They create worlds: Outer Wilds

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.

One of the biggest differences between computer games when I first started playing them, back in the 1980s, and modern computer games is scope. Open worlds of the kind that we’re used to nowadays didn’t exist on the 8-bit and 16-bit computers of yore, but these days it’s not rare for a game to feature a world many square kilometres in size. In 2001, Grand Theft Auto III let us rampage in a Liberty City that measured 9 km2 in real-world terms; Grand Theft Auto V, which came out in 2013, covered an area of 127 km2. Things get even more insane with the possibilities of procedural generation, so that we got a 1:1 scale simulation of the Milky Way galaxy in Elite Dangerous (released in 2015). As game worlds get bigger and bigger, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to fill them with meaningful content, and arguably Elite‘s in-game universe is several light years wide and a nanometre deep. Which is one of the reasons why the toy-box solar system of Outer Wilds is so engaging.

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The Rear-View Mirror: All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard (1950)

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!

As someone once said, there’s two kinds of people in this world, Elvis people and Beatles people. I know which side of that particular divide I’m on, but I sometimes get the impression there’s a similar divide among some movie critics and fans. Which of the two eviscerations of aging actresses is your favourite: Billy Wilder’s genre-busting, darkly comic Sunset Boulevard, arguably one of the director’s best films, or the sharp, witty, but stylistically relatively tame All About Eve by Joseph L. Mankiewicz?

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Remember When, 2019 edition: El Camino

And hot on the heels of one (to my mind successful) exercise in pop culture nostalgia comes another. Remember how at the end of Breaking Bad you were left wondering what happens right after Jesse, free from his neo-Nazi captivity, speeds into the night in a stolen car, screaming and crying in catharsis? Well, wonder no more: we now know exactly what happens a few minutes later. Has there even been any other six-year wait this filled with trepidation?

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Remember When, 2019 edition: Veronica Mars

Have we always been this nostalgic about our pop culture? It seems that we live in a golden age of TV revivals, from David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks to David Milch finally having been allowed to finish the story of Deadwood. How much longer until David Simon is allowed to revisit the streets of Baltimore? And does Joss Whedon have to change his first name to David for us to get a continuation of Firefly?

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The Rear View Mirror: My Cousin Rachel (1951)

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!

Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel, published in 1951, seems to exist in the spot where the universes of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie touch. On the one hand, the tone of the book is well-mannered, and its characters are not allowed to flat-out say what they passionately would like to say, but have to hide behind the mores of the era. On the other hand, someone dies, and another character is in danger to meet the same fate, so whodunnit? Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #8: Dreams (1955)

Before getting Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman set, I don’t think I had heard of Dreams, a 1955 drama directed and written by Bergman. Certainly, it doesn’t have the striking, dreamlike imagery of Wild Strawberries or the sexual frankness of Summer with Monika, but I was still surprised to read on Wikipedia that “Dreams is one of the few Ingmar Bergman films to have received lukewarm reviews”. It should come as no surprise that the performances are consistently strong, and especially the female leads make it well worth watching.

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Lost in Yonkers

I sometimes wonder how David Simon feels about politicians. He’s definitely critical to the point of cynicism of the machinations of politics, as he is of so many of the systems we create, but having watched The Wire, Treme and now Show Me a Hero, I’ve come to the conclusion that he doesn’t hate politicians altogether, except for a certain kind of politician interested only in self-enrichment. With some of them, I actually think he feels sorry for them.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #27: Quentin Tarantino

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Whether you’re an Elvis man or a Beatles man, tune in to our latest episode of A Damn Fine Cup of Culture, because we’re finally getting around to talking about the man who doesn’t need us to tell him how good his coffee is: on the occasion of the release of his latest film, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, your cultural baristas are having a chat about writer-director Quentin Tarantino, his films, his music, his women, his use of violence and his very particular brand of nostalgia. How much Tarantino is that? A lot!

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The Rear View Mirror: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

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!

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In this delicious satire by Vincente Minelli, a producer reminiscent of a rather more charming David O. Selznick backstabs his way to the top, only to be shunned by those he betrayed along the way. Equally obsessed with proving himself after his father is ruined, Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) secures a job as a line producer by intentionally losing a game of poker to Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) and offering to work off the debt. His friend and collaborator Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) initially profits from the ruse, as they go on to produce B-movies together, but he is betrayed when the project closest to his heart is taken from him. Continue reading

The Stars My Dadstination

Director James Gray’s Ad Astra, apart from being beautiful to look at (down in front, Brad Pitt fans!), also sets out to be that rare, beautiful thing: a sci-fi movie of ideas. It is interested in outer space as much as the universe inside the metaphorical man in the moon. If only it trusted those ideas to speak to its audience loudly enough, because then it might not have felt the need to spell them all out in explicit, clunky voiceover.

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