A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #20: Michael Clayton

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Join us for an early spring podcast where we go and look at the pretty horses with Michael Clayton, a 21st century take on ’70s thrillers, and talk about George Clooney without ever mentioning Return of the Killer Tomatoes! even once. Julie also takes us to Santa Barbara County for Finding Neverland, and we look in on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s recent activities, as Mege talks about the second season of comedy-drama Fleabag and Matt hints at a bit of a fanboy crush on Sandra Oh in Killing Eve.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Housekeeping (1980)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

There is no other year that has such a wealth of movies to choose from than the year 1980. I could fill the whole post just with movie titles, but I will give you only a short list to start from: Raging Bull. The Empire Strikes Back. The Shining. Airplane!. The Blues Brothers. Berlin Alexanderplatz. Ordinary People. Breaker Morant. Altered States. Coal Miner’s Daughter. Atlantic City. Friday the 13th. Used Cars. Shogun Assassin. Little Lord Fauntleroy. Le dernier mètro. Fame. Private Benjamin. American Gigolo. ffolkes. La Boum. And of course the immortal classic Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Continue reading

Captain Marvel has nothing to prove to you

My reaction to Captain Marvel, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was oddly split. On the one hand, I found the beginning of the film one of the dullest opening sequences of a Marvel movie in a while. The plot and overall structure was reminiscent of the earliest films in the franchise, to the point of feeling generic. The big set pieces were predictable and there was never really much of a sense of danger, even when Earth was at risk of being carpet-bombed from space. I fully understand the reviewers who consider Captain Marvel thoroughly mediocre Marvel fare.

Captain Marvel

And yet, I came to enjoy the film much more than its constituent parts would have led me to believe. In fact, I left the cinema with a big grin on my face.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Midnight’s Children (1981)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I have this thing where I sometimes prefer a later, arguably derivative variation on a theme to the original. I enjoy Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead considerably more than the Beckett plays it is clearly, heavily inspired by. I find Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns grating and much prefer some takes on Batman that take their inspiration from Miller but do their own thing with it.

Midnight's Children

Similarly, although in so many ways it looks to Günther Grass’ seminal The Tin Drum (1959), at times almost to the point of plagiarism, I would choose to re-read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, published in 1981, over Grass’ novel any day of the week. Have at me, German Studies PhDs!

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The Compleat Ingmar #2: Crisis

Smiles of a Summer Night was going to be a tough one to follow. It’s an utterly delightful film: fun, sweet, poignant, well paced. Criterion was right to suggest it as the first film to watch on their Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema. Crisis (1946), by comparison, is clearly lesser Bergman: its story about an 18-year-old finding herself having to decide between her kindly foster mother and simple country life on the one hand and her more well-off biological mother and the big city is more predictable, its themes handled less interestingly, and its tones balanced less deftly. Crisis was Bergman’s first film as a director (he’d previously worked on scripts, first and foremost); it was based on a radio play by writer Leck Fischer, though Bergman wrote the adaptation for the screen.

crisis_2

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The Rear-View Mirror: TRON (1982)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Like Wargames a year later, TRON tried to get behind that new and slightly unsettling thing called computer. And the more fearful among us somehow thought that that machine would treat us the same way that the first picture cameras would treat us: they would steal bits of our souls. Not that we told anyone that we were afraid of them, but hey, if you get sucked into them (by ways not quite clear), then the frisbee of death would kill you. Or you would get erased. A whole new world of danger. Continue reading

I’m talkin’ here!

Stop me if this sounds familiar, because I’m sure I’ve written it before: the thing that makes gaming in Virtual Reality fundamentally different from playing on a regular screen is that it removes a layer of abstraction. You don’t look around by moving the mouse, pressing a stick in a certain direction or pressing a button: you look around by looking around. It sounds like a small difference, but it feels entirely different whether you look up at an enormous, ominous gate covered with runes glowing red by moving the hand holding the mouse a few centimetres away from you or whether you lean your head back. You perceive size and scale entirely differently, and as a result things feel more intimate, more real, for want of a better word. Present-day VR aims at reducing abstraction even more by means of room-scale solutions (the virtual space is represented by the actual space, so you can walk around in-game by walking around in the available space – until you bump into the nearest wall or trip over the cat) and of controllers that replicate hand and finger movement, so you grab things in virtual space not by pushing a button but by using your actual hands.

Skyrim

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Fear eats the soul: AMC’s The Terror (2018)

Inside the vessel, below deck, too many men, too close. Sweat and grime and noise – but even then, you’re too cold and have been for months and months. The food is bad and the days monotonous. Outside, blinding whiteness and the unreal beauty of the Northern Lights. Also, a creature with an uncanny knack of attacking when it is smartest and doing the most damage. Last time, it was your mate to the left that was killed; next time, it might be you. Will you ever make it back home, or is the best you can hope for a quick, clean death?

The Terror

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The Rear-View Mirror: The A-Team (1983)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The A-Team

In 1984, when they visited The Netherlands, they were received like superstars. Dwight “Howling Mad Murdoch” Schultz, Dirk “Face” Benedict and Laurence “B.A. Baracus” Tureaud (a.k.a. Mr. T). The A-Team (Cue theme). They even met our Queen. George “Hannibal” Peppard was absent. According to Schultz and Benedict, because he considered himself too big of a star (he had, after all, been in the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, opposite Audrey Hepburn). Continue reading

Faint heart, strong ambition

Vice is not a comedy. It’s not a drama either. It has platypus-like qualities, so it’s probably best to describe it as a mash-up of a Michael Moore style documentary and a bumpy farce with a very talented cast. It’s bumpy because it not only jumps around in time, attributes real footage of carpet bombing to Cheney’s daydreams, and suddenly lets fake credits roll at half-time, but also because it’s almost as eclectic as Adam McKay’s earlier opus The Big Short. Consider the scene in which Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) recite from Macbeth in their bed. That’s funny, with an undercurrent of dread. Continue reading