… 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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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #20: Michael Clayton

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Join us for an early spring podcast where we go and look at the pretty horses with Michael Clayton, a 21st century take on ’70s thrillers, and talk about George Clooney without ever mentioning Return of the Killer Tomatoes! even once. Julie also takes us to Santa Barbara County for Finding Neverland, and we look in on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s recent activities, as Mege talks about the second season of comedy-drama Fleabag and Matt hints at a bit of a fanboy crush on Sandra Oh in Killing Eve.

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Captain Marvel has nothing to prove to you

My reaction to Captain Marvel, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was oddly split. On the one hand, I found the beginning of the film one of the dullest opening sequences of a Marvel movie in a while. The plot and overall structure was reminiscent of the earliest films in the franchise, to the point of feeling generic. The big set pieces were predictable and there was never really much of a sense of danger, even when Earth was at risk of being carpet-bombed from space. I fully understand the reviewers who consider Captain Marvel thoroughly mediocre Marvel fare.

Captain Marvel

And yet, I came to enjoy the film much more than its constituent parts would have led me to believe. In fact, I left the cinema with a big grin on my face.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Midnight’s Children (1981)

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 this thing where I sometimes prefer a later, arguably derivative variation on a theme to the original. I enjoy Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead considerably more than the Beckett plays it is clearly, heavily inspired by. I find Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns grating and much prefer some takes on Batman that take their inspiration from Miller but do their own thing with it.

Midnight's Children

Similarly, although in so many ways it looks to Günther Grass’ seminal The Tin Drum (1959), at times almost to the point of plagiarism, I would choose to re-read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, published in 1981, over Grass’ novel any day of the week. Have at me, German Studies PhDs!

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The Compleat Ingmar #2: Crisis (1946)

Smiles of a Summer Night was going to be a tough one to follow. It’s an utterly delightful film: fun, sweet, poignant, well paced. Criterion was right to suggest it as the first film to watch on their Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema. Crisis (1946), by comparison, is clearly lesser Bergman: its story about an 18-year-old finding herself having to decide between her kindly foster mother and simple country life on the one hand and her more well-off biological mother and the big city is more predictable, its themes handled less interestingly, and its tones balanced less deftly. Crisis was Bergman’s first film as a director (he’d previously worked on scripts, first and foremost); it was based on a radio play by writer Leck Fischer, though Bergman wrote the adaptation for the screen.

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I’m talkin’ here!

Stop me if this sounds familiar, because I’m sure I’ve written it before: the thing that makes gaming in Virtual Reality fundamentally different from playing on a regular screen is that it removes a layer of abstraction. You don’t look around by moving the mouse, pressing a stick in a certain direction or pressing a button: you look around by looking around. It sounds like a small difference, but it feels entirely different whether you look up at an enormous, ominous gate covered with runes glowing red by moving the hand holding the mouse a few centimetres away from you or whether you lean your head back. You perceive size and scale entirely differently, and as a result things feel more intimate, more real, for want of a better word. Present-day VR aims at reducing abstraction even more by means of room-scale solutions (the virtual space is represented by the actual space, so you can walk around in-game by walking around in the available space – until you bump into the nearest wall or trip over the cat) and of controllers that replicate hand and finger movement, so you grab things in virtual space not by pushing a button but by using your actual hands.

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Fear eats the soul: AMC’s The Terror (2018)

Inside the vessel, below deck, too many men, too close. Sweat and grime and noise – but even then, you’re too cold and have been for months and months. The food is bad and the days monotonous. Outside, blinding whiteness and the unreal beauty of the Northern Lights. Also, a creature with an uncanny knack of attacking when it is smartest and doing the most damage. Last time, it was your mate to the left that was killed; next time, it might be you. Will you ever make it back home, or is the best you can hope for a quick, clean death?

The Terror

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #19: Losing the Plot – The Golden Age of Television

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3In this month’s podcast, we look back at TV series before the so-called Golden Age of Television and what has happened since – what we’ve gained and what we’ve lost in times of HBO, prestige television and binge watching. Are series the novels of the 21st century or is it all sexposition, soap operatics and narratives dragged out way past their sell-by date? Featuring our theme tune, “Mystery Street Jazz” by Håkan Eriksson (make sure to listen to the very end of the podcast)… and a very special appearance by Trillian the Cat!

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The Rear-View Mirror: Amadeus (1984)

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!

It is a riveting scene, and one that at a glance would seem entirely uncinematic: the younger man, sick, pale and sweaty, lies in bed and dictates music to the older man, who scribbles musical notes onto paper as if it was a race against time – which it is. The brilliant composer will not live much longer. It is a scene that doesn’t seem to need the big screen: it could just as well be performed on stage, and this is in fact where it originated. None of this seems immediately cinematic – yet it is one of the great moments of 1980s cinema: Mozart and and his bitter, envious rival Salieri racing against death to get his final masterpiece, the Requiem in D minor, K. 626, out of the dying man’s head and onto paper so it would be preserved for posterity.

Amadeus

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