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Media Sommelier

Photo collage of a stack of books, a tv remote, and an iPod on top of a serving tray
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Ryan Vellinga

Links with top notes of commentary and whimsy

  1. The success of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer has brought renewed attention to the nuclear testing conducted in the American southwest beginning in the 1940s. That testing went far beyond the initial development of the atomic bomb depicted in Nolan’s film, though, and the new documentary Downwind (available August 18 on VOD) explores the devastating long-term impact of the decades of subsequent tests. From 1951 to 1992, the U.S. government detonated 928 nuclear bombs at the Nevada Test Site, while downplaying the potential dangers from nuclear fallout. Filmmakers Mark Shapiro and Douglas Brian Miller profile activists who’ve lived with the severe consequences of being “downwind” from nuclear tests, and their testimony is often heartbreaking. It’s also infuriating, with little sense that anything meaningful has been done to address the damage to the health of thousands of people in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and beyond. The film features several Las Vegas-based interview subjects, including Shoshone leaders Ian Zabarte and Darlene Graham, as well as the late Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Keith Rogers. It’s a stark reminder of the dark side of our city’s atomic-kitsch past, and a valuable supplement for anyone who was wowed by Oppenheimer on the big screen. – Josh Bell
  2. Lately, I’ve been binging articles about the end of Netflix’s DVD mail service. That’s because — I confess! — as I type this, I have a red enveloped copy of Spencer hanging out of my mailbox, waiting to be whisked back to a warehouse in exchange for the last 10 things in my queue (which I, apparently, get to keep). Yes, even with a couple of streaming subscriptions and a cable bundle (It’s for the sports and Internet, okay?!?) under my belt, I haven’t brought myself to let go of the movies-by-mail service, a fact I was loathe to admit in fashionable company … until Netflix announced that it was ending the service September 29. Then, all of a sudden, the other addicts and apologists of came out of the woodwork, vindicating my experience of the last 15 years. “One appeal of Netflix’s DVD program is the sheer quantity of films — including those not available on streamers because of format-dependent rights agreements — on offer,” writes The Atlantic’s Lora Kelley in her brief ode, “What DVDs Gave Us.” Kelley makes the point that CD delivery broadened easy access to good movies, a phenomenon that streaming has yet to duplicate. For an even more sentimental take on this idea, check out “Netflix’s DVD End Is a Warning Sign for Film Lovers” in Indiewire, written by Richard Lorber, the CEO of independent film distributor Kino Lorber. Noting that DVD sales are a bright spot in his company’s business, Lorber argues that younger generations are turning to physical media because they’re sick of not being able to rely on streaming services, which may drop titles at any time, to find what they want. “When you go see a movie, it says something about the movie,” he writes. “But when you own a movie, it says something about you.” Okay. Maybe? But for the best take on the impending death of DVDs, I refer you to David Pierce’s “25 years later, Netflix finally won,” in The Verge. Pierce’s take is that Netflix has been playing the long game all along, and that their strategy probably isn’t played out yet. Watch this space! As a post-script, I’ll add the wisdom of my co-worker, culture reporter and producer Mike Prevatt, who dryly notes, “You know, you can find most of those movies at the library.” – Heidi Kyser
  3. I have a fondness for take-downs of my childhood idols, and the iHeart podcast Wilder, about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series (of TV show, “Little House on the Prairie” fame), promised to be a juicy addition to my growing collection. The nine core episodes (there are two bonuses I haven’t listened to yet) are well worth the listen for the jaw-dropping revelations that producer Glynnis MacNicol makes about the nine books’ composition, content, and publication. MacNicol pulls back the curtain on the bonkers reality behind the cozy family series, diving into conspiracy theories about Ingalls Wilder’s actual authorship, subjecting Charles Ingalls to a game of Depression-era pioneer or destructive narcissist? decoding the libertarian politics underpinning the books’ frontier mythology, and ticking off all the racist things these supposedly sweet characters said, one by one. It’s a sobering (and, I think, necessary) look at the kinds of propaganda American children like me have been unwittingly subjected to for generations. One caveat: Know going into this that MacNicol is legitimately obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder — not just the Little House series, but all things Laura. While I genuinely appreciated the thorough reporting this obsession bred, I found MacNicol’s lengthy naval-gazing (What am I supposed to do with my love of these books? she asks, again and again) distracting, even annoying at times. All she’d learned made the answer seem pretty obvious to me. – HK
  4. The 2022 Iranian uprising may feel far off, irrelevant, or even pointless today, with all we have going on here at home. But the 52-minute Frontline documentary, “Inside the Iranian Uprising," brings that uprising home in ways that even the most inspiring day-to-day news coverage could not. Directed by Majed Neisi, it compiles a priceless trove of social media posts, interviews, and witness testimony to detail the most recent fight for civil rights — particularly those of Kurds and women — in the Islamic republic, beginning with the brutal beating of Mahsa "Zhina" Amini by morality police (which led to her eventual death) and continuing through the ensuing protests. These protests continue today, albeit in more surreptitious form, because of the mortal threat anyone who speaks against the republic faces, including those who risked their lives to bring this documentary to Western audiences. It's a timely reminder of the value of our constitutionally protected freedoms, not only to speak out, but also for a press that holds abusive powers accountable. – HK
Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.