A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #22: Avengers: Endgame

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3How’s that for galactic serendipity? For our 22nd episode, we’re strapping on our Infinity Gauntlets and snapping our fingers to discuss the 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Avengers: Endgame. Is it a worthy finale to the Infinity Saga or is it a titanic misstep? Were these particular fans serviced to their satisfaction or did they leave the cinema with a frown? Did we laugh, cry and cheer as the original Avengers line-up do their victory lap? Join us and find out! Beware: major spoilers for Infinity War and Endgame (and no, we don’t mean the play by Samuel Beckett)!

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The Adaptation Game

Wildlife, Paul Dano’s 2018 adaptation of the Richard Ford novel of the same name, is a strong directorial debut and a film featuring several strong performances, from Carey Mulligan’s Jeanette, a mother worn down by constantly needing to be the adult and pragmatic in her marriage, to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jerry, the insecure father who finds no other way to prove his self-worth than abandoning his family when they need him most, and Ed Oxenbould as Joe, the son through whose eyes we see everything unfolding. Dano’s direction is traditional and quiet but serves the material well, evoking a very specific 1960s America we don’t often see and allowing the performances to create a complex, layered emotional landscape. It is a faithful adaptation, but not a mere flattening out of the novel into overly literal illustrations of the literary material.

In doing so, however, Wildlife has ended up in a strange in-between state. It uses cinematic means to achieve what Ford did with his prose, but it does so in such an unassuming way that there’s not all that much point for anyone who has read the novel to see the film. For better or for worse, after seeing the film, my main thought was, “Yup, that’s Richard Ford’s Wildlife.” Can an adaptation be too faithful?

Wildlife

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The Rear-View Mirror: Tommy (1975)

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!

Admittedly, I didn’t spend all that much time watching films, reading books or playing whatever games that were around in 1975. I had a good excuse: I was only born in June and thus missed half the year anyway, and  my reading, watching and, well, everything skills were decidedly underdeveloped at the time. Which is a shame, because 1975 was a great year, especially for cinema: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest! Barry Lyndon! Jaws! I’m sure even infant me would have found it in himself to coo appreciatively over John Alcott’s sublime cinematography or Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis speech.

But no, I’m afraid this installment of the Rear-View Mirror will be about… baked beans.

Ever since I was a young boy/I ate the orange bean/From Soho down to Brighton/I must have ate them all

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The Compleat Ingmar #4: Wild Strawberries (1957)

Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of the second and third film in Criterion’s Bergman collection, Crisis and A Ship to India, but they were interesting as stepping stones towards the director’s more accomplished later films – and Wild Strawberries is definitely an illustration of those works and, after Smiles of a Summer Night, the second highlight of the collection.

Wild Strawberries

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #21: The Big Sleep

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our April episode, we’re revisiting a classic from Hollywood’s Golden Age, featuring one of American cinema’s golden couples: The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Will you finally find out who killed the chauffeur? Now, that would be telling… In addition, Mege reports from a somewhat uncanny dancing school in 1970s Berlin after watching the recent Suspiria remake, Julie investigates the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films and Matt goes slightly cubist after visiting a nearby Pablo Picasso exhibition.

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Here’s looking at you, and you – and you, Agnès

It’s a comical image: the gigantic works of art, plastered on the side of buildings and in one case even a towering stack of shipping container, and looking at them, the tiny, old woman with her white-and-red hair who helped bring these gargantuan images about and document them on film… though while she may be tiny and old, she most definitely isn’t frail. In fact, she stands as tall as anyone and anything in the film.

Visages Villages

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The Compleat Ingmar #3: A Ship to India (1947)

Apparently Bergman wasn’t a huge fan of the first film he directed, Crisis (1946), which he called “lousy, through and through”. He wasn’t much kinder to his third, A Ship to India (1947), referring to it as “a major disaster” – except when his producer Lorens Marmstedt called to urge him to cut the worst parts, at which point Bergman rose to his film’s defense: “I informed him that I had no intention of cutting even one foot from this masterpiece.” Bergman may have been young and relatively inexperienced, but obviously he already had an ego to match a much more accomplished director.

A Ship to India

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The Rear-View Mirror: Halloween (1978)

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!

Psycho never scared me. I think the main reason for this is that I came to it too late: by the time I saw Norman Bates dressed as his mother, stab-stab-stabbing his way through various cast members, I’d seen all the quotes, echoes, parodies. (You can’t be a teenager watching several seasons worth of The Simpsons without seeing an average of 17.3 parodies of Psycho. It’s a scientific fact.) To some extent, I ended up watching the film and feeling that, meh, it’s all been done before – which is unfair and inaccurate, because so often and in so many ways, Psycho did it first. I still enjoy the film for the sheer craftsmanship that Hitchcock and his collaborators put into the film, and for the impish glee with which they establish the female lead – only to kill her off. But no, Psycho never scared me.

Halloween, though? Halloween scared the living daylights out of me.

Halloween

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… to miss Treme

I have never been to New Orleans, and while I would like to go there, it is unlikely I’ll be traveling to the United States in the next couple of years. As a result, I cannot even begin to say whether Treme, David Simon’s four-season HBO series, delivered an accurate depiction of the city. More than that, I’m definitely not entitled to claiming that I care about New Orleans based on having watched a TV series. But I can say that I have come to love the series’ version of New Orleans – and that’s due in no small part to Simon’s unique brand of storytelling.

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Exit, pursued by a spy

It is strange that while there are various great John Le Carré films – such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), A Most Wanted Man (2014, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films) and of course Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) – the author’s novels may be better suited to the longer format of the TV miniseries. Their stories benefit from being given the space to breathe, and their characters, especially those in the spy trade, could usually not be more different from the more cinematic likes of James Bond or Ethan Hunt. They are more likely to sit over a set of letters, recordings, photos or other documents for hours than to kill the villain, foil their plans and bed the lady.

They are also more likely to end up betraying those they care about most.

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