Category Archives: Eavesdropping at the Movies

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 362 – Dressed to Kill

 

 

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Problematic and protested against upon its release in 1980, and remaining so today, Dressed to Kill is nonetheless stylish and engrossing, showing off some truly great filmmaking. We talk Psycho and cinema’s transgender villains, why Nancy Allen should have been a star, Brian De Palma’s greatest deaths, and the version of Michael Caine that José doesn’t like.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 360 – Get Carter

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Returning guest Celia joins us from Canada to discuss the 1970s Tyneside noir of Get Carter, a moody story of a man’s investigation into his brother’s death that’s today considered a classic of British cinema. We discuss its setting in Newcastle, Michael Caine’s stardom, the influence of its director, Mike Hodges, along with two other British directors, on Hollywood aethetics, its use of women, and more.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 359 – Wonderland: Birmingham’s Cinema Stories

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Flatpack Festival and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery are running a marvellous exhibition until 30th October 2022: Wonderland tells stories of filmgoing and cinema culture in Birmingham. It begins with the earliest days of cinematic experimentation, including a visit from Eadweard Muybridge to demonstrate his moving images, through the glory days of the picture palaces in the 1930s and 40s, the influence of Asian and Caribbean immigration, and the slump of the 1980s, to where we are today, with a combination of multiplexes and more specialised venues, including, of course, the Electric, which continues to proudly boast the title of the UK’s oldest working cinema.

It’s a densely packed exhibition, full of elegantly and concisely organised information, focusing not only on places and eras but also people: individual attention is given to notable figures such as Iris Barry, the UK’s first female film critic, Waller Jeffs, who popularised cinema in the 1900s with his annual seasons at the Curzon Hall and travelling show, and Oscar Deutsch, the Balsall Heath-born creator of the Odeon brand, the first cinema of which opened in Perry Barr in 1930.

Wonderland: Birmingham’s Cinema Stories is free to visit at BMAG until October 30th, and it’s a must-see for anyone interested in filmgoing in Birmingham. The history it describes is cultural, technological, social and economic, and it’s beautifully curated and designed to just that. It’s also got a big interactive map in the middle where you can look for your house and see the five cinemas that used to be on your road back in 1940. Don’t miss it.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 358 – Vortex

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Gaspar Noé dials down his typical cinematic spectacle to bring us a slow and moving exploration of dementia and how it drives a loving couple apart. He still has one visual trick up his sleeve, however: Vortex uses splitscreen to show us two lives lived in close proximity but not shared. His cameras follow their subjects individually, sometimes observing them go about separate activities, sometimes occupying almost the same perspective as the characters sit together and engage in conversation, nearly giving us a unified widescreen shot that captures both husband and wife in the same frame – but never being able to. But while Vortex is given structure by its visual design, what it depicts is as crucial as how it depicts it. It’s not a sentimental film, but neither is it harsh – and it’s well worth your time.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 356 – Neil Brand Presents Laurel and Hardy

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Listen to our podcast on three of Stan and Ollie’s sound films here.

Composer and musician Neil Brand brings a live show to the Electric Cinema as part of Flatpack Festival – Neil Brand Presents Laurel and Hardy is touring around the country, giving audiences a taste of Stan and Ollie’s work before they were paired together, and showing us what their double act was like before the development of sound cinema. The show culminates in screenings of two of their silent shorts, Big Business and Liberty, accompanied on the piano, of course, by Neil.

It’s a great introduction to both Laurel and Hardy and silent comedy in general, which thrives when accompanied live. Neil’s own passion for the duo, whose films he grew up with, is evident, describing their appeal to him and showing a clip of Stan, a drama he wrote about Stan visiting Ollie on his deathbed. He introduces us to the term “reciprocal destruction”, a term that brilliantly distills something you immediately realise you associate with both Laurel and Hardy and the cartoons their comedy inspired: when someone attacks an opponent, the assailant must then wait for the victim to attack them in return, only then returning fire, each volley increasing in aggression and destructive power, until chaos reigns. And although we take issue with one of the chosen clips, of an early Stan Laurel film that includes a gay stereotype that is used uncritically here to earn laughs, it’s a blip in an accomplished, well-constructed and entertaining show that we recommend you see.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 345 – Death on the Nile (2022)

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

The latest in a long line of star-studded adaptations of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, Death on the Nile sinks without trace under the weight of Kenneth Branagh’s all-consuming ego. Failing to understand that one of the pleasures of such films is the attention given to the impressive cast, he instead gives his focus entirely to his own performance as Poirot, engaging in mythmaking and heroics at the expense of everybody else. In its limited capacity, the focus on Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express worked for Mike – here, there’s no defending it.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 342 – Belfast

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Kenneth Branagh writes and directs a drama based on his own childhood in Belfast, at the time the Troubles began. We discuss the portrayal of a happy family, the lack of effect almost every visual decision has, problems with the storytelling, and the nostalgia that runs throughout the film. It’s not a skilful film, but it is a likeable one.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 341 – Nightmare Alley (1947)

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Listen to our discussion of 2021’s Nightmare Alley here.

We explore 1947’s Nightmare Alley, directed by Edmund Goulding, and compare it to Guillermo del Toro’s new adaptation of the material, which we find superior in almost every way. Mike in particular finds, in the reflection of Goulding’s version, useful ways to appreciate del Toro’s, which at first blush he found uninspiring. We discuss the portrayal and use of the geek, the differences in the introduction of the protagonist (played by Tyrone Power and Bradley Cooper in the old and new films respectively), del Toro’s greater focus on mood and scene setting, and how thoroughly Goulding’s film adheres to the noir genre. And we express our joy at seeing del Toro’s version at the grand reopening of the Electric, the UK’s oldest working cinema, which we completely forgot to do in the last podcast.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 328 – Spencer

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

As he did with 2016’s Jackie, director Pablo Larraín explores the life, image, and legacy of a woman publicly struck by tragedy in Spencer, a fabulistic biopic that imagines a Christmas holiday spent with the royal family at Sandringham, during which Princess Diana struggles with the knowledge of her husband’s affair and the watchful eyes of both the royals and the paparazzi.

We discuss our own relationships to both Larraín and Diana, and consider how the film draws on various aspects of the princess’s public image in painting a portrait of a woman losing her mind. The film is set squarely within that mind, and Mike argues that it uses several tropes and techniques common to horror in order to dramatise Diana’s fracturing mental state. José expresses his love for Kristen Stewart’s outstanding lead performance, one that doesn’t impersonate but evokes, and conveys differing stages of psychosis with subtlety.

We don’t agree on everything, and the film isn’t perfect, but Spencer is a really remarkable, expressive exploration of an iconic figure.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 325 – Last Night in Soho

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated psychological horror, Last Night in Soho, reaches cinemas, and we dive into its themes, its visual magnificence, its relationship to the era and environment it portrays… and its problems. It’s impossible not to admire this film for its lush cinematography, impressive special effects, and the best of its performances, but its screenplay leaves a huge amount to be desired, not just in how it conceptualises the world and people it portrays, but also, more simply, how clumsy it is in telling its story, bafflingly dropping entire character threads that seem like they obviously have places to go, and handling at least one secondary character’s entire subplot very poorly. We discuss the film’s dream logic, or lack thereof; its fear of the very lure of the grimy world it needs to show us, and the moralism that accompanies it; how it trades in nostalgia of Sixties Soho, despite being keen to exhibit is dark side; and the thematic simplicity of almost everything – things are good or bad, to be loved or feared, and room for complexity, there is none.

With all that said, it’s still a very enjoyable couple of hours, a discussion piece, and thanks to its fabulous imagery and in particular the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith, easy to recommend.

P.S. Mike would like to acknowledge that he is aware that in the course of speaking too quickly for his brain to issue timely corrections, he wildly overstated how much the ghostly figures in Last Night in Soho are referred to as “blank” or “blanks”. It happens maybe once or twice, if he remembers rightly, and in passing. But he asserts that nonetheless, their faceless, amorphous, anonymous design and relentless, zombie-like behaviour does make them a fair point of comparison with the Blanks in The World’s End. So nyah.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 324 – Nosferatu (1922)

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

In a chilly outdoor screening at the Coffin Works in Birmingham, we indulge in Nosferatu, F. W. Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist classic. José’s seen it many times, Mike never in its entirety. We discuss how this 100-year-old film holds up today and still entertains a general audience, its differences from and similarities to Dracula, its source material, and more. Including how cold it was. Mike only wore a t-shirt.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 319 – Respect

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Aretha Franklin, an icon of American music, receives a dispiritingly by-the-numbers biopic in Respect, which takes this perfect subject for such a film and does nothing very interesting with her. We discuss, among other topics, the film’s dependence on clichés, its poor lighting, Franklin’s relationship with her father and upbringing in a prosperous household, Jennifer Hudson’s performance in the central role, and that scene, so common to music biopics, in which the signature song is developed.

If one of the functions of the biopic is to introduce newcomers to a person’s work and provide an insight into what made them worthy of their story being told… then the Queen of Soul needs another biopic. Respect certainly isn’t devoid of entertaining and engaging moments, but, ultimately, it fails its subject.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 318 – Undine

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

The fairytale figure of the undine has been used and developed in the arts for two hundred years, and Christian Petzold, whose Transit we loved, brings his clear-eyed but sensitive aesthetic to it in Undine. Paula Beer plays the titular character with transparent emotion, in the opening scene regretfully informing her ex-boyfriend, as he dumps her, that she will have to kill him. It’s a moment that captures the timbre of the film that follows – fantastical, potent, full of drama, but grounded throughout.

We also discuss Undine‘s knowing and deliberate setting against a sociopolitical backdrop, the film devoting significant time to Undine’s lectures on the history of Berlin, tying them and the city to her relationships, and the way the film conveys the tactility of new lovers, unable to keep from touching each other. We disagree on the film’s greatness – to Mike, it’s something of a trifle, particularly in comparison with Transit, but José is in deep love with it. But we’re agreed that it’s well worth your time.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 314 – Free Guy

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Ryan Reynolds’ schtick, so irritating for so long, is winning us back, and Free Guy is built around his entire star persona, the self-effacing originality of which José remarks upon. Reynolds plays Guy, a videogame non-player character – an extra, essentially, following a programmed routine within a virtual world – with a lightness and sweetness that defines the tone of the entire film.

We discuss what the film represents about videogame culture and what it discards, the desire for romance that drives the story, what Mike questions about its ending, and more. Free Guy is a charming and entertaining action comedy, whether you know games or not.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 313 – Stillwater

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Matt Damon gives arguably a career best performance in Stillwater, as a tightly-wound, reserved, Oklahoma roughneck doing his best to support his daughter, who has been convicted of murder and resides in a Marseille prison. We discuss the film’s origins in the real case of Amanda Knox and Meredith Kercher, consider how well the characterisation works and where it might fail, and work through our fundamental responses to the film: for José, it’s is an unusual and complex critique of American society and culture; for Mike, it’s hard to take seriously, its animus obvious and milquetoast. Wherever you land, though, Stillwater is a deeply engrossing drama and worth seeing.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 312 – Shiva Baby

 

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

A chamber piece that asks what happens when your life of carefully constructed lies is exposed, Shiva Baby is a smart, tense comedy set in that most aggravating of situations: the funeral, in which you’re forced to be judged by lots of people you want to avoid but aren’t allowed to kick up a stink. We discuss debut writer-director Emma Seligman’s handling of the story’s shifts in tone, in particular how she intensely ekes out tension; the light in which it depicts its women, who bookend scenes with sarcastic off-screen barbs and gossip; and the main character’s relationship to technology, and how her use of it to seek power is a double-edged sword.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 311 – Jungle Cruise

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Disney has already turned one of its theme park rides into a box office colossus – is it time for another? They seem to think so, bringing us Jungle Cruise, an adaptation of one of the attractions from Disneyland’s grand opening in 1955, the Jungle River Cruise, starring The Rock, who we still refuse to call Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, and Jack Whitehall, as explorers searching for the Tree of Life.

The film gives the ride more than a nod and a wink, The Rock’s character operating a cruise along the Brazilian Amazon, complete with the real ride’s cheesy dad jokes – and there’s effort made to reckon with the attraction’s history of racist representation of indigenous peoples. How successfully it does so is up for debate, the film indulging in its own cultural imperialism – despite being set in Brazil, there isn’t a word of Portuguese spoken; and no matter the purity of their intention, the characters are still in Brazil to take something that doesn’t belong to them.

We also discuss the film’s feminism and sexual politics, as embodied by Blunt’s and Whitehall’s characters, the setting in 1916 and the use of England rather than the USA as a point of origin for its story, and consider who the film is for – Mike sees its relationship with the likes of JumanjiIndiana JonesHook and The Mummy, and is sure that he’d have loved this as a kid as much as he did those. It fails to really explore the poetic potential of some of its ideas, and one too many action scenes feel like they need explosions to keep things exciting, but on the whole, Jungle Cruise is a likeable bit of popcorn fodder with three terrific performances, and chemistry to match.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 310 – The Human Voice

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Freely based, as the closing credits tell us, on Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play of the same name, The Human Voice sees Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar working in the English language for the first time. The play has long been on Almodóvar’s mind, inspiring, significantly, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, among other works of his, and this short film joins the pantheon of adaptations of the play, which has seen its single character, a woman speaking on the phone to an unseen, unheard lover, played by such stars as Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, and Anna Magnani.

Here, Tilda Swinton plays that role, bringing to it a sense of reserve that didn’t quite make sense to José until the final sequence and the resolution to the story – perhaps an effect of having seen the play adapted so many times and not having seen the character played this way before. Conversely, Mike feels he instinctively understands the character, remarking upon her change from being out of place, both geographically and emotionally, to her assumption of control of her world and destiny. José, who identifies with Almodóvar’s work like nobody else’s, picks up on the themes, motifs, visual designs, settings and interests that tie The Human Voice to the rest of his oeuvre, and finds where this short fits in and where it doesn’t. Specifically, he argues that Almodóvar’s control of language and knowledge of how people speak is typically overlooked in favour of his visuals, but here becomes obvious precisely because of the decision to use English rather than Spanish, which results in less poetry and nothing memorable throughout the entire monologue.

That flaw is evident but minor in the scheme of the entire film, which is an elegantly made and interesting study both of Swinton’s character and of Almodóvar’s own style and lifelong interests. The Human Voice is on Mubi, and well worth your time.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 306 – Fast and Furious 9

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

What began twenty years ago as a series of car chases and races has since spiralled out of control into an action behemoth encompassing ten films, a TV series, videogames, and theme park attractions. But for the spinoff film Hobbs & ShawFast and Furious 9 is Mike’s introduction to the Fast & Furious series, with José having seen some of the previous instalments, but not all.

We discuss the soap opera storytelling, the way it expresses humour – what it thinks are jokes are really just aggressive, macho posturing – and what it thinks of intelligence, José contending that it represents the worst of American culture in privileging stupidity and making it victorious, with Mike offering a complementary drop of nuance, arguing that it does at least believe that its heroes are smart… but it’s a stupid person’s idea of what being smart is. Core to the film’s failings is its almost complete lack of irony, only the car-turned-space shuttle indicating that the film has any understanding of comedy and how absurd it all is.

There’s no recommending Fast and Furious 9, its shortcomings exposed by the competence of almost every other action blockbuster (even Hobbs & Shaw, which had its own problems, but was a pleasant surprise). On the basis of this, Mike’s curiosity has been sated, and he’s happy to continue avoiding this godforsaken series for the rest of his life.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 305 – Black Widow

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Marvel’s triumphant return to our cinemas is… a film that fills in a plot hole nobody cared about for a character who not only should have had a standalone film long before now but who has since been killed off. To say that Black Widow feels like a kick in the teeth is an understatement, but still, the MCU is back with us and we see what it has to offer.

And what it presents us with is something much more earthbound than the spacefaring antics in which Marvel has increasingly indulged: a good old-fashioned Russian spy story, and a family reunion of sorts, Natasha Romanoff driven to reconnect with the other undercover Russian agents who formed her surrogate family as a child. We ask whether the theme of family is done justice here, especially David Harbour’s – the father’s – part in its expression. And, among others, we ask questions of the action filmmaking, the lack of humour in heroes, Romanoff’s conceptualisation, how the women are filmed, and whether it’s necessary to eschew edginess in order to pursue a progressive politics.

Black Widow is a film we enjoyed, though on reflection, picking out the reasons why is harder than picking at its flaws – but it certainly hasn’t dampened our willingness to continue following Marvel’s movies.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.