Dazzled by the mob: The Godfather Part II

In cinematic terms, I sometimes wish I’d already been around during the 1970s. It’s the big films of that decade that I most regret seeing at the cinema. Thank god for good repertory cinemas, though: thanks to my favourite rep cinema, I’ve been able to see the likes of Apocalypse Now on the big screen – and the theatrical experience definitely makes a difference in terms of how potent these classics are.

Last week, as part of a series on migrants (which includes such different fare as Jan Troell’s The Emigrants and The New Land and Neill Blomkamp’s District 9), I was finally able to see Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II on the big screen. The film is gorgeous to look at, with Gordon Willis’ Rembrandtesque cinematography an absolute triumph, and it’s a joy to see Pacino and De Niro in peak form, their acting specific and nuanced and entirely unlike the personas we’ve seen them embrace all too often since. The way I watch the film has changed in other ways as well, though, and these have nothing to do with the big-screen format. That difference is due to me having watched the entirety of The Sopranos in he meantime.

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The Compleat Ingmar #11: Scenes from a Marriage (1974)

The film version of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage is almost three hours long, but watching it roughly one month after finishing the TV series, my first and foremost impression is this: the film feels fast. Not rushed, necessarily, but watching it is a sharper, more focused experience than watching the six episodes of the series, but also one that feels strangely breathless. It makes me wonder why Criterion decided on that particular sequence; my recommendation would probably be to watch the film first and then the TV series. I am curious, though, what the experience would have been like the other way around, something I’ll never know now.

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Hitler? I hardly know 'er! Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Can you do a heartwarming, goofy comedy about the Second World War and the horrors of Nazism? Should you do a comedy about the horrors of Nazism? Those questions would require a longer answer, one that I can’t necessarily give, but let’s start with this: as far as I’m concerned, you can definitely do comedy about four terrorist jihadis that is heartbreaking, dark and hilarious. Though admittedly, Four Lions didn’t feature a wacky imaginary Osama Bin Laden.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Isao Takahata (1935)

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 are no two ways about it: Hayao Miyazaki is a great filmmaker who has created many fantastic worlds that are both breathtakingly new and grounded in very human realities. His films are epic yet intimate, they deal with serious topics but Miyazaki never loses the whimsical twinkle in his eyes. It’s clear why Miyazaki would be seen by many as the face of Ghibli Studios.

Nonetheless, it is sad that Miyazaki’s fame tends to eclipse the other great creative mind at Ghibli: Isao Takahata (1935-2018).

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #30: Watchmen (HBO)

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The End is Nigh – but nothing ever really ends: in our first podcast episode of 2020 we’re donning our masks to talk about the costumed vigilantes, white supremacists and glowing blue men of Damon Lindelof and HBO’s Watchmen. Is it a worthy successor of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic? Does it deserve the name of Watchmen? And have we really seen the last of Lube Man? Your trusty cultural baristas also briefly talk about Helen Garner’s non-fiction This House of Grief, Luz’ Charlie Hébdo memoir Indélébiles and Melina Matsoukas’ drama Queen & Slim.

Sadly, this is also Mege’s final episode as the podcast’s co-host – and due to him joining us from Jupiter’s moon Europa, his audio track is somewhat squid-addled (some say that it was really technical issues, but what do they know?). Accordingly, the Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast will enter a short hiatus during which we will determine where to go and what to do next, but we will be back with some steaming, flavourful, damn fine cups of culture in podcast format in April. Till then! Continue reading

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3The End is Nigh – but nothing ever really ends: in our first podcast episode of 2020 we’re donning our masks to talk about the costumed vigilantes, white supremacists and glowing blue men of Damon Lindelof and HBO’s Watchmen. Is it a worthy successor of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic? Does it deserve the name of Watchmen? And have we really seen the last of Lube Man? Your trusty cultural baristas also briefly talk about Helen Garner’s non-fiction This House of Grief, Luz’ Charlie Hébdo memoir Indélébiles and Melina Matsoukas’ drama Queen & Slim.

Sadly, this is also Mege’s final episode as the podcast’s co-host – and due to him joining us from Jupiter’s moon Europa, his audio track is somewhat squid-addled (some say that it was really technical issues, but what do they know?). Accordingly, the Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast will enter a short hiatus during which we will determine where to go and what to do next, but we will be back with some steaming, flavourful, damn fine cups of culture in podcast format in April. Till then! Continue reading

The road goes ever on and on: one-shotting 1917

A lot has been written about 1917 already, Sam Mendes’ latest movie and his first non-Bond film in years. I won’t be offering a full-blown review; I liked the film, though I think it’s better as a technical achievement than as storytelling, and in terms of the latter I don’t think it does anything particularly new or different compared to many other films about the First World War. However, I don’t think its form can be dismissed just as a gimmick – doing so strikes me as, well, silly, because there is clearly a purpose to the one-shot structure. Whether this purpose is fulfilled successfully or not, that’s a different discussion, and reviewers as much as general audiences seem to disagree on whether Mendes’ presentation benefits the material.

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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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