Six Damn Fine Degrees #32: Tessa Thompson

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!

In Rocky, Talia Shire does a great job of depicting a character that is painfully shy and seems exceedingly mousey at first, but who reveals depths of emotion and loyalty as the film progresses. She’s a good fit for Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, also a character who doesn’t fit the bill of archetypical heroic lead at first. Whatever the Rocky franchise turned into, both the movies and their leads started off at a point where they were downright antithetical to what they’d become later – not least in Rocky IV, in which the title character was pretty much the embodiment of Reagan’s America during the late stages of the Cold War. Rocky and Adrian were engaging characters, but as depicted by Stallone and Shire their charisma wasn’t readily apparent.

Fast-forward 39 years, to 2015 and to Creed, a quasi-sequel or spin-off to the original Rocky series. Yes, I can already hear you: did the world of cinema need to continue turning that particular dead horse into a punching bag? That’s pretty much what I thought – and then I saw who was involved: Ryan Coogler, pre-Black Panther but post-Fruitvale Station. Michael B Jordan, who has come so far since he played poor, doomed Wallace in the first season of The Wire.

And then there was Tessa Thompson.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #45: Ripley vs Ripley – who’s the most talented?

For our June episode, we’re sending the cultural baristas on a holiday in sunny Mongibello, Italy, where rich, pretty young ex-pats spend their time and money on the beach – though there are others who may be less harmless… Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr Ripley was turned into two films: René Clément’s Plein Soleil (released as Purple Noon in the English-speaking world, in spite of a distinct absence of purple-hued noons), starring a young Alain Delon, and Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation, which took the title from Highsmith’s book, featuring Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. Ripley is a fascinating character, a sociopath reflecting the identities of those around him back at them, and it’s fascinating to compare these two very different interpretations of the character. Join Sam, Julie and Matt as they sail the treacherous waters of the mid-20th century Mediterranean and compare the talents of the various Messrs Ripley!

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Intoxicology: Another Round (2020)

Imagine the following: you’re a teacher, male, middle-aged. Your adolescent pupils barely notice you, that’s one thing, but worse: so does your wife. When you ask her whether you’ve become boring, she doesn’t give you the reassuring answer you crave – nor the bluntly honest one you fear, which is somehow just as bad. It’s not that your life is bad – you have a well-paid job, a nice house, kids, friends -, it’s just that you suspect you’re not very good at living it, and you haven’t been for a long time.

What do you do?

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #27: Fear of a Camp Planet

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!

Camp, adj. - Ostentatiously and extravagantly effeminate (typically used of a man or his manner); ... deliberately exaggerated and theatrical in style. (Definitions from Oxford Languages)

For the longest time, I would shy away from a lot of media that I associated with camp. From what little I could see, I thought it was tacky, in poor taste and attention-grabbing: “Look at me! I’m in your face! I’m different – and I’m unafraid to be different!”

I’m still not automatically a fan of things that I consider ostentatious and in-your-face, and I guess there is a lot of camp that leaves me non-plussed. But that’s true for a lot of art – and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If I’m entirely honest: looking back, I wonder how much of my negative reaction to it was that, as little as I like to acknowledge it, young Matt was a teensy bit of a homophobe.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #44: Isao Takahata – radical naturalism

When Isao Takahata died in 2018, the world lost one of the uncontested masters of animation. Takahata, long-time creative partner of Hayao Miyazaki and co-founder of Studio Ghibli, created some of the most striking, memorable anime there is. Together with guest Patrick Martignoni, Eric and Matt discuss Takahata and his thematic and aesthetic concerns, especially his idiosyncratic, experimental take on naturalism and how animation can be used to get to the essence of characters. In our discussion, we focus mainly on Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991), Pom Poko (1994) and what is arguably Takahata’s magnum opus, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) – but we don’t forget to look in on his TV career, as all three of us were raised on Heidi, Girl of the Alps. Join us as we remember the great, idiosyncratic and surprising storytelling of Isao Takahata!

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The Compleat Ingmar #22: The Seventh Seal (1957)

It’s been a while since we last visited with the Swedish master of existential crisis, but we’re returning with what is probably his most famous, most iconic work. Mention Bergman’s name, and what do people think of? Max von Sydow on a desolate beach playing chess with Death, probably.

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The Corona Diaries: Hello darkness, my old friend

Here we are, Sunset and Camden: yesterday, for the first time in almost half a year, I sat in a movie theatre, watched the lights go down, the curtain open, and the film begin. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, all wearing yellow raincoats, begin to sing that iconic song. Sitting in the satiny dark of the cinema felt like coming home – but, like so many homecomings, there’s a note of ambivalence.

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Poltercast: The Battersea Poltergeist (2021)

Ghost stories are a genre well suited to the audio format: they are, after all, about things going bump in the night. Fear is often generated more by what we imagine, how we fill in the blanks, more so than what we see with our own eyes. As such, BBC Radio’s The Battersea Poltergeist is a good fit for radio – and podcast, which is the format in which I listened to the series. Who wouldn’t want to hear all about ghostly goings-on while preparing dinner?

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #23: The Guardian

Okay, to get this out of the way first: no, this entry in our weekly Six Damn Fine Degrees feature is not about the centre-left British newspaper famous for its idiosyncratic spelling abilities. Instead, it is about the main antagonist of several instalments of the classic series of computer role-playing games Ultima, a transdimensional being of immense power bent on conquest, a villain to match the likes of Marvel’s Thanos, DC’s Darkseid or the First Evil from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Or, as some fans of the Ultima series like to call him, the big red muppet.

This was the face that emerged from my screen when I started to play Ultima VII.
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