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justified1

The second season of FX’s Justified orbits around the scene where Mags Bennett discovers that her son Coover has been killed by U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens.

Mags Bennett is the matriarch of a clan of weed dealers nestled in the hills of Harlan, Kentucky. Mags runs a general store as her legitimate business front. As long as you have the common sense to not interfere in her criminal business interests, you might mistake her for a feisty grandmother. She’ll treat you to moonshine. Her “apple pie” shine is the best in Harlan County although the glass in which she serves it to you might be poisoned. She’ll take in an orphan girl whose father Mags had killed. She’ll baby her grown sons; they still call her Mama… even when she’s smashing one their hands in with a hammer. Coover should have known better

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A thing I’ve thought about a lot since I was a kid is “praxis.”

Of course, when I was a child, I didn’t know what that word meant. “Praxis” is the practical realization of an idea. As a child, “praxis” was the answer to the question, “what does it mean to live a Christian life?” I’m not religious anymore. I’m an agnostic. But as a kid, I was very devout in my faith, and living a Christian life wasn’t some theoretical concern. These were questions that I arranged my life around.

I didn’t drink til I was 20 years old. I felt that maintaining a purity of body was essential to spreading the Gospel. I didn’t engage in sexual relations while I was still a believer. It was forbidden by the Bible, and I took that command seriously. I didn’t swear. I read the Bible. There were phases where I was so concerned with this question that I was taking my Bible with me to high school and reading it on the bus and before classes and at lunch. I went to a weekly Bible study. I didn’t want to simply “believe.” Being “born again” wasn’t enough. I had to grapple with the core tenets of the belief system that I was subscribing to. And if I wanted to be someone capable of proselytizing for Christ effectively, my actions in real life had to embody those beliefs.

Eventually, conflicts arose between my Evangelical Christian upbringing and a growing sense of social liberalism/faith in science and reason. The latter won out. But the question of “praxis” remained. Instead of asking “what does it mean to be a good Christian,” I was asking “what does it mean to live a life that embodies the pursuit of social justice and equities in the quality of life?” As it turns out, those ideals are much harder to live up to.

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TheRevenant1

Last year, I had the chance to catch a midnight showing of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange at the IFC Center in Manhattan. It’s my favorite Kubrick, and I’d seen it plenty of times in the past, but I’d never seen it on the big screen before.

As a teenager, I tended to walk away from the film with two main thoughts: a dizzy appreciation of the film’s transgressive visual style and ponderings about whether you’re truly good if you only follow the rules because you’re afraid to be punished. The first is obvious. Even in his weakest narratives, Kubrick has a gift for transcending reality with his imagery. And the second is the also obvious, explicit text of Anthony Burgess’s novel which forms the basis for the film. But that midnight screening was the first viewing in ages that let new thoughts begin to ping-pong around my brain.

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GrimesGainax1

Here’s a dirty little secret of contemporary music criticism. Most of us don’t have the slightest fucking clue about the technical construction of the music we’re reviewing.

Here were the qualifications I had when I got hired to be an intern at Baeble Music where I would eventually be the Managing Editor: I had an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock, “barely literate” would have been an accurate phrase for my knowledge of indie rock/pop, and I could throw a sentence or two together without embarrassing myself or my boss. That was it. When I got promoted to Managing Editor three years later, my only other qualification was that I now had a fairly robust knowledge of the indie canon and my prose was a little better.

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Whiplash1

I started dating my first real girlfriend in the final weeks of my senior year of high school. Before that, I’d “dated” girls that I called “girlfriend” and they called me “boyfriend,” but that was middle school and considering the fact that we never kissed or went on dates or called each other on the phone or really did much of anything besides hold hands as we walked around the school, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t really count. I digress. This girl and I dated for a couple months. To this day, I’m not sure I ever had a more natural romantic relationship with somebody. We were both too young for the guarded cynicism of adult relationships. We were simply ourselves, and we were happy. Emphasis on “were.”

It was all well and good until this girl came back from a Christian bible summer camp. I’m a “teapot agnostic” now, but I was a devout Christian at the time. I read the Bible. I went to a weekly Bible study. My faith was integral to who I was. But this girl made me look like a militant atheist. She was a hardcore Southern Baptist. She exclusively wore ankle-length denim skirts to school. Her parents wouldn’t let her listen to the Beatles. My spirituality at the time was imbued with a degree of (and I hate to use this word now cause it’s so condescending but that’s how I was at the time) tolerance. I didn’t think gay people were sinners. I respected the rights of other folks to have different religious beliefs than me. This girl did not.

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White1

[Author’s note: Hello readers. It’s been a while… October to be precise. If you don’t know me in real life, I’ve just been through a bit of a major life change. I left my job in New York City as the Managing Editor of a music site to return home to West Virginia to take care of some college related stuff. It’s either the most responsible decision of my life or the worst decision I’ve ever made. Honestly, it’s 50/50 either way. That said, culture writing is how I make my living. It’s how I pay my bills and although I won’t be writing about music every day for the foreseeable future, I don’t want my writing to get rusty so don’t be surprised to see me updating this site again with more regularity. You might have also noticed that I changed the name of the site to Lost Again. That feels more appropriate at 27 than Hot Saas’s Pop Culture Safari which is something I thought was cute at 21 when I made this site but feels a bit out of place now. Welcome back.]

In the first scene of Krzyszstof Kieslowski’s White, a bird defecates on the shoulder of beleaguered hairdresser, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski). The Polish Karol is standing outside the courthouse where his French wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy), is suing him for divorce. A bird shitting on his coat is the least of Karol’s worries.

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(This is not a review of The Tree of Life. I reviewed the film for this blog three and half years ago when I was 22 and not yet a professional writer. You can read it here, but, like I said, be kind to young me and keep in mind that this particular piece is not a review but an essay on the philosophical subtext of Terrence Malick’s film.)

A child is yelled at by his father, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees men carted off by the police, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees his mother offer water and tend to criminals the same way she tends to him and his brothers, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees a girl, and he can’t look away or focus on anything else, and he doesn’t know why. A child shoots his brother through the fingertip with a BB gun after promising he wouldn’t harm him, and he doesn’t know why. A child straps a frog to a child’s rocket and fires it while other boys cheer him on, and he doesn’t know why.

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Leviathan1

Nature is cruel and horrific.Yes, it can be beautiful. It only takes a trip to a major natural landmark to establish that, but the entire premise of “life” is predicated on barbarism: murder to survive, starvation for those that don’t, ultimate extermination of anything that can’t assert its dominance at the top of the food chain. And a fair existential question is: If your chances in life of experiencing consistent suffering are so high — much higher than living a life of ease and pleasure — then why should we keep trying at this experiment in life at all? Most people — myself include — would respond with: family, friendship, romance. Those heights transcend the inherent tragedy of life, but in the bleak Russian drama Leviathan, it’s not easy to keep those escapes in mind when an avalanche of tragedy takes hold.

The story of Job as I imagine Michael Haneke might conceive it, Leviathan equates the oppressive cruelty of nature and life with existence under the post-Soviet Russian state and unlike Job, a benevolent God doesn’t exist at the end of the tunnel of your trials. Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), a hot-headed mechanic in a small, coastal town in northern Russia, faces the seizure of his home and garage by his town’s corrupt mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov). Although Kolya’s former army buddy and closest friend Dima (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a handsome lawyer from Moscow, has dirt implicating the mayor in gruesome crimes, Kolya’s temper, the deep unhappiness of his long-suffering wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and the oppressive power of the Russian state threaten to grind Kolya away until there’s nothing left but his bones… not unlike the titular skeleton of the “leviathan” whale on the town’s coast.

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A Walk In The Snow

For the first time in my adult life, I do not mind the snow. It is the first day of Spring on the first Friday after my first week in New York City as the managing editor of Baeble Music, and I find the snow rejuvenating. It is a reminder that weather exists in this concrete labyrinth of brownstones, row houses, office complexes, and skyscrapers. And although any one who learned to drive on the mountainous slopes of West Virginia’s rural back-highways and the congested hills of Morgantown should dread winter and snow like it’s the return of the locusts — here to destroy everything you love — I can’t. Not today.

I regret not snapping a picture of the over-burdened branches of the firs, their extremities sagging over the steep walls of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway like an out of shape man stretching and failing to reach his toes. I regret not having a spare coat to offer the young black man with his hands shoved wrist deep down his sagging pants because he was not wearing any jacket or top with pockets. And I highly regret my terrible personal health, my calf muscles seizing after only a week’s stay in the city with only a short walk from subway to home and subway to work to strain me. But I do not regret the cold. And I openly welcome the snow.

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new episode of the podcast. Boys Don’t Cry, Better Call Saul, and NYC. Enjoy!

The Saas Perspective

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We know. We know. We’re a little late. Trevor and I recorded this week’s podcast in the same room which hasn’t happened since Bonnaroo, but due to a massive snowstorm and complications with Trevor’s laptop, we weren’t able to get it uploaded to the site until this evening. You have my sincerest apologies because this week is another great episode. Trevor and I discuss 1999’s landmark drama Boys Don’t Cry for our Digging Deep series on before performers were famous (this being the role that won Hillary Swank her first Oscar and shot her into the national spotlight). We continue our journey with Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul for This Week’s Hot Saas, and lastly, for the Secret Saas, Trevor and I talk a little bit about my forthcoming move to NYC. Enjoy!

P.S. I (Don) will not be on the podcast for the next two weeks. I’m moving…

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