The Rear-View Mirror: Easter Parade (1948)

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’ve written about my ambivalent relationship to the musical genre before. It moves beyond ambivalent into downright ignorance when it comes to the musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Sure, I’ve seen Singing in the Rain, but I have failed so far when it comes to other classics, such as An American in Paris. And if you were to ask me about Fred Astaire… well, it’s better not to ask me about Fred Astaire, unless you enjoy the sound of silence. It’s not that I dislike him, it’s more that I simply don’t know him.

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They create worlds: Outer Wilds

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

One of the biggest differences between computer games when I first started playing them, back in the 1980s, and modern computer games is scope. Open worlds of the kind that we’re used to nowadays didn’t exist on the 8-bit and 16-bit computers of yore, but these days it’s not rare for a game to feature a world many square kilometres in size. In 2001, Grand Theft Auto III let us rampage in a Liberty City that measured 9 km2 in real-world terms; Grand Theft Auto V, which came out in 2013, covered an area of 127 km2. Things get even more insane with the possibilities of procedural generation, so that we got a 1:1 scale simulation of the Milky Way galaxy in Elite Dangerous (released in 2015). As game worlds get bigger and bigger, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to fill them with meaningful content, and arguably Elite‘s in-game universe is several light years wide and a nanometre deep. Which is one of the reasons why the toy-box solar system of Outer Wilds is so engaging.

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Remember When, 2019 edition: Veronica Mars

Have we always been this nostalgic about our pop culture? It seems that we live in a golden age of TV revivals, from David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks to David Milch finally having been allowed to finish the story of Deadwood. How much longer until David Simon is allowed to revisit the streets of Baltimore? And does Joss Whedon have to change his first name to David for us to get a continuation of Firefly?

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The Rear-View Mirror: Shane (1953)

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!

How many movie tropes are there that are common knowledge, yet if you were to ask what films actually use them you would draw a blank?

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A Hooplehead Reunion

The first half-dozen years or so of the 21st century saw some of the strongest arguments that a Golden Age of Television had arrived. Many of those were produced by HBO, from the New Jersey mobscapades of The Sopranos to the sprawling social canvas of The Wire. While it was cancelled after three season, the Western series Deadwood stands tall among the standouts of that time. Even thirteen years after its cancellation, it’s difficult to find a series as accomplished, with an ensemble cast as strong, and with writing as distinct.

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Americans, animals, but neither fish nor fowl

We’ve all been there. You find yourself in your late teens or early twenties with a profound sense of existential malaise. You’ve been to school for most of your life and you could go to school for a bit longer, but why? What for? To prepare for a job that, at best, bores you if it doesn’t outright depress the hell out of you? To lead a life of quiet desperation? Some try to escape by means of alcohol, drugs or sex, but not you. Oh, no.

Instead, you do you. You try to give your life a sense of meaning by organising an insane art heist with the aim of stealing the ultra-rare books on display at your university’s library. It’s obvious if you think about it.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

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!

If there was alien life out there that had discovered a method to objectively measure charm and they used that to discover intelligent life in the universe, they would surely have discovered the Earth after the release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, directed by George Roy Hill, written by William Goldman, but most importantly starring one of the greatest double acts in Hollywood history, Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the titular characters. The effortless chemistry between Newman and Redford, combined with Hill’s assured direction and Goldman’s wit, make the film a master class in ’60s cinema. There are few films that are as purely enjoyable as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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Breathing freely for the first time

He is quiet, almost sullen, but there is also a coiled tension there, as if he’s ready to react – possibly more strongly than expected, possibly violently. Talk to him the wrong way, touch him perhaps, and he might lash out. His new colleagues have their suspicions about him: a young man his age, practically still a boy, who has been in juvenile detention for the past five years? There’s almost only one kind of crime that could account for that.

Atmen

So perhaps it’s the best thing for everyone involved if the work he applies for, in order to appeal for early parole, has him dealing with those who are already dead.

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The Adaptation Game

Wildlife, Paul Dano’s 2018 adaptation of the Richard Ford novel of the same name, is a strong directorial debut and a film featuring several strong performances, from Carey Mulligan’s Jeanette, a mother worn down by constantly needing to be the adult and pragmatic in her marriage, to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jerry, the insecure father who finds no other way to prove his self-worth than abandoning his family when they need him most, and Ed Oxenbould as Joe, the son through whose eyes we see everything unfolding. Dano’s direction is traditional and quiet but serves the material well, evoking a very specific 1960s America we don’t often see and allowing the performances to create a complex, layered emotional landscape. It is a faithful adaptation, but not a mere flattening out of the novel into overly literal illustrations of the literary material.

In doing so, however, Wildlife has ended up in a strange in-between state. It uses cinematic means to achieve what Ford did with his prose, but it does so in such an unassuming way that there’s not all that much point for anyone who has read the novel to see the film. For better or for worse, after seeing the film, my main thought was, “Yup, that’s Richard Ford’s Wildlife.” Can an adaptation be too faithful?

Wildlife

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