The Need by Helen Phillips There are subtle shades of Jordan Peele’s “Us” present throughout this novel as it tells the story of a housewife encountering an entity in her home that will up-end her life. Molly is an anthropologist by day and worn out mother by night, often tasked with caring for her two very young children by herself while Molly’s husband is away. It’s one of these lonely nights at home when Molly becomes aware that something else is in the house. The brief movement of a toy chest lid in the living room informs her that this thing is watching her, and when it reveals herself, she isn’t quite sure how to process what is going on. Then the deal is struck, and soon, Molly finds she’s an outsider in her own life, becoming an observer as someone else takes her place. The scary part is that Molly finds relief in handing the burden of parenthood off to another. The Need is a tightly written and deeply existential & weird text. I’m not a parent, but the anxieties experienced by parents are palpable in this book. I imagine this could be a cathartic release for parents who naturally have those moments of regret from time to time.
Mister America (2019) Written by Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington, & Eric Notarnicola Directed by Eric Notarnicola
For seven years, writer/actor/comedian Tim Heidecker has been building a universe. It started with “On Cinema at the Cinema,” a film review show on YouTube. Heidecker and Turkington starred as versions of themselves, the former an arrogant prick and the latter a film buff obsessed with all that is mediocre. Worldbuilding occurred during the conversations the men had. This included Heidecker marrying a Japanese friend, having a child with the friend (Tom Cruise Junior), and the child dying because Heidecker became a strict anti-vaxxer. It was clear that Heidecker had a point of view to get across, the sort of profoundly twisted satire mainstream media doesn’t provide audiences with.
Four Lions (2010) Written by Chris Morris, Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong, & Simon Blackwell Directed by Chris Morris
Nine years after the events of 9/11, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq raging on, as ISIS was growing in power, four radicalized British Muslims want in on the jihad. They aspire to be suicide bombers but want to do it legit so that they end up as kick-ass martyrs. Two of the men, Omar and Waj, fly to Pakistan to train with al-Qaeda but end up using a rocket launcher the wrong way round and blow up part of the training camp. Meanwhile, Anglo convert to Islam Barry recruits Hassan, a young Arabic rapper who wants to create a “jihad of the mind.” When Omar returns the group devolves into arguments about what exactly to bomb: a mosque and pretend they were Jews, a pharmacy because they sell birth control or some as to be determined target.
This year I committed myself to read three books at a time: One comic book collection, one fiction book, and one non-fiction book. As a result, I read some very informative books, filling in my knowledge on subjects I realized I only understood tangentially. Here were my favorites, in no particular order, expect the last book which is my favorite.
The Second Amendment: A Biography – Michael Waldman After the shooting at Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February was moved emotionally in a way that none of America’s previous school shooting tragedies had hit me. I think I’d chosen to be numb to what had gone before, notably Sandy Hook, despite being an elementary school teacher out of pure psychological survival. I knew I had issues with the proliferation of guns in the United States but was unable to articulate my views and wanted to clarify facts so that I could clarify or possibly change my understanding. Author Waldman does an excellent job of giving in-depth explorations of gun ownership from colonial America to the most recent Supreme Court cases surrounding the issue. I walked away having a firmer, never final, viewpoint on an issue and was able to navigate past my emotional response to holding a much more reasoned one, while not eschewing the humanity involved.
Dick Cheney served under three of America’s presidents before getting to sit as vice president during George W. Bush’s administration. His path to power was made possible by his wife Lynne who spurred Dick on despite his proximity to many political scandals in Washington. When he finally reaches the highest levels of power in America, he calls in a series of friends and associates to help him commandeer control of the executive branch. President Bush doesn’t seem to mind and happily hands off the reins power leaving Cheney to mastermind the whole of foreign and energy policy for the next eight years. This is the story of the shadow president who transformed our nation forever and increased the reach of the office of the President for generations to come.
Written by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tony Kushner
Directed by Steven Spielberg
The American Civil War has been slogging on for four years. Hundreds of thousands are dead, and many in the North want it to end. President Abraham Lincoln has been elected to a second term by a landslide and has one thing he wants to spend his political capital on The 13th Amendment. Members of his cabinet and the Republican party are highly skeptical of betting all their chips on this risky Constitutional move. Lincoln is steadfast and works every angle possible to garner the votes. Meanwhile, a peace commission has been sent by Confederate leader Jefferson Davis to end things, but Lincoln knows if peace without the freedom of slaves is on the table the legislators will likely go with peace and nothing else. Time is running out, more than even the President realizes.
The Ides of March (2011)
Written by George Clooney, Beau Willimon, and Grant Heslov
Directed by George Clooney
The Democratic presidential primary has reached Ohio with sights on North Carolina afterward. Governor Mike Morris is neck in neck with his rival Ted Pullman, senator from Arkansas. Stephen Meyers is the junior campaign manager working to help Morris pull ahead and secure the win. He is invited to an informal meeting with the opponent’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy. Meyers weighs what to do, thinking about informing Morris’ senior campaign manager, then deciding against it and going in secret. At the same time, Meyers starts up with a relationship with Molly, an intern with the campaign. Through his involvement with Molly, he learns about a secret that his candidate has been keeping. Meyers is faced with the struggle of pushing forward for a candidate he believes will bring the change that is needed or adhering to his principles and bringing light to these secrets.