Criterion Corner: Europa (#454)

Has there ever been a director as Marmitey as Lars von Trier? And, let’s be honest, that’s exactly how von Trier likes it. At least for a while, there were few directors as keen as him to cultivate their own bad boy image. Which in turn makes it difficult to consider his films independently from one’s reaction to von Trier himself – and as a result, I’m always surprised to find that I truly enjoy many of his films (though for now I keep avoiding Breaking the Waves and The House that Jack Built).

Europa, the third stop on my tour of my Criterion backlog, is no exception. Of the three films I’ve watched since beginning this series, this is probably the one I’ve enjoyed most immediately.

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Shang-Chi (2021), or How I Learned to Stop Being Blasé and Enjoy the MCU Again

How can something fit an established pattern and nonetheless feel remarkably fresh? I guess we have to ask the wizards (or is that sorcerers?) at Marvel how they managed, because it’s impossible to watch Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and not think of one or two dozen other MCU films in every second scene – yet this is the first Marvel movie I fully enjoyed since Avengers: Endgame, even if it’s unlikely to convert many people to the franchise who aren’t already on board.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #48: None More Noir

It all began when she walked into our coffee bar… It’s September, but really, we’re starting Noirvember early: join Alan, Julie and Matt as they discuss what some have called that most cynical of genres, the film noir. Obviously, there’s no way around the big granddaddy of them all, Billy Wilder’s blackest, bleakest of jokes, Double Indemnity (1944), or indeed Roman Polanski’s magisterial, tragic Chinatown (1974), each of these iconic examples of the genre – which, arguably, didn’t even exist yet when Wilder made his film. From classic noir to neo-noir, we finally take a trip to a Californian high school to check out Rian Johnson’s Brick (2004) as an example of postmodern noir, before we finish on a discussion of the future of the genre. Do we need any more compromised private eyes and femmes fatales – and, if so, what would they look like for the 21st century?

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The Compleat Ingmar #25: Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

Sawdust and Tinsel tells a story of love, humiliation, abandonment, broken dreams and the pathos and piteousness of art, artists – and men. It is, you could say, a typical story for Ingmar Bergman – but while there are elements (and faces) here that by now are familiar when it comes to the director’s work, what the film made me think of is Fellini. The world of Bergman is more commonly that of the bourgeoisie – but the characters at the heart of Sawdust and Tinsel are outsiders who travel around with the world apart that they have made for themselves.

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Forget yourself: Apples (2020)

Just what we needed: there’s a new pandemic. This one doesn’t kill, though, at least not in any conventional sense – it just leaves an increasing number of people unable to remember who they are. You might be walking down the street, driving your car or just taking a nap, and suddenly you don’t remember anything. From one moment to the next, you – that is, the person you were – is gone.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #43: Juggernaut

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Richard Lester’s Juggernaut (1974) was probably the first Richard Harris film I ever saw. It’s very likely it was also the first time I ever saw a film starring Omar Sharif, Anthony Hopkins, Ian Holm or Freddie Jones. It’s most definitely the first time I encountered that time-honoured trope where a bomb exposal expert faces two differently coloured wires and has to decide which one to cut: one will defuse the bomb, the other will mean death, for him and for everyone else in the building, on the plane or (in this case) aboard the ship.

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Family ties: Mare of Easttown (2021)

Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the show’s pedigree, I might not have given Mare of Easttown much of a chance. It just looked like any number of other series: a grim, drab crime story about one young woman who’s been gone for a year, another who’s found dead, and the grizzled investigator working the case. At least that investigator isn’t male for once, but then it’s not like we haven’t had a fair number of female investigators investigating the murder of other women by now. What’s to elevate Mare of Easttown over so many other grim, drab stories of violence against women?

Well, other than it being an HBO series? And the title role is played by Kate Winslet? Oh, and there’s also Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart and Guy Pearce?

Okay, okay, streaming service: you’ve convinced me. I’ll give this a chance. Just know that it isn’t quite as easy as that to convince me. I might still watch the series and be frustrated by how much it wastes a great cast on a story that we’ve seen several dozen times already, right? Right?

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Criterion Corner: In Cold Blood (#781)

I’ve never read In Cold Blood – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Truman Capote. I have seen the two competing films about the writing of In Cold Blood, though, Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006), in which the idiosyncratic author was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones respectively, so I was quite aware of what Capote’s novel, and its 1967 film adaptation, would be about. I was also aware of the whole discourse about the non-fiction novel, the genre that Capote adopted. Did Capote create, or at least shape, the format that we’ve come to know as true crime? Or did he just reflect cultural anxieties and currents that were already forming?

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The Definite Article: The Suicide Squad (2021)

Some people have a visceral hatred for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016). I don’t. I found a lot of it annoying, but most of all I found it forgettable, apart from a few bits and pieces. It introduced us to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, a character (or, rather, a version of the character) that proved more durable than the film in which she originated. Other than that, though? There was a Will Smith character and someone with a boomerang, and someone with… some sort of fire thing? A crocodile-skinned dude? A guy with a gun? No, as much as I try, I simply don’t much remember the film. I remember Folding Ideas’ video essay on the film better than I remember Suicide Squad itself (though nothing against Folding Ideas, and his video essay on Suicide Squad is great).

Having said that, I like the idea. If handled right, I can absolutely see the appeal of taking a bunch of goofy comic book villains and putting them together in a Dirty Dozen-style adventure, where no one is exactly good, everyone is unpredictable, and death might strike pretty much anyone at any time. I have little attachment to these characters, I don’t consider myself particularly invested in the continuity, so yeah, if you offer me a good time and a chuckle while you have fun with your action figures, then, yeah, I’m in. Man lives not by Bergman alone.

And that’s exactly what James Gunn delivers with what is less a sequel than it is a second chance (and we’re fond of those here at A Damn Fine Cup). Silly, inventive, blackly humorous fun. Something that the superhero genre definitely could do with at this time.

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A Knight Out: The Green Knight (2021)

Frequently, films that make use of surrealism are compared to dreams, but I don’t think that’s necessarily quite accurate: dreams may be surreal, and they often are, but while you’re dreaming, everything seems to cohere, to make sense, even if you can’t figure out that sense. Some of A24’s strongest films have that quality, albeit they sometimes veer towards the nightmarish end of the spectrum. David Lowery’s The Green Knight may not be as terrifying as Midsommar or The Lighthouse, but it does feel like a dream you’re having while watching the film. And it can also be quite frightening. Most of all, though, it is one of the most unique visions I’ve recently seen at the cinema.

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