Dark Town, Gloomy Times

It’s just about possible that this year’s best supernatural TV series comes from Germany. It’s called Dark, it’s available on Netflix since December 1st, so it probably won’t be on any best of lists for this year. It should be. Dark borrows from some of the most favorite horror TV series of the last two or three years; it takes what it can use from the recent Twin Peaks, Les Revenants, True Detective, Stranger Things and others, and distils those borrowed spare parts for long enough to turn into its very own material. There are two things that make it worth your while: it tones down the supernatural element and focuses on its characters enough so it doesn’t have to rely on its McGuffin too much, and it creates its own atmosphere so well that it’s easy to forgive it a few shortcomings. It’s a slow series, ten episodes of about one hour, but some scenes are almost bristling with intensity. Continue reading

Detroit goes down

Detroit is a miss. The beginning and the ending are weak bookends to a middle that is strong and impressive cinematically, but the movie as a whole lacks two basic ingredients: a moral point of view, and a minimum of Detroit-specific context. I don’t think either of these flaws are the director’s fault: Kathryn Bigelow knows how to place her audience in the middle of a scene involving crowds, be it a war or a riot. My guess is that the lack of context comes from the screenplay by Bigelow’s frequent collaborator Mark Boal, who wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, also directed by Bigelow. Continue reading

A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #4: Twin Peaks, “Lonely Souls”

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Tune in for episode 4 of A Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast, but beware of the owls: Mege and Matt reminisce about Twin Peaks, the original series. Warning: if you don’t know who killed Laura Palmer, watch the series first! (Hint: It wasn’t the Log Lady.) Also, Mege takes a trip to the sci-fi-tinged Middle Ages through the eyes of Aleksei German and the Brothers Strugatsky, and Matt doesn’t hold back on the meagre charms of Danny Rand.

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They create worlds: Prey

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

It’s one of the staples of premises in sci-fi games: the abandoned space station where something has gone horribly wrong. Did I say abandoned? Well, not quite… You’re not the only one creeping through the station’s corridors; there are… things barely glimpsed from the corner of your eye, things that are not your friends. So, arm yourself with a trusty wrench, hoard every medkit you can find – and survive. Because there is no escape – other than the cold, empty vacuum of space.

Prey

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All hail the God of Silliness

If you had told me a year ago that a Thor film would be one of my favourite Marvel movies in recent years, I would have looked at you like you were touched in the head, possibly by a mythical hammer. For me, the two first Thor films were firmly at the bottom of the MCU, kept company only by Iron Man 2. In fact, I would have said that the character Thor was my least favourite of all the main characters in Marvel’s cinematic universe (though I am not including the TV series in this reckoning, because, well, Danny Rand). Yes, thanks to The Avengers I could see that the big, blond lug had some potential, but mainly as a supporting character and as the butt of a bunch of jokes.

Thor: Ragnarok

After Thor: Ragnarok, though? Well, let’s put it like this: if you’re looking for story or theme in an MCU film, the latest adventure of the God of Thunder won’t make you a convert. If you’re expecting a plot that is significantly different from, oh, pretty much every single Marvel movie since Iron Man, you’re out of luck. If you want a movie that fully embraces the silliness inherent in this ever-growing comic book universe translated onto the screen, though? Then hell, yeah – Thor: Ragnarok is an embarrassment of riches.

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Is this the real life? Is it just replicants?

Perhaps it doesn’t need to be said – after all, the film is exceedingly well reviewed – but I want to start by saying it anyway: Blade Runner 2049 is a gorgeous piece of visual art. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Roger Deakins has surpassed himself; his portfolio does include The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, after all. Nevertheless, there are few films this side of the turn of the century, or even this side of the original Blade Runner, that offer as coherent and as gorgeous a window into a world that is at once excitingly different and eerily familiar. And the praise isn’t just Deakins’: the artists that worked on all the individual puzzle pieces that make up the look of Blade Runner 2049 may just deserve most of the awards that exist and some that don’t. I don’t think the film will necessarily become as influential as the original Blade Runner, which pretty much defined what dystopian cityscapes of the near future look like, but aesthetically it manages the almost impossible, reconciling the iconic neo-noir with a more modern, almost anthropological sensitivity and creating something that both recalls the original and adds to it in startlingly original ways.

Blade Runner 2049

Just consider this: after the endless night of the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is largely set in daylight scenarios – and it pulls it off.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #3: Paris, Texas

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Tune in for episode 3 of A Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast as Mege and Matt remember Harry Dean Stanton and discuss Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. Also, a spot of Criterion Collection fanboying, our first ever discussion of a book (they exist!) called I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death, and a quick chat about the Swiss-Austrian psycho drama Tiere – so come and join us on the long and dusty road to Paris…

… Texas.

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