Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week’s entries come from Rachel Stewart, John Bernardy, Laura Stewart, and Jennifer D. Manriquez.
Rachel: Madonna’s never been one to mince words, nor shy away from religion, sexuality, or politics. After a string of frothy pop albums, she’s settled back into a new art-focused era with Madame X. The album itself is a slow burn, filled with Spanish and Portuguese flourishes against auto-tuned vocals and classic choirs. (For me, it deepened on repeated listens, so if you’re struggling, keep spinning.)
The first two videos for this era—“Medellin” and “Crave”—seemed like simple summer pop bops, but things took a cinematic turn with “Dark Ballet”, an artistic retelling of Joan of Arc’s burning at the stake. The fourth video—“God Control”—is (literally) the showstopper. Told in reverse order a la Irréversible, Madonna (as an Anne Sexton-like version of Madame X) sits at home frantically trying to type out a message for the masses. Meanwhile, at the local LGBTQ+ club, a rouge gunner opens fire and kills people, including another version of Madonna—this one blonde and disco-suited up for a simple night of fun. As the video rewinds with the night’s events, we see the blonde version of Madonna ignore a school shooting news story on TV before heading to the club. On the way there, she’s attacked in the street but makes it to the club safe where she and her friends to dance the night away.
Back in her tiny apartment, Madame X continues to write, and rewrite, to no avail. The video shifts to news clips of protests and rallies for gun control. The video ends with a shot of Madame X crying, looking out on the viewer before launching into the staggering statistics regarding gun-related deaths in this country, with the counter still going as it fades to black.
I’ve been a Madonna fan as long as I was old enough to sneak and watch MTV. This is the Madonna I love the most. This is the one that kissed black saints in “Like a Prayer” and decided not to get an abortion in “Papa Don’t Preach” and the one that decided to drop Erotica and the Sex book at the same time. She’s a badass and she’s ready to say something. Speak on it, sis.
Throughout the video, she references the Pulse shooting in Orlando as well as the now too-numerous-to count school shootings that have occurred since Columbine. She turns the mirror on us as a nation and makes us look at what we’ve become—unable to rise up and do what’s right, out of shame or numbness.
Everybody knows the damn truth
Our nation lied, we lost respect
When we wake up, what can we do?
Get the kids ready, take them to school
Everybody knows they don’t have a chance
To get a decent job, to have a normal life
When they talk reforms, it makes me laugh
They pretend to help, it makes me laugh
John: George RR Martin is the guest on this week’s Maltin on Movies podcast. Hosts Leonard and Jessie Maltin sit down with the Game of Thrones author in his own theater, the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The trio talks about every part of Martin’s creative life from writing for fanzines up through to today. We hear about Martin’s first story sale at Galaxy magazine, the upward trajectory of his first three novels, and how his fourth under-performed and led him into Hollywood. We hear about his time as a staff writer on Twilight Zone up through being a producer on Beauty and the Beast, all the while getting insight into the business side of making television and dealing with creative control. We also get a good glimpse into the life of a person who writes pilots that don’t get turned into a series.
Of course we get Martin’s reaction to the cultural footprint his “unfilmable” fantasy series has left. Martin and the hosts also talk about how TV is now the tent-pole for drama while movies are now for spectacle. Martin also talks about how you used to be aware of every TV show whether you watched it or not, but today’s giant slate of cable and streaming service fare makes finding new shows a lot like browsing at a bookstore for things you might never have heard of. “Is this like the tech bubble; will it burst?”
He and the hosts also get philosophical about how story exists regardless of its medium, and they compare and contrast some of those mediums. And talking about Martin’s theater where they’re recording, they end lamenting the state of movie theaters today and how shared experience is being lost.
Overall, it’s not an interview about the stories Martin has written (or has coming down the pipe); it’s about the process of how television and movies are made, using Martin’s career as a case study. If you’re looking for an insight to his stories, you’ll leave disappointed. But if you’re looking for insight into storytelling, this one’s for you.
Laura: It’s been more than six months since Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow was released, and I have finally remembered to tell you just how glorious this album is. I go back to it over and over and find new joy in it every time.
I’ll admit I had not heard of Sharon Van Etten before I saw her on stage singing “Tarifa” in the Bang Bang Bar in Twin Peaks S3. Anytime David Lynch picks an artist it makes you prick up your ears; they just have to be good, and he certainly wasn’t wrong in this case. Then she only went and turned up in my second favourite TV show of modern times, The OA, as Rachel; a woman held captive who had experienced Near-Death Experiences and had a pitch-perfect singing voice. As Agent Cooper would say, “Gentlemen. When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.” I listened to her first four albums immediately and was impressed. Her music isn’t my usual style of choice admittedly, but her voice is exquisite—natural silk.
Van Etten has been very busy over the past five years; she started acting and scoring films, studied for a degree in psychology, embraced a fulfilling relationship, and became a parent. Then on January 18th Van Etten dropped Remind Me Tomorrow as she couldn’t stay away from her first love music for too long. I expected more of the same sound, I did not receive what I expected. In terms of where it stands in her catalogue, this is undoubtedly the crown jewel. It’s her most extrovert, lean and unabashedly gothic record yet—an exploration of the horrors of living and loving. Remind Me Tomorrow is brutal, but it’s honest and open and true about how grim life is sometimes.
There has always been luxurious darkness to Van Etten’s music, but here this darkness is amplified. Audibly distinct from her previous albums, it is beat-driven, piano-heavy and synth-laden. “Jupiter 4” has a sci-fi vibe to it and is shrouded in futuristic anxiety conjured by a Theremin. Elsewhere, anthemic album highlights “Comeback Kid” and “Seventeen” pulsate, whine and bend under the weight of warped waves. On the brighter side there is a gorgeous tribute to friendship in opener “I Told You Everything” and you can really feel her heart swooning on the tingling “Malibu”. My current favourite track, however, happens to be the new single too “No One’s Easy to Love” with its dubby bass, scattered beats and Flight of the Navigator-esque keyboards that crescendo in the background. There are elements of PJ Harvey’s greatest pop on “Comeback Kid”, shadows of Sheryl Crow in her voice, and distortion that Portishead would be proud of on “Memorial Day” and “Hands”.
By not pulling her punches, Van Etten has seemingly done the impossible—reinvented herself by doubling down on her own artistic tendencies. She bet on black and won.
Jen: My recommendation this week is Monday Afternoon Movie, a podcast hosted by Sam Pancake.
If you were alive in the 70s, you might be lucky enough to remember those dark, dour, and delicious made-for-TV horror films that premiered on any given major television network every week.They always featured one major star, to draw you in, like Shelley Winters, Kate Jackson, or Linda Blair. No matter how inappropriate for children they may have been, the entire family gathered around to watch, absolutely enthralled by every word and movement on the screen.
The 70s heralded the dawn of the “Satanic Panic” era, so the plots almost always revolved around Satan and his minions. The crazy exploits of the characters in these films were all anyone at school talked about the next day. “Did you see the little goblins in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark last night?” “Holy cow, can you believe what happened at the end of Satan’s School for Girls?” I loved these films as a kid, and still love them now. All of them are on YouTube in their entirety, absolutely for free, complete with all the little scratches and pops leftover from the VHS tape they were recorded on 40 years ago.
So, I was beyond delighted when I recently stumbled across a gem of a podcast, created in honor of these made-for-TV wonders of yesteryear; hosted by actor, writer, improviser, and comedian, Sam Pancake (yes, Pancake is his real last name). It’s called Monday Afternoon Movies. Every week Sam invites a friend to watch a 70s-era made-for-TV film, and they discuss it down to every detail of costuming, casting choice, and goofy hairdo. It is captivating and absolutely hilarious.
Sam is the perfect host: he is competent and clever, and he genuinely loves the subject matter. He states in the first episode that his mom always made him go to bed before the movie was finished, and she promised to tell him how it ended, but by the next morning she could never remember. It drove him crazy, so now he’s making up for all of those missed opportunities and botched endings by re-watching the films from his youth and actually finishing them.
Sam is openly gay and, while I wouldn’t generally bring up someone’s sexuality in a podcast review, it’s important here because it is a huge part of Sam’s life and professional persona, and Sam wields it beautifully, with heart and aplomb. He’s like the gay best friend you always wanted in college, and the one you desperately need dropping truth bombs about your life choices as an adult. To put it to you straight (no pun intended), Sam is utterly fabulous!
And his guests are amazing too. He invites boisterous drag queens, hilarious comedians, experienced actors, and clever friends to guest-host the show with him. The conversations are keen, thoughtful, and extremely funny. I’ve been bingeing the show for the past week and I can’t get enough of it. There are only two seasons so far, and I’m desperate for a third. Even if you’ve never seen or heard of these movies, you can easily enjoy this podcast. They discuss the plot from front to back, so you’re never left out of the loop with regard to story. And, I promise, you will never fail to laugh.
Monday Afternoon Movie is available on all the standard podcast platforms, totally free. You can also visit their website for more information.
Those are our recommendations this week! What would be yours? Let us know in the comments!