Criterion Corner: Design for Living (#592)

Three young, smart, attractive people – Gilda, a commercial artist, the painter George and the playwright Thomas – meet on a train to Paris. Their initial conversations may not be entirely friendly, but the sparks that fly as they exchange zingers make it clear that the men are attracted to Gilda, and vice versa – and how could they not be? They’re witty, they’re attractive, and they’re in Paris. Soon they fall: both of the men for Gilda, and Gilda for, well, both of them. She can’t choose, and she won’t choose – so Gilda, George and Tom come up with a plan: they live together as Gilda is a friend, a muse and a critic to both men. They make a gentlemen’s agreement to make sure that this will work: no sex.

What could possibly go wrong?

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Let’s blow this thing and go home: Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) and Top Gun Maverick (2022)

I can’t really claim to have been particularly invested in either Avatar: The Way of Water or Top Gun Maverick. I watched Tom Cruise’s 1980s navy erotica as a teenager, off of a VHS copy, and I remember very little, other than snippets of Goose’s death. Meanwhile, I enjoyed watching the piece of Na’vi erotica that was the original Avatar when it came out, but it proved utterly forgettable, and when we recently rewatched it, I found its spectacle tacky and its white-saviour narrative too trite and bland even to be particularly offensive. When the reviews of the two decade(s)-late sequels started to come in, I was surprised to find almost universal praise for Maverick and some surprisingly positive takes on James Cameron’s return to Pandora, even if a lot of the reviews weren’t exactly enthusiastic – including some very complimentary reviews from critics who aren’t exactly fans of big CGI blockbusters.

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The Compleat Ingmar #40: Fanny and Alexander (theatrical version) (1982)

So, here we are. The last of the stations on my travels with Ingmar. (Or not, as there are some epiloguy bits to follow.) The theatrical version of Fanny and Alexander, about a month after having watched the TV series in its full, 5+ hour glory, and a couple of weeks after Christmas, so close enough to the film’s natural habitat, seasonally speaking.

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Criterion Corner: Memories of Murder (#1073)

I can’t remember which of the two films I watched first: Memories of Murder (2003) by Bong Joon-ho or David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac. The two films share a lot of similarities. Both are about serial murders that actually happened: the series of killings Bong’s film is about took place between 1986 and 1991, while Fincher’s film is focused on the manhunt for the Zodiac Killer, who was active in the Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Both are more interested in the investigation than in the killer, and in the individuals conducting the investigation (the protagonists of Bong’s film are the three police officers hunting for a rapist and murderer of women, while Fincher splits the difference between the San Francisco detectives, the journalist Paul Avery and the cartoonist Robert Graysmith). And, importantly, both films present the audience with very likely suspects to then withhold from us a confirmation that it is really this man, or that guy, who committed these murders. Much like the protagonists, we are left with a sense of frustration and unease.

This isn’t how crime thrillers are supposed to work. If we don’t know whodunnit at the end, what was the point?

And that, exactly, is the point.

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder. If you’ve yet to see the film, don’t read this post but go and watch Memories of Murder. Without wanting to put down my own posts: the film is much, much better.

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That was the year that was: 2022

The last two years did a number on everyone, and I’m definitely including myself in that: my sense of time and chronology, and especially my memory, the pandemic and the series of crises of all shapes and sizes, these have all left their traces. I have to admit: I’d find it difficult without consulting my notes to say much about what damn fine cups of culture I enjoyed most in 2022. Even with the notes I’ve made in the draft version of this post, I find it difficult to say with much confidence that I remember these things most about the year.

Nonetheless, enjoy them I did – a lot, in fact, and these are some of the things that helped me through some of the harder times in 2022.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #111: Plays Metallica by Four Cellos

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!

I’ve always liked music. From an early age onwards, I played various instruments: pretty much anything with keys and anything that you had to hit with a stick or a mallet. But, as a kid and as a teenager, my musical tastes – and, really, my musical experience – were weird, and not necessarily in interesting ways. I liked big orchestral stuff, I liked film music, mostly of the Elmer Bernstein and John Williams variety, I enjoyed music that I’d heard in movies and TV series. Obviously I also listened to the pop and rock of the time, whatever was on Sky Channel first and later on MTV (which means that I associate much pop and rock first and foremost with the music videos), but I didn’t own a single album pre-CD, and even once I started buying CDs, it was almost exclusively film and TV music. My first, and for a long time my only, pop/rock album was Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell.

Which also means that as a male teenager growing up in the ’80s and ’90s I never had a heavy metal phase, and not only because I never had the hair for it.

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The Compleat Ingmar #39: Fanny and Alexander (TV series) (1982)

We’re almost at the end of this journey. I’ve now, for the first time, watched the TV version of Ingmar Bergman Fanny and Alexander, and only the film version is left. It’s a fitting time for this, as Fanny and Alexander is always on television in Sweden around Christmas the way that other countries might show Czech fairy tales or Frank Capra’s darkest movie, and it’s easy to see why: it begins with one of the greatest family celebrations ever captured on film, a bourgeois, early 20th century Swedish Christmas. Food, festivities, fart jokes: everything that comes to a cinephile’s mind when they hear the name ‘Ingmar Bergman’.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest instalment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.

Other than David Lynch himself, the person who perhaps left most of a fingerprint on Lynch’s work is the composer Angelo Badalamenti, who died a week ago. Matt shared his thoughts and memories of Badalamenti’s work, in particular on the various incarnations of Twin Peaks (which we’ve written and podcasted about, the latter more than once).

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Into the night: Angelo Badalamenti (1937 – 2022)

I fell for Twin Peaks before I’d even seen a single scene of the series. I was fifteen and we were visiting with my uncle in the UK. Twin Peaks had just come out, and I was curious, but my parents weren’t watching it, and I didn’t think of recording it at the time, probably because I didn’t have any VHS tapes of my own. Anyway, there I was at my uncle’s, it was getting dark, and I discovered this CD on a shelf. Foggy mountains, some trees, a road curving to the left, and a sign: Welcome to Twin Peaks. I asked whether I could listen to it, they gave me some headphones, and I plonked down on a bean bag next to the stereo system.

And the night enveloped me.

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Some thoughts on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

I liked Black Panther a lot back when it came out. I think that as a film it’s flawed in ways that are inextricably linked with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and everything it imposes on a production, in particular in the obligatory but oddly shoddy CGI fest that is the final battle – and while I am not necessarily a big believer in the Academy Awards as a measuring stick for cinematic quality, I never bought into the argument that Black Panther should have won the Oscar for Best Picture (though, looking at the actual winner that year, I can definitely agree that Black Panther should’ve trounced that one). But I do think that Black Panther was and is important, that it still is one of the most thematically ambitious of the MCU films.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever tries its hardest to be a worthy successor to the first film – but the longer I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that it buckles under the weight of all the various expectations it has to struggle with.

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