Staff Picks: Alicia Vikander, ‘The Witch’ and Taking Black Phillip’s Advice

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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, and tell us what you’ve been loving in the comments.

The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers)

Many people I like and respect truly hated Robert Eggers’ “New England folk tale” of a Puritan family’s struggle against a witch and the elemental forces of nature she represents. Now that I’ve seen and loved it, I feel the need to rise to its defense. The Witch isn’t a “scary” movie, but it’s also not Eggers’ fault that his film doesn’t neatly fit into any easily marketable genre. Instead, it’s a careful, unsettling slow boil that expertly operates in contrasts: between the claustrophobia of the family unit and the terrifying expanse of the untamed forest; between the comfortable but suffocating confines of religion and the thrilling, dangerous unknown of life outside them. As heroine Thomasin, Anya Taylor-Joy is the eye of a spiritual hurricane, coming more and more into focus as everyone around her unravels. — Alison Herman, TV Editor

Applying Black Phillip’s Words to My Favorite Pretzel

I was conflicted today: I could “staff pick” Black Phillip — who could have been an immensely ineffectual or even mood-breaking aspect of the stunning (see above) The Witch, but rather leaned in a direction of deliberate camp that made it all the more alluring and scary. Or, I could write about my favorite soft pretzel, a feta and black olive lump of divinity (or devilry?!) made by Sigmund’s Pretzel Shop. The soft pretzel would have been tangential to what Flavorwire normally covers — note that we have Music, Film, TV, etc. sections, but lack a pretzel section. However, since I eat the pretzel every day at work, and since it fuels me with sugars with which I can furiously write for 20 or so minutes, I feel it’s fitting. Choosing between the now-famous goat and the pretzel topped with the cheese of its nemesis — the sheep — was my dilemma, until I realized that I didn’t need to choose: Black Phillip and my favorite pretzel are wholly entwined. For one of the reasons everyone has been talking about Black Phillip is because of his gloriously seductive line, “Would you like to live deliciously?” I realize that every day, before purchasing my favorite pretzel, I ask myself the same thing. And since I always end up with pretzel in hand — then in stomach — my answer is always an unequivocal “yes.” I suppose this makes me The Witch. Out with the patriarchy, in with the pretzel. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Eliot Sumner — Information

Being the progeny of pop music royalty carries with it palpable expectations; when you sound eerily like your famous rock star dad, you kinda know what you’re in for. But most of Information, the latest record from Eliot Sumner, Sting’s daughter, sounds weirder than anything by The Police. There’s garage rock, acoustic ballad, and synth pop influences, but somehow the record’s aesthetic still feels coherent. Color us impressed. — Matthew Ismael Ruiz, Music Editor

Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

Maybe it was the result of months of dread and putting-off, but I actually found Tom Hooper’s biopic of trans groundbreaker Lili Elbe (out this week on DVD and Blu-ray) to be better than expected – not that that’s saying much. Don’t get me wrong, Hooper’s sense of pace is terrible, the sheen of “respectability” is all but suffocating, and Eddie Raymayne’s twitchy, overcooked turn is a mess. But the further he goes over the top, the more it underscores the remarkable naturalism of Vikander’s Oscar-winning turn. Sensitively conveying wife Gerda’s initial support (and the matter-of-fact way this wrinkle becomes part of their life – and their sex life) and the way if veers into defensiveness and anger, The Danish Girl becomes as much her story as his, for better or worse. The movie’s not worth recommending, not quite, but Vikander’s work here confirms her status as one of our most interesting new talents. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Baskets

I had no idea what to expect from Baskets. Promos for the new FX series featured one-liners from Zach Galifianakis or posters of him dressed as a French clown. Flavorwire’s review convinced me to check it out. What I found was a strange, quiet look at the life of a screw-up still clinging to an odd dream. His best (and only) friend is his insurance adjuster, who fixed — and then broke — his only mode of transportation. His twin brother runs a for-profit technical school that is clearly a scam. His mother adopted another set of twins, whom she clearly loves more. It’s a skewed look at a mid-life crisis, but with co-creator Louis C.K.’s fingerprints all over it. Each episode is like a one-act play, or maybe a Woody Allen film, though moved to the polar opposite of Allen’s Upper West Side: dusty, empty Bakersfield, California. The show is funny, touching, and weird, in line with the Louie and Portlandia school of 21st-century TV comedy. And after seven episodes, I still have no idea what to expect. — Jason Ginsburg, Social Media Editor

Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce

Call it Sex and the City-lite, call it Girls for grown-ups, call it whatever you like: Bravo’s scripted dramedy focusing on four 40-something women and their screwy lives is one of the best pleasures of cable TV, guilty or otherwise. Lisa Edelstein is a ball of neuroses as a self-help guru whose life has, for the past two seasons, come more and more undone. She’s helped through it, kind of, by her three gal pals, and though none of them is as enjoyable to watch as Janeane Garofoalo, who appeared in the first few episodes, they’ve each got their charms.

Perhaps this isn’t selling the show hard enough, and this next bit won’t, either: the season two finale, which was two episodes, featured one of most unconventional wedding plots in all of TV’s history, though of course, by the end, everyone was drunk and happy anyway. Give it a shot; you can only watch SATC reruns on E! so many times. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor

Sicario

In any other year, Sicario would have been a prime Oscar contender. It had all the pieces: Strong performances, unsettling, but believable conflicts, interesting aesthetics and a strong point of view. While there were certainly larger injustices perpetrated by the Academy Sunday night — insert #Oscarssowhite aside here — it’s hard not to feel bad for director Dennis Villeneuve, his cast, and crew for making something enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, but not receive credit for it. Even within the extremely flawed system, its heartening to see the good films rise and disheartening to see them acknowledged, then left behind. Mad Max: Fury Road deserved all the awards it won, but maybe there were a couple others that deserved some Academy love? — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice