The Rear-View Mirror: The Hobbit (1937)

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!

Honestly, I don’t envy the job that Peter Jackson ended up with when he became the director of the film adaptation of The Hobbit. From what I’ve read and heard, he famously didn’t want the job, having already spent years and years of his life on The Lord of the Rings, he was hired after Guillermo del Toro left the project and given relatively little time to get the show on the road, and he was told to change a two-film plan into another big fantasy trilogy. Never mind that The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, is a slim volume that cannot really be compared with the big, fat doorstop that is The Lord of the Rings.

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Into darkness: Midnight Family (2019)

Midnight Family starts with a bang, though visually you wouldn’t know it, as it’s presented as a simple white text on a black background. It’s the simple, unadorned but utterly horrific statement that Mexico City has 45 official ambulances to serve a city of 9 million people. Think about it: that is one ambulance per 200’000 individuals. This figure frames everything that follows, it provides an explanation and context, and it tells the audience from the beginning what we’re in for: a visit to a world that has gone deeply, badly wrong.

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How to recognise Star Wars from quite a long way away

This may sound a tad hypocritical after my critique of Rise of Skywalker a few days ago, but I don’t envy J.J. Abrams. In fact, I don’t envy anyone engaged in delivering new Star Wars content to a 2020 audience, a task that I imagine to be very similar to feeding the hungry inhabitants of a lion pit while dangling from a slender, fraying rope. The problem is this: what is Star Wars, what constitutes proper Star Wars? These are questions that a vast number of fans with different levels of zealotry and entitlement will answer very differently – but when George Lucas released his prequels to, let’s say, mixed results, the megaphone/Death Star combo that is Twitter didn’t yet exist. These days, creating, or even just acting in, a Star Wars thing that some people dislike can pretty much result in this:

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Fear is the path to the dark side: Rise of Skywalker (2019)

We get it, Disney: a lot of very vocal fans didn’t like The Last Jedi. We don’t even have to call all of the dislike of Episode VIII an expression of toxic fandom; Rian Johnson’s stab at Star Wars was designed to be something of a slap in the face of business as usual, and while I loved the daring of many of its ideas, they weren’t always executed altogether well. At times I could see what Johnson was going for but felt that he was doing so in ways that were clunky or at odds with other things the film was trying to do.

Nonetheless, The Last Jedi had ideas, it had a vision, it was interested in doing more than being the Star Wars cover band that The Force Awakens was, even if that one delivered its version of A New Hope‘s greatest hits with panache. If Rise of Skywalker wants to do something, it’s kowtowing to the loudest and most toxic critics of The Last Jedi. It doesn’t have a vision other than that of apologising loudly and unthinkingly for the perceived mistakes of the previous episode. In short, Rise of Skywalker may just be the most cowardly expression of fan service I have ever seen.

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The Compleat Ingmar #10: Scenes from a Marriage (TV series) (1973)

We recently watched the Netflix-produced Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach. It’s a tough watch: you quickly develop sympathy for the two likeable main characters (played beautifully by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson), and when a legal system that seems to prioritise making a buck over helping two people separate as amicably as possible starts working on them it hurts to see how they are twisted into nastier, pettier, crueler and more antagonistic versions of themselves, particularly when a child is involved.

Where Marriage Story is about the film’s leads becoming the people they never wanted to be due to the legal system, though, the two main characters of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage don’t need lawyers to become enemies: intimacy, fueled by insecurity and resentment, becomes a more cutting and more precise weapon than the sharpest scalpel.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast Christmas Special 2019

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The festive season is upon us. Turkeys are being defrosted, eggnog is being whisked, and your cultural baristas have brought along presents for everyone. It’s a surprise, really, and we don’t want to spoil anything, but here are some hints: Matt asks you to unwrap a strange, tasty treat filled with choices, strangeness, the debris of failed revolutions and potentially lethal ties, while Mege promises a hangout to remember over Earl Grey with some of the most memorable actresses of the last few dozen years, and Julie has prepared a double bill of big egos, dirty dishes and culinary hijinks. Wishing everyone happy holidays and all the very best for what remains of 2019 – be safe and see you in 2020!

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d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The festive season is upon us. Turkeys are being defrosted, eggnog is being whisked, and your cultural baristas have brought along presents for everyone. It’s a surprise, really, and we don’t want to spoil anything, but here are some hints: Matt asks you to unwrap a strange, tasty treat filled with choices, strangeness, the debris of failed revolutions and potentially lethal ties, while Mege promises a hangout to remember over Earl Grey with some of the most memorable actresses of the last few dozen years, and Julie has prepared a double bill of big egos, dirty dishes and culinary hijinks. Wishing everyone happy holidays and all the very best for what remains of 2019 – be safe and see you in 2020!

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The Rear-View Mirror: Hayao Miyazaki (1941)

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 the writer Neil Gaiman to thank for my first experience with director Hayao Miyazaki and his fantastic worlds: at the time, Gaiman wrote the script for Princess Mononoke‘s English dub, which was probably the first dub of a Miyazaki movie that didn’t cast actors primarily known for their voice work in the main parts. Instead, we got names such as Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton and Gillian Anderson – and we also got a wider release than anime features (as opposed to, say, the latest Disney princess movie) usually got in my neck of the woods.

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Of Horses, Women, Men and Children: Three Icelandic Films

This I can already conclude: films from Iceland are obviously like buses. You wait for an Icelandic film to watch for years, and then within a week you end up seeing three. (Okay, I cheated somewhat for the sake of the joke – I have seen an Icelandic short film about an old man who declares war on seagulls, but I must be misremembering the details, as I can’t find it on Google.) Another thing I can conclude: I like what I’ve seen of Icelandic cinema.

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The Compleat Ingmar #9: A Lesson in Love (1954)

A Lesson in Love doesn’t exactly start very well, at least from a contemporary perspective: after an arch voiceover telling us to prepare ourselves for a comedy for grownups, we first meet a comely but angry young woman, Susanne (played by Yvonne Lombard), listing the failings of her older lover, the gynaecologist David Erneman (Bergman regular Gunnar Björnstrand). The lines are sharp, even witty, but it still seems that we’re watching what is essentially a male fantasy: obviously the young, attractive patients of a middle-aged, jaded gynaecologist would fall over themselves to undress for him in private as well as in his practice. It’s not that Bergman spares his protagonist, but whatever criticism is leveled at David, in the end it doesn’t matter. Young women seem magically attracted to him, and even as Susanne berates him for his cynicism, she still can’t help begging him to continue being her lover.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #29: There Will Be Blood

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Prepare to have your milkshake drunk right across the internet: your cultural baristas once again return to the Paul Thomas Anderson well, this time to talk about his grim, disorienting epic There Will Be Blood that still confounds after multiple viewings. We also briefly touch upon family horror story Hereditary (which Mege talked about in this post), the surreal comic treat Legion (which we discussed in podcast #9) and and the celluloid nightmare that is The Lighthouse.

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d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Prepare to have your milkshake drunk right across the internet: your cultural baristas once again return to the Paul Thomas Anderson well, this time to talk about his grim, disorienting epic There Will Be Blood that still confounds after multiple viewings. We also briefly touch upon family horror story Hereditary (which Mege talked about in this post), the surreal comic treat Legion (which we discussed in podcast #9) and and the celluloid nightmare that is The Lighthouse.

Continue reading