Tell me who you are, so I can tell you who you are: Alias Grace and Ex Machina

Over the last couple of weeks, we watched the 2017 Netflix series Alias Grace. It is a smart, stylish adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel, with strong writing by Sarah Polley and direction by Mary Harron (of American Psycho fame), and the acting is impeccable, especially when it comes to Sarah Gadon as the Irish maid Grace Marks who may or may not have helped murder her employer and his housekeeper. The series handles tone and genre well, navigating between historical drama, dry black comedy, true crime, gothic horror and deft commentary on gender, class truth and fiction.

And about halfway through the final episode I thought that Alias Grace isn’t all that different from that film with the robot.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: In Cold Blood, in more ways than one

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.

This has been a relatively quiet week at A Damn Fine Cup of Culture, but we did have a tribute to the wonderful Toby Jones in Friday’s instalment of Six Damn Fine Degrees. Jones lost the Battle of the Capotes in the mid-Noughties, and his Infamous was pretty much overshadowed by Capote, which came out the year before, but that’s all the more reason to give Jones his due here.

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I don’t know if I like it, but it sure sounds dramatic: music and The Crown

C’est le ton qui fait la musique.
— French saying

For the longest time, I avoided Netflix’s The Crown, even though I’d mostly heard good things. I knew that they had a strong cast and that the creative team had been involved in films and series I’d liked (though not exclusively – I enjoyed Peter Morgan’s work on, say, The Damned United, but I was decidedly less keen on Bohemian Rhapsody, even if he was responsible for the story rather than the script). My main problem was this: my interest in the Royal Family is, let’s say, minuscule, and I’m no big fan of the British monarchy and the culture it’s a part of. There’s simply not much appeal there for me, especially if part of the attraction seems to lie in enjoying the aesthetics and the iconography, the sheer nobility of it all.

Then this little pandemic happened, my wife and me started spending much more time at home, and there are only so many good HBO series to enjoy, so I guess we started watching The Crown. Personally, I blame Olivia Colman. How could I not be more interested, knowing that she’d be in it before long?

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: Check, mates

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.

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The Corona Diaries: lock ’em up – but give them a camera first!

During the weeks and months of quasi-lockdown and working from home, one of the things that I’ve very much enjoyed (and I’m aware of how privileged I am in that regard) is lunch breaks with my wife, where we sit down, have a bite and watch something short. For a while, we mainly watched the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, as its 20-minute episodes were perfect for a quick break before we’d go back to our computers and resume work.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: The haunting, haunted kind

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest installment 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.

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Lost in Winden: Dark (2017 – 2020)

I don’t like being a snob about pop culture. I don’t like pooh-poohing films or TV series, books, comics or video games, that others seem to love. I generally try to find things to appreciate in most media I consume, and if others like them but I don’t, I try to put that down to personal taste. Sometimes, however, I look at what others say about a piece of pop culture and I simply don’t get it. I cannot reconcile what they say about it with the thing itself. It’s almost as if they watched, read or played something entirely different from me.

Dark isn’t entirely like this for me. There are things I genuinely appreciated in the German mystery series. I recognise some of my own reactions in those of others, but the longer Dark went on, the less I felt I could appreciate the things it was good at or ignore what I thought was decidedly less good. Undoubtedly, the makers of Dark are skilled stylists and the series excels at mood and atmosphere, especially in its first season – but then I read articles that call Dark smart, by people who pat themselves on the shoulder for enjoying such a smart, smart series, and my eyes roll in their sockets so much that all I see is blotchy, shapeless darkness.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #35: Soderbergh’s Schizopolis, Schizopolis’ Soderbergh

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our August episode, we welcome special guest Daniel Thron (of Martini Giant) to talk about what may be the least-watched film of Steven Soderbergh’s directing career: Schizopolis. How does this surreal, experimentalist and often downright silly comedy about doppelgängers, lifestyle cults and failures to communicate fit in the director’s oeuvre? How does Schizopolis point the way to Soderbergh’s later career? And how do Netflix, COVID-19 and TikTok come into the conversation?

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d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our August episode, we welcome special guest Daniel Thron (of Martini Giant) to talk about what may be the least-watched film of Steven Soderbergh’s directing career: Schizopolis. How does this surreal, experimentalist and often downright silly comedy about doppelgängers, lifestyle cults and failures to communicate fit in the director’s oeuvre? How does Schizopolis point the way to Soderbergh’s later career? And how do Netflix, COVID-19 and TikTok come into the conversation?

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Mad Men: Mindhunter (2017-2019)

There was a time when I thought that movie and TV storytelling should just keep away from serial killers for the next, oh, several decades? It’s not because of the horrific subject matter, it’s more that serial killers had become stale in the decade following Silence of the Lambs. The writing was usually lazy, the performances showy but empty, the genre as flat as a glass of Chianti left out in the open overnight. Every return to the psycho well brought with itself diminishing returns, to the point where even the Chef of them all, good old Hannibal Lecter, had been turned into a camp ham, barely any more frightening than the third rubber skeleton from the left in a tacky haunted house ride.

It was David Fincher’s underrated Zodiac (2007) that changed my opinion: here was a film about a serial killer that didn’t rehearse the same tropes. Instead, it told a different story, about the people who, looking for some sort of meaning, for the solution to what they think of as a puzzle, are sucked into the emptiness at the centre of these crimes – and, in some cases, consumed by it. A story where the serial killer isn’t the only one who is obsessed.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: Have we reached the comic book singularity yet?

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest installment 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.

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