Criterion Corner: Beau Travail (#1042)

Before watching Beau Travail, French director Claire Denis’ 1999 film, I’d seen two of Denis’ films: the 2009 (post-)colonial drama White Material and the 2018 sci-fi oddity High Life. My favourite cinema showed the latter last year as part of a series on women directors, so I went to see it – and came away nonplussed. Certainly, there were scenes that I found intriguing, and Denis’ strange science-fiction tone poem is often beautiful to look at, but I didn’t know what to do with it, and I still don’t. While I had some ideas about the overall themes of the film, it remained too fragmented and elliptic and I felt too much of a disconnect from the characters I was watching and the things they were doing. I could imagine someone else, and perhaps even me at a different time and in a different frame of mind, getting more from High Life, but I left the cinema with a vague sense of frustration – or possibly a frustrating sense of vagueness.

I may not immediately wish to revisit High Life after seeing Beau Travail, but Denis’ film, a loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd, definitely makes me think that I should keep looking out for other films by her. I could imagine that the one or the other would leave me similarly nonplussed as High Life, but I can’t think of any other director like Denis.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: The only good fish is a singing fish

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.

Annette, Leos Carax’ Sparks-scored musical, won’t be for everyone, but it’s definitely a unique film. Matt was among those who didn’t like it as much as they were hoping to, but hey, he liked the first and the last five minutes a lot, so there’s always that.

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Living Doll: Annette (2021)

It’s the old story: boy meets girl, girl and boy fall in love, boy and girl have a child. The boy, a cynical, self-loathing comedian, can’t handle the fact that the girl, an opera singer, is both beloved by her audience and more successful, so he… doesn’t exactly kill her, but, well. Their baby starts to sing in a haunting voice whenever she is exposed to starlight (real or fake), so her father turns her into an international sensation – and makes a nice buck in the process.

Oh, and the child is a wooden puppet. You know, that old story.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: The Marvellous Moreau

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.

Look, if you’ve had enough of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we understand – and you may want to skip this week’s trailer post, since Friday’s Six Damn Fine Degrees instalment had Mege talking about sharing the MCU with his daughter: she’s a Marvel fan, and he enjoys sharing movies with her. So, for her, here’s a vintage Marvel trailer.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #52: The State of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

A new year, a new slew of Marvel movies and TV series! After 2019’s grand finale Avengers: Endgame, what felt like an infinite number of new films, shows, characters and storylines were announced – and then a certain virus that shall not be named thwarted the plans of Disney. 2020 came and went without a single new MCU movie, but 2021 more than made up for this, with four films – starting with Black Widow and ending with Spider-Man: No Way Home – and various Disney+ series continuing the ongoing adventures of the Marvel heroes and heroines. Join Alan and Matt as they talk about the franchise and their response to it. What were their expectations after the big snap-and-back climax of Infinity War and Endgame? How did they bridge the one-year gap caused by the pandemic? Were they excited by the upcoming Marvel avalanche, or was it all getting to be too much? And how do they feel about where the franchise is now, leading into 2022?

By the way, this is a Very Special Episode of the Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast: for the first time ever, it was recorded in front of a live studio audience with everyone on the podcast not only in the same country but the same room, talking into the same microphone! Which means that Matt’s Christmas wish did come true. How better to start 2022?

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #60: My daughter, the Marvel fan

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 would have liked to dazzle you with a cool origin story, but I can’t remember how and when my favourite daughter found her love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am pretty sure she saw the first few movies in chronological sequence at home on BluRay, too young to have seen then in the theatres, so Tony Stark, Cap and the Hulk came to her at home, and it was probably the first Avengers movie that she saw in an upholstered seat, ticket in hand, with a bag of popcorn, on the big silver screen. But she was hooked long before that.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: Coming soon to a cinema near you!

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.

Sadly, the last trailer post before the new year never came about (it would have referred to Matt’s post about House of Gucci and the Christmas Special 2021 podcast) – but what better way to start 2022 than with starting anew and with lots and lots of trailers? Some we’ve already posted, some not, and some may already have played in cinemas where our readers are, but we haven’t had a chance to watch them yet ourselves.

So, without much further ado, and without comments from the gang, here goes…

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That was the year that wasn’t: 2021

In early 2021, I started a draft blog post for the end of the year, in which I’d note down all the culture that had come out during the past twelve months that stood out to me: films that I loved, TV series that surprised me, books that I hated so much that they somehow defined 2021 for me.

I started that draft, and then I never touched it again. And here we are.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast Christmas Special 2021

Certainly, 2020 and 2021 have been strange years (and perhaps I shouldn’t say too much, since there is still one week to go until we get to the end of the latter), they have been difficult and draining in many ways, and Christmas 2021 is likely to be more lonely for some of us than we would like. The pandemic has been a drain on everyone, and it’s not over yet. But in spite of this, we have had some good times this year, we’ve watched some great films and TV (and admittedly some that were not so great), we’ve read some great books and we’ve played some fun games – not least the wonderful board game Pandemic Legacy, which at least gives us the feeling that this thing can be beaten… provided our medic isn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For the Christmas Special 2021, Julie and Matt are joined, albeit remotely in space and time, by regulars Alan, Mege and Sam as well as by our favourite returning guest Daniel Thron of Martini Giant, and we talk about the damn fine things we’d like to see under the Christmas tree – from the purely material but greatly enjoyable to things that are elusive but all the more necessary for that. Join us – and have happy, safe and healthy holidays! Wishing all of you the very best for what remains of 2021, and thanks as always for hanging out with us.

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What’s a little murder between family? House of Gucci (2021)

You may have heard about House of Gucci being really bad: lurid, cheesy soap opera. You may have read about Lady Gaga’s over-the-top accent and Jared Leto’s outlandish performance. You may have decided that the film is a disaster and definitely no reason to go out to the cinema and risk catching some C-word virus.

The thing is, you’re probably not wrong. House of Gucci isn’t a very good film. Even if The Last Duel wasn’t a surprisingly strong addition to Ridley Scott’s oeuvre, most likely it would still be the weaker Scott film coming out in 2021. But the reasons for this aren’t Lady Gaga’s accent or Jared Leto’s much-reviled performance. It’s true, the accent almost deserves a mention in the credits as a supporting character, and Leto’s performance of Paolo Gucci, son of Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino) and scion of the Gucci dynasty, is often grotesque. House of Gucci isn’t subtle or nuanced, and it isn’t The Godfather but with fashion substituting for organised crime. If anything, it’s the panto version of The Godfather.

No, arguably House of Gucci suffers from not being lurid and cheesy enough. It fails because it has several very different ideas of what kind of film it is – and therefore ending up particularly good at none of them.

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