David Sims’s Culture Picks: Andor, Jane Eyre, and Jessie Buckley

The Atlantic writer has noticed that people are pretending Lydia Tár is a real person.

Diego Luna in "Andor"
"[Andor] is a very well-done piece of low-to-the-ground sci-fi." (LucasFilm / Walt Disney Studios)

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Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.

Today, our special guest is the staff writer David Sims, who reviewed this weekend’s big theatrical release Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, saying it is “fueled by intricate world-building, stunningly designed sets and costumes, and an interest in the geopolitical implications of superheroism that’s far more nuanced than most Marvel movies allow.” He also recently profiled the director James Gray, whose new autobiographical film, Armageddon Time, “reckons with the venal politics” of the 1980s, which Gray “perceives as a warning bell for our polarized present.”

David is currently playing the “horrifyingly addictive” Slay the Spire on his phone, choking back little sobs as he rereads Jane Eyre, and noticing that people are pretending that Lydia Tár is a real person.

But first, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: David Sims

What my friends are talking about most right now: Todd Field’s Tár is a very precise and thoughtful film that is probably my favorite of the year. I love how it plays with narrative structure, beginning as a very focused portrayal of a very tightly wound character (the conductor Lydia Tár, played by Cate Blanchett), then becoming more and more unmoored from traditional storytelling structure as her life unspools. But what I’ve noticed is that this serious (though undeniably acidly funny) film is entering meme territory among my pals and online acquaintances—it’s becoming a popular gag to say that one wishes that Lydia Tár were a real person, a canceled celebrity to obsess over like so many others. It reminds me of the fascination with The Power of the Dog’s unseen character, Bronco Henry, last year; it’s always funny to watch art-house cinema cross into irreverent pop culture. [Related: Tár takes on the devastating spectacle of ‘cancellation.’]

The upcoming event I’m most looking forward to: I’m seeing LaTanya Richardson Jackson’s production of The Piano Lesson on Broadway soon—essentially any time an August Wilson play is staged in New York, I want to be there. I’m quietly a bit of a nerd about his Pittsburgh cycle of plays, but beyond being fascinated with how to stage his work, there’s also just nothing like watching great actors wrestle with his language. [Related: The unconscious rebellion of August Wilson]

The television show I’m most enjoying right now: The last thing I felt truly enraptured by was Apple TV+’s For All Mankind, which I finally binged all three seasons of after years of people telling me I’d like it. It’s one of those shows where the word of mouth is that it “starts slow, then gets really good.” Nonsense. It starts incredibly and then becomes something truly original—an alternate history of the space race and the Cold War that never ends, but evolves in both optimistic and terrifying ways. Right now I’m barreling through Andor, which, despite my general exhaustion with franchise-related Disney shows, is a very well-done piece of low-to-the-ground sci-fi. [Related: Star Wars gets political.]

An actor I would watch in anything: I have 50 answers to this on any given day, but Jessie Buckley might be my quickest reply right now. She is the standout of a great film coming out later this year called Women Talking, which is populated by a brilliant ensemble, and she always finds some fascinating way into a character onscreen that I can never anticipate. [Related: Wild Rose gives Jessie Buckley her chance to shine.]

My favorite blockbuster and favorite art movie: Of the year? Probably Top Gun: Maverick in the blockbuster field—just the platonic ideal of that kind of picture—and for genuine art movie, I’ll pick Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, a low-fi piece of indie horror that I have not been able to shake since watching it months ago. [Related: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair takes on the horror of internet echo chambers.]

John David Washington, Danielle Brooks and Samuel L Jackson at opening night of The Piano Lesson
"Any time an August Wilson play is staged in New York, I want to be there": LaTanya Richardson Jackson’s production of The Piano Lesson (Bruce Glikas / Getty)

The best novel I’ve read recently, and the best work of nonfiction: I’ve been pathetic on the reading front recently; the best novel I’ve read in the past couple of months is probably Elif Batuman’s Either/Or, a very melancholy sequel to her laugh riot The Idiot. I went through an intense nonfiction phase in the deep pandemic that I would like to rekindle, but in 2020, I read all of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson books and spent a full year reciting obscure anecdotes from them to my progressively annoyed family. [Related: Elif Batuman’s curious experiment in fiction]

Something I recently revisited: For some reason, I had Jane Eyre on my Kindle and plowed through it on a vacation weekend; the last time I read it, I was 13 years old and possibly chafing against it as a school assignment. This time, I was utterly enraptured, choking back little sobs as Jane’s dear friend, Helen, falls ill, and seething with emotion at Rochester. I may have to reread Wuthering Heights, my favorite when I was an emo teen, next. [Related: Jane Eyre and the invention of the self]

A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: I’m the parent of a toddler, and my colleague Honor Jones’s story about motherhood and divorce spoke to me quite profoundly; I’m always excited any time she writes for us.

My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: Lately, I play a dungeon-crawling video game called Slay the Spire that is massively, horrifyingly addictive—just easy enough to pick up and play, but complex enough to reward many, many revisits.

Something delightful introduced to me by a kid in my life: I don’t want to repeat my colleague Sophie Gilbert, but I have to back her up—without my daughter, I would not have found Bluey, which might be the dramatically richest text I have discovered since becoming a parent.

Read past editions of the Culture Survey with Lenika Cruz, Jordan Calhoun, Hannah Giorgis, and Sophie Gilbert.

The Week Ahead
  1. She Said, a drama based on the New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, starring Carey Mulligan (in theaters Friday)
  2. The Family, reportedly the final album from the hip-hop group Brockhampton (Thursday)
  3. Number One Is Walking, Steve Martin’s illustrated memoir (Tuesday)

A photograph of Taylor Sheridan on a horse in a field.
(Bryan Schutmaat for The Atlantic)

How Taylor Sheridan Created America’s Most Popular TV Show

By Sridhar Pappu

“You’re not ready for this.”

It was early 2017, and Taylor Sheridan stood before Viacom executives describing Yellowstone, the television series he had conceived with the producer John Linson. Sheridan had sold it to HBO some years before, only to see it languish, as so many projects do. But now it was close to finally being seen by the world.

… What Sheridan delivered was less a pitch than a warning. You will have no part in any of this, he told them—except for footing the bill. I will write and direct all the episodes of the show. There will be no writers’ room. There will be no notes from studio executives. No one will see an outline.

Read the full article.

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