That Old, Familiar Tune

Is this what some people feel like when they watch a Quentin Tarantino film? There I was, watching the penultimate episode of The Night Of, HBO’s 2016 prestige crime/prison/courtroom drama. (Beware spoilers for The Night Of, but also for The Man Who Wasn’t There.) In its final, expertly staged scenes, the is-he-or-isn’t-he-innocent protagonist Naz becomes a willing accessory to a swift, bloody jailhouse murder. As the scene begins, violins start playing a melancholy tune – one that I immediately knew: the makers of The Night Of had taken a page out of the Coen Brothers’ songbook, using a theme written by composer Carter Burwell for The Man Who Wasn’t There to colour a scene of ruthless brutality.

The Man Who Wasn't There

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What luck today?

His name is Zain, and he is standing in the office of a police station in Beirut, Lebanon, in his underwear. He hasn’t seen a bath in days and looks malnourished, his face is grey with sleeplessness and worry. The doctor who comes to examine him assesses his age at 12 or 13. Zain himself doesn’t know, his parents can’t or won’t produce a birth certificate – maybe there never was one. Zain, like his siblings and his parents, is an illegal citizen in his own country. Because of the pressure of abject poverty and a war-torn economy, the parents abuse their kids verbally and physically. Zain does what he can to protect his siblings, most of all his younger sister Sahar because he is sure that his parents will try to marry her with a shopkeeper. Continue reading

Throwing down the gauntlet of 2018

It’s saying something if the first thing I remember about the movie year 2018 is not a movie, but a character. Thanos looms large – how could he not? With one fell swoop, Marvel solved its most prominent problem and made very, very sure that we wouldn’t forget their biggest, baddest baddie. He has depth – I believe him when he says that he fulfills his mission partly against his own will, and that it cost him everything. And he – goddamn it – is successful. Of course, my experience of Avengers: Infinity War was deeply colored by my favorite daughter sitting beside me who couldn’t believe that half her favorite MCU characters went up in ashes. Maybe this was this generation’s Bambi. Continue reading

That Was The Year That Was: 2018

In past years I always forgot about doing a look back at the year that was until my friend and co-blogger Mege did his own retrospective – and by that time it was too late. This year I come prepared and bearing not just one or two but eight awards. Enjoy!

A Damn Fine Cup

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The Rear-View Mirror: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

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!

Nobody understands the confidence game better than David Mamet. His movies, most of all his debut House of Games (1989), show you in great detail how his con men entrap, use and manipulate their victims for money, influence, sex, or all of the above. His take on the long con is so simple that he is a playwright first and a moviemaker second; his games only need a stage and a few props. He often enlisted the late Ricky Jay, who was a magician first and an actor second. It’s also proof that more complex things are going on than meet the eye, but the con very often happens in plain sight. The point of any confidence game is this: “It’s called a confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine.” It’s the perpetrator’s choice, and the victim is hopelessly trapped. Some characters know what is happening to them, but can’t do anything about it. Others simply have no clue. There is a cruel purity to such a concept. Continue reading

In the middle of the picture, that was her

It took me a while to get into Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s much-feted black and white quasi-memoir following the life of Cleo, who lives with and works as a housekeeper for a middle-class family in Mexico City. Ironically, what kept me from engaging with the movie for the first half hour is also one of the things that Roma has received most praise for: its cinematography.

Roma

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast Christmas Special 2018: Batman Returns

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3What better way to get into a festive mood than by watching a woman dressed as a cat licking the face of a man dressed as a bat? Celebrate the holiday season with us as we talk about that Christmas classic, Batman Returns – and give a yuletide welcome to Julie, the new addition to the cultural baristas at A Damn Fine Cup of Culture!

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It’s got to get bad before it gets worse

I am going to go out on a limb and say that even those viewers who say they like Gaspar Noé’s movies don’t find them easy to sit through. It’s hard to like any of his movies in the conventional feel-good sense. Nobody likes von Trier that way, either. And while von Trier is on the darker side of the emotional cineastic spectrum, Noé can be almost maniacally, forcefully happy by way of a drug-induced high for a short time, but his movies, sooner rather than later, always tip over into loss and despair. Irreversible has that unflinching and seemingly endless rape scene, Enter the Void is about a guy overdosing and then floating above Tokyo, visiting his sister and other people. Love is about a three-way relationship breaking apart, which is almost conventional for Noé. All of them, however, have in common their pretty radical storytelling, floating unsteady camera, flickering primary colors, and their unapologetic leaps into nudity and/or violence.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Jurassic Park (1993)

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 a confession to make: I don’t particularly like Jurassic Park. Sure, Spielberg gets the sense of wonder just right, the visual effects still hold up well, Bob Peck’s death scene is fantastic and it’s got Samuel L. “BAMF” Jackson – but I will take that big, rubbery shark over T. Rex and Friends any day of the week.

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They are family

What makes a family real? Is it genes? Are blood relatives the only real kind of family? Or is family something that is chosen, committed to and reaffirmed every day? Can family begin as a matter of convenience, even a decision taken for economic reasons, can it be based on a lie – and then change into something else when you’re not paying attention?

Shoplifters

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