Behind the scenes at the library

Frederick Wiseman has done it again. Two years ago, I wrote about National Gallery, a three-hour long documentary that brought us an all-encompassing view of the National Gallery in London. I’ve recommended it at the time, and I still recommend it. Now Wiseman has made an even longer movie about one of the best-known institutions in New York: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. I have to warn you: it’s 197 minutes long, and it turns Wiseman’s completist tendencies into a disadvantage. Continue reading

Fear of a Black Panther

You don’t often come away from a Marvel movie thinking more about the ideas it tackles than about its snarky one-liners or its action setpieces. You don’t often read reactions to a Marvel movie that mention cultural critics, intellectuals and political thinkers. You don’t often see a Marvel movie being taken this personally by this many people, both among its supporters and its detractors. Obviously Black Panther must have done something right.

Black Panther

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Walk as an Egyptian

Video games are great at allowing you to walk in the footsteps of any- and everyone. Want to be a burly, 100-foot creature destroying a metropolis? Play Rampage and you’re even given a choice of monster. Want to be H.R. Giger’s indelible toothsome ray of sunshine? Various generations of Aliens vs Predator games let you get in touch with your inner secondary jaw. There’s many games that let you slip into the physique of lithe, scantily-clad warriorettes, and I won’t even try to count all the titles that put you in the futuristic boots of space marines.

Yet there are some identities we’re very rarely asked to assume – so it’s nice when a game actually gives you such an opportunity.

Assassin's Creed Origins Continue reading

When has a stitch ever saved anyone?

Phantom Thread one of the best-looking movies this season. Since it’s set in the 1950s British fashion scene, it’s certainly the best-dressed movie, without flaunting its lavishness. The dresses, often also the people and the atmosphere of the movie, have a kind of gorgeousness about them. The film feels like it was made decades ago, but it is far from dated. There is a love story at the core of the film, between a high-end middle-aged fashion designer called Reynolds Woodcock and a clumsy French-speaking waitress named Alma Elson. Reynolds is immediately smitten with Alma; while most other men would want to undress her, he is thinking about dressing her up, already sketching clothes for her in his mind. Continue reading

God drives a Cadillac

If you’ll allow me to be crude for a moment: more often than not, gods are dicks. They’re narcissists and sociopaths. They crave your worship and don’t think twice of smiting you if you displease them the teensiest bit. They like a spot of sacrifice, ideally of the human kind – the bloodier the better. Whoever thought it was a good idea to give such hypersensitive, overpowered egomaniacs with the maturity of toddlers even the slightest bit of power?

What’s that you say? We did it? By believing in them, we invested them with power?

… literal theocracy sucks.

American Gods

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Dope, anyone?

It’s somewhat surprising that Errol Morris’ Wormwood seems to be the first documentary to combine a cast with big names for the dramatic scenes with the traditional doc-staples of talking heads, collages, home movies and grainy photos. It’s a balancing act in more ways than one, and here, it seems to work, if only just. Wormwood is about the death of Frank Olson, who seemed to have fallen out of a 13th story hotel room window in New York and died on the sidewalk in his underwear. He was a CIA chemist who worked for the U.S. army and did research for biological warfare. For years, the story went like this: Olson, together with some of his workmates, was drugged with LSD in November 1953 for a new project about mind control, had a bad trip and finally committed suicide ten days later by leaping to his death. It was an accident, the CIA said, and they were sorry, and the Olson family got to meet President Johnson, who apologized for the tragedy, and the CIA promised to stop all mind-control projects, and that was that. Continue reading