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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Culture Corner

The Arts Desk’s weekly picks for television, movies, books and music

Movie: “Chungking Express” dir. by Wong Kar-wai (1994)

Director Wong Kar-wai’s “Chungking Express” is a tale of two love stories told amid the eclectic urban backdrop of Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s unique manipulation of film creates a surreal world, made real by a standout performance from actress Faye Wong. Wong—who steals the show as a quirky hostess turned love interest in the film’s second half—also provides the soundtrack with a killer Cantonese remake of the melancholic hit “Dreams” by The Cranberries that will have even the most ardent Dolores O’Riordan fan listening on repeat.

Show: “The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

A 20-something year old male tells you his favorite show is “The Sopranos.” Cliché, I know. But in my four years of reading Culture Corner, I’m not sure I’ve seen it listed yet, and that’s a tragedy. Writer and producer David Chase’s contemporary portrayal of the American mafia—depicted via an ensemble cast led by the late James Gandolfini—is undeniably one of the greatest television shows of all time. As nihilistic as it is humorous, “The Sopranos” touches on everything from the Italian-American experience to mental health stigma. Watch it if you somehow haven’t yet.

Album: “Section.80” by Kendrick Lamar (2011)

Unpopular opinion, but I think Kendrick’s debut studio album is his greatest. Going on a decade old, most of the songs on “Section.80” somehow remain feeling authentically deep and real while still sounding as though they wouldn’t be out of place at a house party. A hard-to-classify style with obvious influences from conscious rap, alternative hip hop and early 90’s artists, this album has aged gracefully. A retrospective listening of the masterings of lyrical flow and narrative story-telling on “Section.80” show us that Kendrick was always bound for greatness. 

Book: “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” by Sam Quinones (2015)

Remember in 2016, when the ascent of former President Donald Trump left countless coastal Americans wondering why so many working-class voters had suddenly flipped to the right after serving years as a Democratic bulwark? The explanation for this perplexion seemed to lie in an endless prescription of novels and narratives surrounding the American heartland, from J.D. Vance’s Appalachian memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” to Arlie Russell’s sociological study “Strangers in Their Own Land.” But if there were one book I would say summed up life and death in Middle America, it would be Sam Quinones’ “Dreamland.” The bilingual former Los Angeles Times correspondent Quinones paints a damning image of our country’s opioid problem, and in doing so, escapes the usual cliches and patronizing tones of most of the genre. “Dreamland” is a powerful anthology that takes readers from the poppy fields of Xalisco to the “pill mill” medical clinics of rural Ohio, revealing the true horror and extent of America’s latest drug epidemic—and the thousands of lives it’s taken along with it.

Written by: Brandon Jetter — arts@theaggie.org

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