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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Culture Corner

The Arts Desk’s weekly pick of movies, TV shows, books and music

Album: “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” by Fiona Apple (2020)

There are almost no words to convey how strongly I feel about Fiona Apple’s latest album. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” came out almost exactly one month into the stay-at-home order last year (April 17 to be exact), and it was absolutely the highlight of my entire Spring Quarter and summer. Apple so deservingly won Grammys for both Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rock Performance for the song “Shameika”—coincidentally one of my favorites. With every single track, you can hear the pure emotion Apple poured into this homemade album. What is especially notable is the fact that I’m pretty sure even if there were only nonsensical lyrics in any of the songs, you could still feel everything she put into it. I personally would not complain about an entire album of just her animalistic vocalizations at the end of “I Want You to Love Me.” I don’t want to sound annoying, but this album should be considered a piece of avant-garde art. It embodies one of the best things in the world: a woman scorned by the world getting back at everyone by simply bodying what she does. If you somehow have not listened to this album yet, please go do it now and see if it doesn’t make you want to run and scream out into the middle of a field. (That might just be me, but still it is a great album.) 

Movie: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” dir. by Nicholas Stoller (2008)

This movie is one of (what feels like) hundreds of rom-coms produced by Judd Apatow in the mid-2000s—and just like most of them, this one is a huge success. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (along with many other films produced or directed by Apatow) is where nepotism in Hollywood really worked out—he consistently only casts his friends, and they make some really funny and easy-to-watch movies. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has definitely stuck with me partially because I watched it for the first time when I was far too young. I recently rewatched it (instead of studying) and found myself laughing just as hard as before. This movie has Hollywood’s favorite rom-com trope, the insanely mediocre middle-aged white dude (played by Jason Segel) who somehow wins over the incredibly gorgeous and witty new girl (Mila Kunis) and, in this movie, is trying to get over his equally beautiful and talented ex (Kristen Bell). Rewatching this movie, I was shocked at how star-studded even some incredibly minor parts were, like Jonah Hill playing the hotel employee in some of the best scenes of the movie or Paul Rudd playing the airhead surf instructor, both actors probably only having a combined 10 minutes of screentime. While there is no doubt that this movie will make you laugh, it is definitely a product of its time (just 13 years ago), packed with casual sexism, some underlying hints of racist tropes and not-so-subtle fake tans. I definitely caught myself picking out these questionable decisions and just wondering “why?”—my favorite one being the fact that Kunis was consistently put in an extreme push-up bra and half-unbuttoned, too-tight white top every time she was behind the desk of the hotel she worked at. Was there a real reason for her to be so sexy at work? Nope, but someone decided it was crucial to her character development. All in all, a super funny movie with what are now obviously problematic aspects. 

Book: “I Love Dick” by Chris Kraus (1997)

Yes, the title of this book might be a bit much, but that’s not really what it’s about. Kraus somehow managed to blend her real-life experiences and emotions with fiction, in addition to perfectly stitching a narrative around sequences of letters. In this book, Kraus details her somewhat unhealthy and oftentimes highly cringe-worthy infatuation with a charismatic sociologist friend of her husband’s, who she has renamed Dick to keep his true identity hidden. Over the course of countless letters to Dick and months after her first interaction with him, it is clear that “Dear Dick” is simply a stand-in for “Dear Diary.” This is not necessarily a book about the man a woman is obsessed with—this book is an (at times uncouth) expression of female desire, unafraid of being entirely honest about it. One of my favorite parts is the way it entirely flips the script of attraction. “Dick” is a powerful and dynamic man that Kraus reduces down to only what she wants from him, essentially making him her muse and nothing more. Kraus is more than her “love” for Dick, and her story in no way solely revolves around the men she writes. 

TV Show: “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (2000)

I don’t think there is any way around saying that this is the funniest and smartest “cookie-cutter” sitcom on television. Not only is Larry David an amazing comedy writer—as he has proven as a writer for “Saturday Night Live” and “Seinfeld”—but he is also the perfect, unlikable “underdog” in his own show. I have always loved “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” consistently going back to rewatch old episodes instead of finding a new (and most likely half-as-funny) show to watch before bed, and when I found out the vast majority of each scene was improvised, my admiration shifted into awe. Knowing this while revisiting some of my favorite episodes, my respect for David, and every single person he shares a scene with, goes through the roof. This is the kind of show where, even if you’re just watching alone in the middle of the night, you’ll laugh harder than you will watching sitcoms like “Modern Family” or “Friends.” David plays an incredibly unlikable version of his already pessimistic and dry-humored personality that will make you wince at the awkward situations he gets himself into, but you won’t be able to look away as he just keeps messing things up episode after episode. 

Written by: Angie Cummings — arts@theaggie.org

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