A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #46: Post-pandemic cinema

It is July – and in many countries, cinemas are open again, albeit with some restrictions. Have our intrepid cultural baristas already been back to movie theatres – and if so, what has it been like to be back after several months? How have they coped with half a year without cinemas? How has COVID-19 affected movie theatres and cinema goers alike? And how will the cinema landscape change after the pandemic? Even if we’re looking at a summer and autumn with open movie theatres (fingers crossed!) and upcoming blockbusters like the new James Bond and Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited, often-postponed Dune, will cinema be the same? Join Alan, Julie and Matt as they discuss these and other issues concerning post-pandemic cinema!

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: Do you think death could possibly be a boat?

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.

Last week it finally happened: A Damn Fine Cup of Culture was deemed too raunchy by Facebook. Okay, that may not be quite accurate – truth be told, we will probably never know why Facebook suddenly decided that we’d violated their T&Cs with the name of our page. Was it the “damn”? Was it that we made claims to the extraordinary quality of our cups of culture? Or was it something else entirely, like the wrong number of capitals? Anyway, we are now back on Facebook, complete with what some people might consider naughty words in our name. Let’s see what Mark Z comes up with next, shall we?

All of this happened on the same day that Sam posted another wonderful instalment of Six Damn Fine Degrees, in honour of two of the Grande Dames of dubbing: Marni Nixon, who featured in many a film musical without getting the credit she deserved, and Nikki van der Zyl, the woman who gave a voice to so many Bond girls. We can hear a (sadly, very small) handful of her lines dubbing Ursula Andress in the trailer for the Bond film that started it all, Dr. No.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #39: Bond – Nobody does it better (or worse)

2020 turned out to be No Time For Bond – but our intrepid cultural baristas won’t let that stop them! In the absence of a new instalment in the long-running James Bond franchise, Julie, Alan and Sam – our resident expert in All Things Bond – talk about what the series has to offer: the best and the worst, the shaken and the stirred, the Goldfingers, GoldenEyes and Golden Guns. Who’s their favourite Bond? What’s the film they like least? Are the Bond movies actually good? And does Bond, James Bond still have a place in the 21st century, where the global threats are of a very different kind? P.S.: Listen out for the Bond-appropriate pre-credit sequence! (Okay, it’s not as if you could miss it, seeing how it’s right at the beginning.)

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The Ghost of Spectres Past

Spectre isn’t a bad film. It is competently made on most counts, though admittedly this is damning it with faint praise, and it has a fantastic pre-credit sequence that’s up there with the best of them. Nevertheless, Spectre is a huge disappointment – perhaps even more so than Quantum of Solace. Where Quantum suffered from Marc Forster not being very good at directing action, Spectre suffers most from writers that don’t really understand what exactly they want the film to do and, worse, not realising that Skyfall had done most of these things already, and done them well.

Spectre

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Meet the new Bond…

… same as old Bond.

I have to admit this up front: I’m not a big fan of James Bond or the series of films he features in. I liked Casino Royale a lot, but even apparent series classic Goldeneye didn’t do anything for me, and while I could tolerate the Sean Connery films I wouldn’t want to sit through Roger Moore’s panto-style movies ever again.

Skyfall is both a call-back to old-school Bond and a deconstruction of the films and the character. In terms of both form and theme, it’s the most ambitious film in the series. At the end, as the credits were rolling, I was exhilarated and excited – yet I’m not sure I’m looking forward to what the Broccoli Gang will come up with next. For, see, Skyfall ends at a point where we could very easily segue into Dr No. Craig’s Bond at the film’s close is Connery’s original Bond, for all intents and purposes, complete with a male M and trusty Moneypenny.

Regardless of this, I come to praise Bond, not to bury him. After a boring, confused Quantum of Solace that barely works as a companion piece to Casino Royale – and that even then doesn’t add much to its predecessor – Sam Mendes has a much better handle on… well, everything. I haven’t yet seen a Mark Foster film that has convinced me the man deserves the praise he’s received, and he was most definitely the wrong man for Bond. Mendes hasn’t really done any action films, the closest being Road to Perdition, but he knows how to stage scenes effectively – and he knows how to pick his collaborators, with Roger Deakins turning in the most gorgeous film in the series yet. His aesthetic sensibilities complement Mendes’ directorial eye well, especially in a fight silhouetted against Blade Runner-esque Shanghai facades and in the Macao scenes. (Also, is it just me or is Mendes more overtly theatrical, though effectively so, in this than in any of his previous films?)

Skyfall

There’s more to like about Skyfall: the phantasmagoric-to-the-point-of-becoming-apocalyptic intro sequence (I didn’t like Adele’s song all that much until I saw it matched to the intro visuals), Craig’s co-stars (let me single out Javier Bardem who succeeds at being camp and chilling, gentle and deranged), a smart, witty script that doesn’t shy away from pathos when it is called for. It’s the first Bond film I’ve seen at the cinema that I wanted to see again as soon as the credits rolled, and it’s the second that has made me emotionally invested. Yet there remains that niggling feeling that Skyfall succeeds all too well at making everything that’s interesting about it superfluous for the next film in the franchise. Bond mentions at some point during the film that his hobby is resurrection – let’s hope that what this film has resurrected isn’t one of the undead, a revenant of the Bonds of old and nothing more.

P.S.: Ben Whishaw’s Q, while not much more substantial than a cameo, was much appreciated, as were Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney.

Green appeal

I’ve never been much of a James Bond fan. As a kid, I watched some of the Sean Connery ones and enjoyed them, but never enough to think “Hey, there’s a Bond movie on tonight! Let’s watch it.” Roger Moore always struck me as eminently kickable, and in my books Pierce Brosnan is the better, more interesting Bond in John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama than in any of his actual Bond movies. Especially in the last couple of Bond flicks, the writing devolved to the level of a bad Christmas panto, with puns so atrocious you have to be pissed on eggnog to appreciate.

Yesterday, I watched Casino Royale for the second time. More so than at the cinema, I was struck less by how different it was from the earlier Bond movies than by how similar it is in many respects. When it came out, critics kept saying how the franchise had taken some pointers from the Bourne movies, and that’s definitely true – but it’s still as glossy and slick as its predecessors. Bond’s world is still that of the rich and famous, not the more faceless, banal world that Bourne tries to survive in.

Nevertheless, I found the film just as intriguing on the second viewing as when I saw it at the cinema, and that’s mainly down to the much tighter writing and to the two leads. David Craig has an effortless arrogance that complements his rough-hewn exterior perfectly. Craig makes Bond an interesting character much of whose charisma comes from his brutal ruthlessness. You actually believe that he is capable of what he does, whereas I could never buy Brosnan’s derring-do adventures.

More so, however, Eva Green is a brilliant asset to the film. Not only is she breathtakingly beautiful, she too is a much more rounded character than any other Bond girl I can remember. Neither Green nor Craig seem to have thought, “I don’t really have to act, it’s only Bond.” They approached their roles as if they were actual rounded characters, and that makes watching them so much more interesting than watching the action figures you got in most of the franchise’s movies in the last ten, twenty years.

Seeing how two franchises – Bond and Batman – were rescued from their worst moments (Die Another Day, Batman & Robin), I’m definitely looking forward to where they’ll go next. It would be a shame for them to flicker and burn briefly only to fizzle out yet again.