Staff Favorites

Laurence C. Smith
Reviewed by Eric
The World in 2050

In forty years, the world will be a very different than it is now: the population will be about 50% greater, climate change will be in full swing, and the increasing prosperity of Asia and Africa will create voracious markets for natural resources. So, given the turbulence ahead, what kind of world is likely to emerge? Smith, a UCLA geography professor, uses the latest research and computer models to attempt to answer this question.

He focuses particularly on what he refers to as the NORCs (Northern Rim Countries) – Scandinavia, Canada, the Northern U.S. and Russia. Climate change could actually open up these areas to greater settlement and resource extraction, thus causing them to become much more important geopolitically. Smith envisions a world where swarms of ships crisscross the Arctic Ocean as it turns ice free every summer. He envisions huge cities sprouting up north of the Arctic Circle. He imagines immense pipelines shipping northern water resources to an increasingly thirsty south.

It is impossible to be certain how many of these predictions will come true. But Smith always supports his theories with plenty of figures and footnotes, and he also makes sure to always keep things highly readable and engaging.

Mark and Jay Duplass
Reviewed by Megan
Cyrus

This quietly surreal comedy provides a refreshing alternative to scatological grossfests.

The film’s story is contained to the disruption of an insular relationship between a single mom (Marisa Tomei) and her son (Jonah Hill) by Tomei’s new lover (John C. Reilly.) Social misfit Hill, unaccustomed to sharing his mother’s time with an outsider, attempts a variety of covert strategies to oust the clueless Reilly from their lives.

The movie’s tension and comedy derive from the disconcertingly awkward situations that its cast manages to foment. The story motors along well with its weird, elusive sort of discomfort—far more vague than The Office’s routine of bumbling social mix-ups, but still somehow familiar. It’s a spare enough premise that its success follows entirely from the talents of the cast. Reilly and Hill are veteran outcast character actors and their interplay is unsurprisingly very convincing. And Tomei, cast once again as the ageless beauty paired with a creep, somehow manages to effectively enter their bizarre little world.

Cyrus is a rare film that manages to be genuinely quirky without being cutesy. Recommended.

Rachel Shukert
Reviewed by Megan
Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour

Rachel Shukert takes Europe after landing a non-remunerative part as a male elf in an experimental theatre troupe. While this is less a “European Grand Tour” than a modest survey of tall, eccentric countries that aren’t Germany (i.e. Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands), Shukert’s sharply maniacal remembrances make for an inspired, inventive romp.

This work is the provident intersection of a delightfully deranged imagination, history-engorged cities and their bizarre inhabitants, and a candid tale about finally taking responsibility for your own happiness. It bears mentioning that the scatologically averse should steer clear, but just about everyone else will revel in Shukert’s honesty and absurdist humor.

Gary Shteyngart
Reviewed by Eric
Super Sad True Love Story

Essentially, this novel is comprised of a mixture of two elements: 1) a near-future dystopian setting and, 2) a cheesy love story. I picked up this book mostly because I was interested in the crazy sci-fi elements, but it was the two main characters and their relationship that actually won me over.

Shteyngart throws us into a world where all the most absurd elements of our culture are amplified to a piercing howl – China basically owns the US and everyone shares every single last thing about their superficial, youth-obsessed selves using various facebook-esque technologies. All of this is, I suppose, intended to be intensely humorous. But it all falls totally flat.

However, at the center of the novel is Lenny Abramov, an ugly, book-loving schlub in his late-30s who can’t for the life of him fit into this ludicrous, ludicrous world. He meets Eunice Park, the damaged daughter of Korean immigrants, who is much, much younger and much, much better looking than he is. He falls for her immediately and, though it takes a while, she somehow eventually falls for him too.

And it all ends horribly, and absurdly, and it turns out that Schteyngart is pretty good at breaking your heart. I came to really care about these characters, but I could never bring myself to become interested in the world in which they live.

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