Culture

Flick Story

Talking Too Much: Scott Derrickson’s ‘Deliver Us From Evil’

By 7.22.14

In The Brothers Karamazov, after the atheist Ivan has talked for two full chapters—“Rebellion,” the greatest statement of the problem of evil, and “The Grand Inquisitor”—he gives his Christian brother Alyosha a chance to respond. Here we’ve heard the prosecution speak. What’s the case for God?

And Alyosha leans over and kisses him.

Scott Derrickson’s new, sincere horror film Deliver Us From Evil should have listened to how much the wordless Alyosha was saying. Human arguments can only be as big as the arguers. So much of God is left over: outside, eldritch, Other. 

Horror should be the genre which best captures this inexpressibility of God, the wrongness of Him compared to the tidy, familiar, practical mental apparatus by which we make sense of the world. The Exorcist is admirably incomplete: tragic, broken, ferocious in the face of evil but submissive in the face of suffering. It convinces by never trying to convince.

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Uber Trolls Washington

By on 7.21.14 | 4:06PM

In a proverbial middle finger to authorities in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and other states, the popular taxi service Uber’s advertising has gone from clever to downright hysterical. Uber is offering free rides in the Tyson and Reston areas of Northern Virginia this week.

Uber’s campaign is brilliant because of its message. Coinciding with the long-expected opening of the Washington Metro Transportation Authority's silver line, which starts at Dulles airport and joins the orange line in Rosslyn, Uber is promoting free rides with the code name “SILVERLINE” to and from Tyson’s Corner.

This is a direct dig at some of the actions taken against the company in both D.C. and Virginia. According to Blake Seitz and the Washington Examiner, the D.C. Taxi Operators Association staged a major protest:

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A Tribute to the Onion

By on 7.21.14 | 11:41AM

Let the world take note of the Onion and its incredible commentary on the Middle East. On Friday, it tackled the escalating conflict in Gaza with the headline: “Palestinians Starting To Have Mixed Feelings About Being Used As Human Shields.” The piece employs sarcastic understatement with aplomb, pointing out the lunacy of human action.

It would ruin the humor to try and summarize the deceptively mundane “news” article that follows that title. It’s the truth artfully concealed as a lie, however. Whether or not Palestinians have awoken to the reality that it is their leaders who put them in the line of fire and give Israel cause to retaliate, the Onion points out that truth for anyone who gets their news on the Internet.

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Culture Vultures

The Liberal But Watchable John Oliver

By 7.16.14

If you haven’t watched John Oliver’s new show Last Week Tonight on HBO, let me recommend a few bits.

There’s the one where he enlists Lisa Loeb to mock Portland hipsters and Obamacare at the same time. And this one, featuring the best Morrissey reference ever, on the European Court of Justice’s insane ruling that forces Google to take down links upon request. And this interview with a droll Stephen Hawking.

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Flick Story

Roman Polanski’s ‘Venus in Fur’ Is Lightweight and Campy

By 7.15.14

Venus in Fur opens like a horror film—more precisely, like a horror-comedy. The camera swoops slowly over rainswept streets toward a shuttered theater, as thunder rolls and a darkly glittering waltz plays. The music sets the mood for something like Beetlejuice or even Gremlins: The carnival’s in town, and it opens at midnight!

Roman Polanski’s adaptation of David Ives's play about Leopold Sacher-Masoch’s perverse novel Venus in Furs manages to sustain this edgy, gleeful mood despite its layers of adaptation and influence. On one level it’s just an unhealthy confection, a movie-length warning: Be careful what you wish for, that classic horror maxim. Or, Be careful what you swoon for

On a deeper level the movie is about perhaps the most important question: Is there anything outside the self? Is a genuine surrender of the will possible, or is everything just egoism in the end, since you’re still the one choosing to give or withhold yourself? 

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Did the Marxist Philosopher Slavoj Zizek Plagiarize a White Nationalist Magazine?

By on 7.11.14 | 4:24PM

It certainly looks that way. The other night I was reading my galley copy of Adam Kirsch's forthcoming essay collection, Rocket and Lightship. It's full of good stuff, but the best piece in it is about the Slovenian Marxist gadfly Slavoj Zizek. Zizek is a strange character: a social democratic dissident turned unapolegtic Leninist; a pop-culture loving obscurantist; a millionaire philosopher. He is also, Kirsch intimates, without quite saying as much, an anti-Semite.

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A Further Perspective

Our Boring Secular Consensus

By 7.11.14

In 1839, the future saint Jeanne Jugan gathered a group of women and girls, and began administering care to the poor of Rennes, France. One-hundred and seventy-five years later, Jugan’s group, Little Sisters of the Poor, has apparently become something far more sinister. That’s according to the reliably irrelevant National Organization for Women, which recently included the sisterhood on its “Dirty 100” list of groups that have been “using religion to justify discrimination, deny women’s equality.”

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The Great American Saloon Series

Vodka is Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless, and Amazing

By 7.10.14

October 4 is National Vodka Day, but no one knows precisely when, where, or even why vodka was first made. (Even National​VodkaDay.com admits that “we have not found the origins of why, but it works for us. No harm celebrating responsibly on other days as well.”) It depends on your definition of vodka.

We can go as far back as the eighth century A.D., when alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan, known to the West as Geber, invented the alembic to capture vapor from heated wine, which he described as “of little use, but of great importance to science.” (If only he had placed it in a frosted glass bottle and had beautiful women sell it at the local taverns!) In the fourteenth century, the Italians were drinking aqua vitae, which supposedly they learned to make from alchemists in southern France, who, in turn, had studied the methods of the Arabs. In any event the Italians brought their product to Moscow, and around 1430 a Russian monk named Isidore supposedly turned this into vodka.

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A (Sort of) Defense of Soccer

By on 7.9.14 | 10:55AM

As soccer lovers and bandwagon hoppers the world over wait to watch the semifinal games of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a few puerile pundits have transformed it into their own Hyde Park in which to set up a soapbox and spew pompous oratorical diarrhea. Ann Coulter’s adolescent attacks on soccer are easy enough to dismiss as the usual ranting and raving of an irrelevant demagogue, an attempt to politicize sport for personal profit and blow some last bombast into a deflating brand of irreverence. We may read her, wish she was being pleasantly satirical rather than gleefully inane, and turn away laughing with distaste.

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The Beer Spectator: In Support of Smoking

By on 7.4.14 | 10:04AM

My favorite smoking section is located outside the Barnstable County Superior Court on Cape Cod. Across the street from the entrance, there is a lone sign amidst the weedy grass of the parking lot median. “Smoking Section,” it declares. Smokers are not welcome to stand on the sidewalk in front of the court. No, they must walk across the street, where all can judge them.

Everybody witnesses smoking, and everybody reacts in their own ways. Some ignore it. Some cough artificially. Some announce the health hazards of smoking, as if the graphic warnings on the packs didn’t tell us enough.

Why submit oneself to such ostracization?   

It’s simple: smoking, whether it’s a cigarette, a cigar, or a pipe, is soothing. It’s social, invigorating, and recreational. It doesn’t matter how high taxes are or whether the MPAA rates a movie because of smoking on screen; some people just want their fix.

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