Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Crunchy brownies, tiny stories, Before Midnight, a cult, and a character actor

Illustration for article titled Crunchy brownies, tiny stories, iBefore Midnight/i, a cult, and a character actor

NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at some essential releases, some recent, some not.

The Source Family
I’ve always been fascinated by weird hippie cults and free-love collectives, so The Source Family, a new documentary about the group of the same name, is right up my alley. Bursting out of the Sunset Strip’s Source Restaurant in the ’70s, The Source Family was led by Father Yod, also known as one-time magnate and stuntman Jim Baker. All the group’s members were assigned new names—Isis Aquarian, Electricity Aquarian, Sunflower Aquarian, and so on—and quite a few of them appear in the documentary, all grown up and, in many cases, a lot richer and a lot less stoned. While some of the doc is hard to watch—a scene including graphic images of a birth comes to mind—it’s fascinating to watch members of the group look back years later. While some people have definitely veered away from the group and Father Yod, others are still as committed to the cause as ever. Members of the Family even reunited the band they had in the ’70s and toured recently. Far out, man. [Marah Eakin]


Sheila G’s Brownie Brittle
With apologies to Paul F. Tompkins, the realm of polarizing dessert debates reaches far beyond cake versus pie. There is, for instance, the never-ending war between people who gravitate toward the center of a brownie pan and those who prefer the mix of gooey and chewy afforded by pieces baked at the edge of the pan. This conflict is especially ugly because it has an extra conflict nestled within it, that between-the-edge-fiends fighting over corner pieces with two crispy borders. If you’re like me, you’re not some sort of sky captain in the world of tomorrow that can spring for one of those “all-edge” brownie pans from SkyMall; if you’re even more like me, you currently have three half-eaten bags of Sheila G’s Brownie Brittle on your desk. From the baker whose brownies can be found at “some of our nation’s finest restaurants and theme parks” (like hybrid restaurant-theme parks?), Brownie Brittle solves the corner conundrum by reducing the best kind of brownie down to its cookie-like crust. The Great Brownie Debate may never be settled, but at least we can declare temporary armistice in the struggle for corner pieces. [Erik Adams]


Haunted Armor: 50 Fifty-Word Stories And Drawings
Nate Denver’s last book, Wait, You’re Not A Centaur, can make the righteous claim of being “the bestselling book of fifty 50-word stories in recorded history” for obvious reasons. But silly sales records don’t indicate the sweet strangeness of Denver’s 50-word stories and the sketches that accompany them. He creates little worlds that function somewhere between children’s stories and poetry, without the stigma of either. The drawings don’t always correlate to the miniature stories; sometimes they’re stories on their own, like one that depicts a bunch of penguins with the logo for the metal band Emperor above them. The best way to understand Denver’s stories is to read a whole one, which takes about 10 seconds: “A hundred years ago all the worst ideas escaped. Each one ran as fast as he could, stopping only to hug and kiss beautiful women. Amazingly, they never tired, they just kept on running, hugging and kissing. They also face punched the weird guys. Eventually they turned into good ideas.” [Josh Modell]

Maybe We’ll Have You Back: The Life Of A Perennial TV Guest Star
Fred Stoller is a singular presence on TV and film; in his more than 20 years (and 60+ guest-star appearances on TV), he’s carved out a niche as a gawky, anxious, and frequently irritating (in a funny way) character actor. He’s best known as the guy Elaine dated on Seinfeld because he couldn’t remember her, but Stoller started as a comedian in New York in the ’80s before moving to L.A. to work as an actor. He spent a year writing for Seinfeld, which he chronicled in his Kindle single My Seinfeld Year, but Stoller always wanted to perform. Maybe We’ll Have You Back is a funny, insightful look at the life of a painfully anxious television journeyman, replete with good anecdotes, useful advice (“Once you’ve worked a certain amount and people know who you are, there’s only so much your agent can do”), and some gossip. (The Wings cast disliked Thomas Haden Church, Stoller slept with Kathy Griffin, etc.) The gossip isn’t off-putting, because Stoller is generally sympathetic and quick to point out his own shortcomings. Anyone moving to Hollywood to make it as an actor should probably give it a read first. [Kyle Ryan]


Before Midnight
I’ve been anticipating Before Midnight—the third in Richard Linklater’s series starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy—with alternating dread and enthusiasm for nearly a decade. The films, which started with 1995’s Before Sunrise, have been spaced nine years apart both in the lives of the characters and in real time, and they follow several stages of the couple’s relationship. Each benefits from the fact that their events take place over a single day, and each packs its own emotional wallop. But the cumulative effect may be the trilogy’s greatest asset. The couple’s meeting, previous conversations, heartbreaking disconnects, and eventual reunion are well-documented, and that fact sprinkles Before Midnight with a poignancy that could go undetected for a viewer unfamiliar with the previous films. This shared history imbues these new fights with meaning and context because the audience remembers the events from their past, too. It also makes clear that these two experienced a fascinating role-reversal along the way that I’m still trying to deconstruct: In 1995, Hawke’s novelist was the world-weary cynic and Delpy’s environmental activist was the wide-eyed idealist. Not so, 18 years later. While the second movie, Before Sunset, is still probably my favorite, this one has more to say. I’d recommend seeing it sitting directly behind a pair of women who appear to be at least in their 70s, as I did. As the last of the credits scrolled by, the more frail of the two stood abruptly, leaned on her cane, and pronounced to her movie-going companion, “They are very well suited for each other… but she’s a bitch.” [Andrea Battleground]

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