The Rear-View Mirror: 253 (1994)

Geoff Ryman’s novel 253 was published in print in 1996, but it saw daylight on the internet in 1994. It’s about a London tube train on the Bakerloo line, travelling southbound from Embankment to Elephant & Castle. It’s a seven-minute ride, with stops at Waterloo and Lambeth North. This is from the foreword: “There are seven carriages on a Bakerloo Line train, each with 36 seats. A train in which every passenger has a seat will carry 252 people. With the driver, that makes 253.” And this is the novel for you: it contains 253 characters, each of them travelling on the train for those seven minutes. There are 253 entries in the book, each 253 words long. Repetitive? Well, yes, but boring? Not to me. Continue reading

Unable to stay, unwilling to leave

It’s spooky how easily Christian Petzold’s Transit juxtaposes the mass escape from Germany in 1940 with the mass migrations of today. There should not be so many parallels between the two movements, 70 or 80 years apart, but there are. His movie is based on the 1944 novel Transit by Anna Seghers, which mainly takes place in Marseille and is about a small group of German migrants who want to flee Nazi Germany and get a transit visa in order to get to Mexico. Petzold’s movie shows them in today’s Marseille, trying to flee the country, but getting stuck in the red tape procedures that must be all too familiar to any migrant anywhere. Continue reading

First wives. Now widows. What comes next?

The title of Steve McQueen’s latest film is more telling than it may seem at first: these women are widows, but before that they were wives. First and foremost they were seen by others, or saw themselves, as the plus ones to their husbands: the competent leader, the strong man, the guy who brings home the money. And this, the notion that their lives are tied to their husbands even after the latter have lost their lives, persists. First and foremost Veronica (Viola Davis), whose husband Harry (Liam Neeson) led a robbery gone fatally wrong for all the men involved, finds out that she is being held accountable for the millions of dollars Harry stole, even if she had no part in his criminal career – and she in turn seeks out Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), the other bereaved widows whose husbands died in the van shot to pieces by a SWAT team, to twist their arms into helping her. The only way they can free themselves from their dead husbands is to take on the roles of their husbands and to do that proverbial last job.

Widows

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Hit the Road, Jack

What should I do with a movie like The House That Jack Built? Not only is it a Lars von Trier movie, which can’t be a walk in the park at the best of times, but it seems to be his most controversial feature yet, and that is saying something. There are moments in Melancholia (2011) that are as good as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie. I’ve watched The Element of Crime (1984) more times than I can remember. He’s held parts of the movie-making scene hostage with his Dogma movement, producing some interesting results, only to break his own rules later. On the other hand, von Trier’s movies are, more often than not, unkind or cruel to its women. And The House That Jack Built is about a serial killer whose victims are mostly women. At least in this feature, von Trier’s misanthropy cannot fully obscure his misogyny. I know that it would be a grave mistake to confuse the writer-director’s attitude with the movie’s, but it’s von Trier’s oeuvre that seems to repeatedly mistreat its female characters. I try to give him the benefit of doubt, but there is a point where my doubt shows cracks. Continue reading

Love and Music

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is brim-full of music, singing and dancing, but it’s as far from a musical as it is possible to be. If you have seen Pawlikowski’s Ida (2013), you know what mood to expect. It opens with three people travelling through the snow in a van to remote Polish villages, recording the music of farmers and working class members. We learn that those three people are the co-directors of a musical college who want to find the biggest talents in order to tour Europe. The introverted musical director, Wiktor, soon falls for a fantastic singer called Zula. She knows what she wants, and she wants Wiktor, there and then. In Poland, in 1949, it can’t have been easy at all to be that forward for a young woman. That Zula is on probation because she stabbed her incest-minded father makes her even more fascinating to Wiktor. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Lone Star (1996)

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!

What still gets me in John Sayles’ Lone Star is its simple device of showing you that time has passed. Let’s say there is a scene at the edge of a river in Texas, a woman and a man talking, set in the 1960ies, and then the scene comes to an end, and the camera slowly pans to the right, where there is another character in the here and now, the grown-up son of the man from long ago, watching the scene before his mind’s eye. Just by letting the camera move, the story is told in a flashback without a cut. Lone Star is not at all the first movie to do this, but to me, it was a simple but effective way to show that years, even decades, have gone by. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Out of Sight (1998)

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!

There is nothing that can date a movie like style for style’s sake. It’s one of the hallmarks that betrays a movie’s age, and while some stylistic choices can turn a movie into a classic, other styles might simply not age that well. Think about small things like lens flares. Or think about the dogma certificate. That doesn’t mean that they are bad movies; it’s just that sometimes, movies get stuck in the times they were made. Nostalgia isn’t the worst reason to re-visit a movie you haven’t seen in a long time. Continue reading

Call me guilty

Remember the 2014 movie Locke, featuring only Tom Hardy on screen, making many phone calls from his car while driving through nocturnal London? There is a similarly single-minded movie out now, called The Guilty (or Den skyldige as its original title), about a cop who has to staff a police emergency call center in Denmark. That is of course the perfect situation for yet another feature with one character on screen and all the others phoning in. To be fair, Asger Holm (played by Jakob Cedergren) has a few short face-to-face conversations with the other cops at the call center, but soon, he moves into another, empty room in order to tackle the problem he is confronted with. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: CSI Crime Scene Investigation (2000)

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!

Today, my dearly beloveds, let’s talk about guilty pleasures. I know you have them because I have them. In a way, it’s the emotional continuation of reading under the covers when you’re a kid, flashlight in hand, way until after midnight. And already I’ve talked myself into a corner because now I have to reveal one of my guilty pleasures while you can keep silent about yours. Here goes, then: one of my guilty pleasures was, and still is, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the original one set in Las Vegas. Would you believe that it ran from 2000 to 2015? Its finale is only three years old. And yes, I watched every single sodding episode, until the bitter, bitter end. It wasn’t easy. I’m not proud of it. The guilt had outweighed the pleasure years ago. Continue reading

Press X to ride into the sunset

If you have any interest in video gaming whatsoever, you can’t have missed the release of Rockstar Games’ oater epic Red Dead Redemption 2. From the game’s almost Deakinsian visuals via its insane level of detail (yes, your horse’s testicles contract in cold weather!) to, sadly, the reports of the studio’s insane crunch culture that’s deleterious to mental and physical health as well as relationships, RDR2 (which, I admit, sounds too much like a Star Wars robot to be a very helpful abbreviation) has been everywhere – including my PS4’s hard disk. I’ve not yet had much time to explore the dying Old West alongside the Van der Linde gang, but it’s already clear that this is an exceptional game. Exceptional in scope and ambition, surely – but what is most surprising to me is that this is also an exceptionally wilful game. If it wants me to like it, it’s going about it in a very strange way.

Red Dead Redemption 2

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