lost one of its trademarks: the infamous drinking raid. “They enter a café, shoving everyone aside,” the narrator explains. “It isn’t quite looting, but they demand and take anything: red wine, champagne, beer. Even water, if there’s nothing better.” Where today’s hormone-ridden Übermenschen ride space-age titanium alloy bicycles and slurp protein gels from pouches, the tanned, rag-tag domestiques of Malle’s time steer with one hand while raising a stolen beer bottle with the other. In one charming scene, a rider holds his comrade’s seat as he relieves himself in motion mid-race. Who needs a slow burn when you can have a fast piss?

T.M.

The White Lotus |

TV

This ensemble miniseries, shot at the Maui Four Seasons in the winter, could only have arisen from the filming constraints of 2020, but it’s best approached with a bingo board of extremely-online cliches from a few years earlier: girlbosses, ASMR, Hillary stans, K-holes, women reading Elena Ferrante, the ethics of “exotic” tourism, clickbait, rimming — plus bitchy Zoomers literally modeled on the hosts of Red Scare. (It’s all, of course, about the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality.) Too on the nose? The HBO murder-mystery-that’s-actually-just-about-the-fucked-up-relationships-of-rich-people genre has reached its apex. 

R.P.

Hudson Yards food carts |

VICTUALS

There’s no shortage of writing about how bad this place is, but it bears repeating: Hudson Yards is an anti-neighborhood, a place to go in New York City if you hate New York City. The project’s developer, The Related Companies, is a caricature of movie villain proportions, from its semantically inane name to its Trump-boosting, drone-racing owner, Stephen Ross, to its latest plot to eradicate the Yards’s sole redeeming feature: food carts. Nowadays, vendors attempting to sell melon on a hot day might find their regular parking spaces taken over by gargantuan flower planters and extrusive landscaping. Those that prevail are treated to NYPD fines, in spite of de Blasio’s promise to cut back cart searches. The vendors are organizing with the excellent Street Vendor Project, but unlike Ross, few can count on a cash influx from their parents, and Related’s appetite is unyielding: it will continue to evict any trace of unpolished city life. Or maybe it represents what city life has become. What says post-Bloomberg Manhattan more than an 80-year-old billionaire denying a pedestrian a hot dog?

J.F.

Design Home |

GAME

Design Within Reach armchairs are actually within reach in this app that allows you to roleplay as an interior decorator. Warning: too much time may pass as you stock up on mid-century benches for Miami timeshares, wicker stools for coastal balconies in Cape Cod, and a wagon wheel coffee table for “an industrial living room” in Brooklyn on behalf of a “video editor” with curiously ample income. It’s all fun and games until your digital wallet runs dry, and you find yourself reaching for your IRL Mastercard instead.

A.P.

169 Water Street |

FILM

The classic walk-through video, a low-rent, shaky-cam affair that conceals as much as reveals, is familiar to any would-be home-buyer. But recently, real estate auteurs have attempted to elevate the genre. This video by Halstead Property adds a meta twist: mocking the rituals of home sales prep in order to sell the house. “Is the film crew here?” the self-described “pesky owner” asks at the outset, primping her hair for the camera. The agent demurs, ever-conscious of the actual film crew. But as she begins to prepare the property, her duties are disrupted by a series of “unexpected” obstacles. A bespectacled playwright, struck by sudden inspiration, refuses to leave the home office; a shirtless man hops in the shower; a baby takes over the couch. Another agent, patronizing and bowtied rival, appears on the roof to run down the house’s finer selling points (all to include in the “real” video). Here’s life as it could be, should you purchase the townhouse for $4,595,000: hamfisted tomfoolery, “affordable” monthlies, and passive aggression. The low-grade melancholia of inhabiting a lifestyle ad comes free. 

P.M.

Darryl |

FICTION

In Jackie Ess’s new novel, the titular 45-year-old fetishist likes to watch men fuck his wife, an activity from which he derives “vicarious athletic enjoyment.” He is a cuck, but “not a Republican;” a pluralist, but “not a political guy;” an ally, but not a feminist. (“I’m not trying to be,” he assures the reader.) In an attempt to impress his favorite bull, Darryl even becomes a “sports guy,” imagining being cucked by LeBron James himself. “I basically don’t belong in this world,” says Darryl, a character of notably digital origins – his consciousness mediated and mutilated by surveillance, his worldview bitterly but often hilariously organized by principles of identity, nomenclature and the sort of overdetermined self-reflection that runs amok online. Some of today’s flashiest fiction takes up the internet as its subject — sometimes explicitly, showing characters caught in its throes, or formally, in prose designed to mimic the fragmentation of digital life. Darryl doesn’t obviously fall into this tradition; Ess writes in a fairly standard first-person confessional, and its narrator is disposed more to Reddit than Twitter. But Darryl still typifies the abasement and alienation of life online, leading you to wonder if the novel, too, has been cucked by the World Wide Web.

J.N.

Prime ads during Mad Men |

COMMERCIALS

When Mad Men first premiered, it played ad-free on the AMC channel and later on Netflix. The show recently moved to Amazon Prime, where most episodes feature upwards of seventeen ads (many of them Amazon’s own). In one plotline, Don Draper tells Heinz to stop trying to sell beans and ketchup separately: it’s just Heinz — not an assortment of products that share a manufacturer so much as a signifier, a name that represents the vast expanse of processed American cuisine. In a Doritos ad that plays during commercial breaks, a voice-over emphasizes that the triangular orange chip, with its well-established brand recognition, need not even be named. But Amazon dispenses with subtlety, superimposing directions around the edge of the screen: “Don’t forget it, just list it. Just say, ‘Alexa, add Doritos to my cart.’” As Don loses Heinz to another agency less concerned with semiotics, Amazon overrides both Mad Men and Doritos for trying to make advertising appear anything other than a blatant grab for cash.

B.L.T.

Subject to Review |

DOCUMENTARY

This stylish, slant short by Theo Anthony, available on ESPN+, is about the philosophical implications of the Hawk-Eye computer system in tennis, which uses cameras to track the trajectory of balls and judge whether they are in or out. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make a sports documentary about anything more interesting than the players themselves. The film should have more moments depicting mid-aughts tennis stars rebelling against their new cyclops god; in one of the few, from the 2007 Wimbledon finals, Roger Federer approaches the umpire and contests a shot from Rafael Nadal that Hawk-Eye determined “in” by one millimeter. “You can’t turn it off?” he asks. Good question.

E.S.B.

Henry Cavill's gaming PC |

VIDEO

Last summer, the English actor of Snyder-cut fame shared an Instagram video documenting his assembly of a new computer. Cavill, a vocal appreciator of video games, exemplifies the Mr. Potato Head school of acting. This is, of course, a compliment. Cavill cuts an undisguisable profile. His characters’ costumes (Superman’s spandex, a white wig in The Witcher) serve to emphasize, rather than hide, his protagonist-shaped face and physique. The DIY video features Cavill as a tinkering nerd, costumed at home, too: bearded and tank-topped, absolutely rippling out of it. Poor guy — even his attempts at earnest everyman scan as superhuman. Over Barry White’s honeyed bass, the post shows Cavill fiddling with little screws and delicate parts, culminating in a shot of the finished computer. Its exposed guts glow, cycling through a technicolor spectrum. In this image — revealing the insides of a geeky machine as carefully constructed as its maker — lies the most charming glimpse into Cavill yet caught on camera.

N.M.S.

Blaze |

MOVIE

Country artists from Hank Williams, Jr. to Blake Shelton have written ballads about what makes them country. Blaze Foley, a rowdy, rumpled fixture in the Texas music scene of the ’70s and ’80s, had no need for such self-mythology. Equal parts lore and biopic, this film tells Foley’s tragedy through the voices of his friends, sampling real interviews from Townes Van Zandt and Gurf Morlix. From the treehouse he shared with his wife Sybil to the few Texas honky-tonks that hadn’t banned him for brawling, Blaze toted his only possessions along — a jacket and a guitar, both held together by duct tape. Shot and killed at thirty-nine while defending a friend, he never achieved fame, but his songs reached millions through chart-topping covers by John Prine, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. The film’s juxtaposition of two Blaze Foleys — the rambling, alcoholic vagabond and the gentle hero — leaves us wondering whom to believe. In the chasm between tall tales and tragic realities, the legend of this unpretentious, unknown cowboy has room to grow.

J.I.

The Chopin Project |

ALBUM

Before Ólafur Arnalds served as the drummer for hardcore Icelandic bands like Fighting Shit, he grew up listening to Chopin at his grandmother’s house. For this 2015 album, Arnalds and the German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott scouted out vintage instruments in Reykjavik, then overlaid their tones with snippets of the 21st century soundscape — ambient noise, clips of conversation, whispers, and rain. These nine tracks of spatial sounds and gadgetry conclude on 30 seconds of decaying static: the technologically altered silence of a white noise machine.

J.K.

@SpaceLiminalBot |

JARGON

This Twitter bot imports pictures from r/LiminalSpace, a popular subreddit filled with captionless posts of empty atriums, hallways, terminals, and highways — familiar things in unfamiliar contexts, both cinematic and banal. Unlike the subreddit, which accepts a range of posts from members, the bot is curated; its images cohere into a consistent aesthetic. A pinned tweet provides the account’s only guidelines: “Reposts, pictures/videos with people in them, and off-topic (non-liminal) posts are NOT allowed,” though the latter rule is often broken (see: dolphin-shaped toilet paper holder). The collective impression of these visual in-betweens is at once nostalgic, apocalyptic, and surprisingly meaningful — unlike when anyone uses the term “liminal space” in a graduate seminar.

M.C.

Martin Schoeller |

PORTRAITURE

This German photographer nabbed a recent New Yorker assignment (taking Wendy Williams’s portrait for the May 24 issue), but the Obama years were his golden age. He shot the cover of Andre Agassi’s occasionally deranged 2009 memoir, “Open,” then gave his signature treatment — high-def close-ups, with operating-table illumination predating the democratization of ring lights — to Zuckerberg, Bezos, Trump, and a litany of Hollywood A-listers (also, once, a group of mixed-race people for a 2013 National Geographic story, which declared that “race is no longer so black and white”). Schoeller manages to capture his subjects as both babyish and godlike, making the stars he photographs appear just like us: narcissistic. Ultimately, the thing more people should know is that he’s a white guy with dreads.

E.S.B.

The line to enter the Alice Neel exhibit at The Met |

QUEUES

Amid this exhibit’s glowing reviews and deserved recommendations, few have mentioned the inevitable hour-long line that visitors will have to weather before they can enter the must-see show, aptly titled “People Come First.” The line snakes through several galleries; on weekends, it stretches as far as the “Ancient Near East.” The outcome is a forced contemplation of works that one might have otherwise rushed past, both on the walls and in the murmurings of would-be Neel-gazers, anticipating their eventual entry. “The literary canon is all white men,” a woman examining a creamy Rodin sculpture told her friend. “He is toxic and I don’t want to talk shit about him,” another guest-in-waiting noted, hands crossed before Stuck’s Inferno. An elderly woman in a wheelchair scanned a room of “Classical Art from Cyprus” in awe: “I have never seen so much rock!”

O.S.

The Art of Escapism Cooking |

BOOK

Mandy Lee, a Taiwanese-Canadian architect, is not trained as a chef and has never worked in a restaurant. She taught herself to cook in China, while coping with alternating depression and anger at the pollution, censorship, and urban anomie of Beijing. This book, her first, began as an “angry food blog” popular for its surprising flavor combinations, elegant photography, and acerbic writing. Lee’s recipes grow out of love not only for street food and classic dishes, but also for straight-up comfort junk, which she makes from scratch. There’s nothing new about drawing on transcontinental cultural traditions, but the way she converts sausage into cornflakes, stuffs mochi into challah, and devotes an entire chapter to dog food leaves you wondering if she’s a dedicated heretic or just pure agnostic.

S.H.

Trilliums |

FLOWER

These propeller-like plants take seven years to bloom from seed, with deep rooting that immunizes them against unseasonal chills. They blossom for just a single month per annum: mere weeks ago, millions unfurled across Canada; they will resume hibernation within days. The three-petalled perennial is Ontario’s official flower — a status it shares, across an ecologically invisible border to the south, with the state of Ohio. The Ojibwe people of Southern Canada traditionally harvested its roots to induce labor during childbirth. Toronto’s Gothic Revival architecture adapted their starry shape into its signature gingerbread gables. Now, teenagers use trillium-spangled fake IDs to buy booze underage, while their grandparents pay for hip replacements with similarly decorated health cards. If plucked, the fleeting trefoil ceases flowering for years, so various species are protected in Michigan, Minnesota, and New York. These native plants run like a thread of aesthetic sinew through North American culture, neat illustrations of the natural world cutting through the borders we’ve made for ourselves.

A.T.

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