Evolution (dir. Lucile Hadžihalilović)
Hadžihalilović’s first feature, 2004’s Innocence, was a surreal and controversial portrait of female adolescence. Over a decade later, the French filmmaker remains obsessed with coming-of-age stories, though Evolution centers on the relationship between young boys and older, maternal female figures. It’s a dark, strange, visually beautiful nightmare of a tale; to say much more than that it evokes Cronenberg, Argento (who Hadžihalilović acknowledges was an influence), and Sofia Coppola while remaining assuredly unique might ruin the surprise of seeing it for the first time. Evolution made its US premiere last week, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA’s New Directors/New Films festival, and will get a stateside theatrical release in the fall. — Judy Berman, Editor in Chief
I think there’s one drama on TV that you need to be watching: The Americans. I’m not suggesting you start right now, with the fourth season, which just began on FX. To fully appreciate the tense, compelling, realistic-yet-impossible world of Russian spies hiding in 1980s America, you should go start at the beginning. In the first moments of the pilot, you’ll hear Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.” You’ll see Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) talk to a friend about hockey. And you’ll see his wife, Elizabeth (Keri Russell), dress up like a prostitute to seduce a federal analyst in a hotel bar. You’ll see the Jennings’ kidnap a defector and take him home in the trunk of their car…and then go to the kitchen to help their unsuspecting children get ready for school. And then they’ll meet their new neighbor — an FBI counter-intelligence agent. The missions, lies, betrayals, hard choices, 80s songs, and amazing wigs spiral from there. The series has won multiple Television Critics Association Awards, a Critics’ Choice Award, an Emmy, and a Peabody. It is some of the most suspenseful, exciting, and dramatic TV you’ll see on the air this year. And yes — it will make you root for the bad guys. — Jason Ginsburg, Social Media Editor
Lucinda Williams live
This weekend I finally got the chance to see Lucinda Williams, Queen of Music, live in person, and it was pretty much everything I could ask for in a concert: Late-career singer/songwriter who can still wail? Check. Lyric replaced by disparaging Donald Trump reference? Check. Audience full of stoned, graying hippies? Check. (Maybe I should have led with the fact that my favorite band is Steely Dan.)
Currently touring her latest album, The Ghosts of Highway 20, Williams played a mix of new songs and old favorites from her Grammy-winning 1998 masterwork Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The 63-year-old gave a commanding and satisfying performance backed by a small band, including the stellar drummer Jonathan “Butch” Norton. She’s touring the States until May before shipping off for a few European dates, so check the dates and cross your fingers that she’ll be rocking a town near you. — Lara Zarum, Contributor, TV
Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist
Embarrassingly enough, I’d avoided reading any Don DeLillo until this past week. Something about his name, the Robert Pattinson movie, and the lit dudes who love him had led me to believe that he was some kind of nü-Hemingway. And maybe he is; I don’t know enough about his extensive works to make any real judgment. All I know is that I’m very happy I was recently recommended his slim novel, The Body Artist.
Plot-wise, this book is barely there, subsisting instead on nuance and DeLillo’s writhing language. My lack of concern for the characters is not DeLillo’s fault but mine, because I couldn’t care less what happens when I’m busy eye-smiling at lines like, “She burned her hand on the skillet and went right to the fridge and there was no ice in the fucking. She hadn’t filled the fucking ice thing.” More than any book I can remember, this one, in my short time with it, has managed to capture both the mundanity and the beauty in the everyday, every hour, every second. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor
Cirque du Soleil’s “Alegria”
You might think there’s something wrong with me, and maybe I think it too: my staff pick is this Cirque du Soleil song — the finale of the 1994 show, Alegria. Staff Picks loyalists like you may recall that last week, I was on a bit of a Baskets kick, and after delving full-on into this season of Zach Galifianakis’ sad clown show, I started to think about what exactly Chip Baskets’ ideal life would be if it weren’t being mauled by bulls while trying to do something poignantly human with a handkerchief, and then I started to think about how it probably would have been to perform in Cirque du Soleil circa 1994, when seeing ornately dressed hula-hooping clowns sing vaguely “world” music seemed pretty cutting edge. At least, I remember it as pretty cutting edge from when I saw it when I was five. And at that age, I bought (or had my parents buy) just about every one of the Cirque du Soleil soundtracks. Now in adulthood, I don’t remember a single song — as they all blend together into a squawking, bonking tour of the world — except for “Alegria.” Despite its electric string flourishes and all the forced wonder of “a young minstrel sing[ing],” it stands out as both a kitschy relic and a legitimately good showcase of its singer — Francesca Gagnon’s — mellifluous yet gravelly voice. So screw it, I won’t hide, “there is a love in me raging [for] ‘Alegria.'” — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor
The link between H.P. Lovecraft and role-playing games is long and winding, thanks to an obsession with all things Cthulu in certain online circles, but there are only a handful of games that have ever sought to adapt his work in a more substantial way. Darkest Dungeon, a Kickstarter-funded RPG, managed to build mechanics around some of the recurring themes of his work, namely the idea that exposure to the occult will drive you insane.
Players control a team of four characters, who fight through procedurally generated sections of an abandoned mansion sitting on top of a portal to a horrifying inhuman dimension. In addition to managing traditional stats like health and hunger, players must manage their fighters’ stress, which if left unchecked, can lead to various crippling mental disorders that further weaken them. With so many factors to manage and extremely limited resources, even “easy” missions are tense and have lasting consequences for players’ expeditions. That tension makes the relief and satisfaction of completing each run all the more satisfying. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice