Category Archives: Eavesdropping at the Movies

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 303 – The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

The sequel to one of the first films we discussed on Eavesdropping at the Movies, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard reunites Samuel L. Jackson’s hitman, Ryan Reynolds’ bodyguard, and Salma Hayek’s hitman’s wife – whose role is significantly expanded from the first film’s bit part. The vaguely sketched plot – Antonio Banderas wants to blow up Europe or something, and that’s enough detail – is the wire hanger upon which jokes and comic character interplay are draped, but, crucially, is the comedy successful?

Whether it is or isn’t, and what we read into the audience response, is up for discussion, as is the deployment of the stars’ personas and cinematic histories, what renders Ryan Reynolds’ schtick endearing here where it’s normally irritating, and whether the film’s sexual dimension is overly vulgar or too one-sided.

José has seen The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard twice now, and is no less in thrall to Hayek’s aggressive, wild performance the second time, loudly and enthusiastically responding to it. Mike is much less impressed with the film, but does admit to warming up to it in the second half, after a particularly mad joke that we won’t spoil here (but do in the podcast). If there are more Hitman’s Bodyguard films to come, hopefully with increasingly deliberately clunky titles, we’re up for them.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 302 – In the Heights

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

Before Lin-Manuel Miranda shot to fame in the mid-2010s with Hamilton, he had already enjoyed success with his 2005 musical, In the Heights, with a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, winning four Tonys for its Broadway production in 2008. Set in Washington Heights, a largely Dominican neighbourhood in Upper Manhattan, it now comes to cinemas, following the lives, struggles and dreams of its inhabitants, who simply cannot stop singing.

Well, singing and rapping – and it’s the rapping that shines, Miranda’s lyrics as witty and intricate as those in Hamilton, while the singing is less impressive, and the domain of the film’s women, who Mike wishes had been given the opportunity to rap. We discuss our disappointment in the direction – the film is full of visual ideas that aren’t executed to their fullest potential – and its relationship to the cultures and peoples it portrays.

In the Heights has its flaws, but despite them, it’s an immensely likeable portrait of life in its locale, José in particular, an immigrant to North America himself, recognising a lot of what it depicts and loving the way it shows off the cultures around which it’s based. We pick fault with it, because that’s what we do, but don’t let that stop you from seeing and enjoying it.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 301 – Come and See

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

We explore Come and See, a 1985 Soviet film whose reputation precedes it – it’s regarded as one of the greatest war films of all time. In 1943 Belarus, a young teenager, Flyora, joins the resistance, but as he travels from village to village across Nazi-occupied Belarus, experiencing worsening horrors and atrocities brought upon the locals, the extent to which he is out of his depth gradually becomes clearer and clearer.

Part of Come and See‘s reputation is of being hard to watch, something we both take issue with – it goes to some deeply unpleasant places, but it’s a gradual descent rather than an onslaught. That the film is regarded as such a trial has likely caused some filmgoers to unnecessarily avoid an experience that they would value. While it depicts shocking imagery and events, it’s shot with an ethical eye – everything that’s shown has a purpose, and that which would be excessively prurient is often avoided.

We also consider the use of supernatural and fairytale aesthetics to place us in the mind of an innocent teenager, and the repeated portrait photography that shows the deepening scars the film’s events leave upon him. We also discuss the film’s view of Hitler and how it espouses a kind of great man theory in placing him as an icon at the centre of the Nazis’ crimes, and the explosion of audiovisual imagination that is the final scene.

Come and See is a beautifully made expression of the hideous costs of war on the innocent, and on our humanity. It’s imaginative, intelligent, moving and shocking, and, we might add, beautifully restored. If you’ve avoided it on the basis of its notoriety, we urge you to reconsider. It’s truly great.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 300 – A Quiet Place Part II

Our 300th podcast!

 

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

A Quiet Place Part II picks up moments after its 2018 predecessor ends, its characters desperate for refuge from the terrifying predators hunting them. Seeking survivors, they encounter a family friend, now a recluse, having lost his wife and children. Emboldened by her discovery of a way to combat the aliens, the family’s deaf daughter makes a beeline for a radio station she believes can help, and what was a home invasion horror becomes an action adventure.

While accommodating this alteration in tone, A Quiet Place Part II offers, as sequels tend to do, more of what made the first film so successful, and it’s terrifically entertaining cinema – but a diminished experience, compared to its predecessor, in almost every way. We consider the film’s view of society, the uncritical whiteness in its casting and its inability to imagine ways of living that don’t involve the nuclear family unit; and the lack of threat we feel, despite its functional and well-orchestrated set-pieces – we simply never feel like these characters are at any real risk of being allowed to die.

We have problems with A Quiet Place Part II, but don’t let them dissuade you from seeing it. It’s exciting and made José jump time and time again – we just wish, both in cinematic and social terms, it could see beyond its rather narrow boundaries.

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

Hou Hsiao-hsien 18: Context 9 – Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema (Chinlin Hsieh, 2014)

A discussion of FLOWERS OF TAIPEI, a documentary on Taiwan New Cinema. José saw it twice; the first time finding it interesting but almost instantly forgettable; the second time it incensed him, seeming an attempt to get a production to pay for a director’s networking opportunities rather than a work that actually illuminates what Taiwan New Cinema might be; its history, contexts, development. We do get to see it’s impact on major names from East Asia. Richard is as always the voice of reason. The podcast can be listened to below:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

The Jackie Chan referred to can be seen below:

Images constituting a list of people interviewed for the film, in chronological order, can be seen below:

An image that interested me:

An image that made no sense in the film (who are these people and why are we being shown them?).

 

José

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 298 – Witness for the Prosecution

Billy Wilder directs this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, a courtroom drama concerning a man on trial for the murder of an old woman – did he do it? What’s up with his wife? Will his lawyer’s nurse catch him smoking? As with Christie’s stageplay, The Mousetrap, upon the film’s conclusion, the audience is kindly asked to refrain from revealing its twists and revelations, but we at Eavesdropping at the Movies respect no such requests. Spoilers within.

Charles Laughton is pleasingly hammy, Marlene Dietrich composed, and Tyrone Power a loud, sweaty, stressed out mess – and somehow mostly in the background, despite his central role as the accused murderer. We discuss their performances and characters, the pleasures and methods of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, and Wilder’s direction, which hopes, in that classic Hollywood style, to render technique invisible. Witness for the Prosecution is an engrossing mystery filled with interesting bits of business that enrich its characters, and a classic.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 297 – Spiral

Listen to our podcast on Jigsaw here.

Cinema is back! And to celebrate, we see the new spin-off of the Saw series, Spiral, which… is not a good film. But it gives us much to think on, especially the surprisingly big names of its cast, which includes Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Max Minghella. Slasher series don’t traditionally accommodate stars, but, beyond the fact that they’re typically too expensive, Spiral offers a warning against their presence: the screentime they require pulls too much attention away from the thrills, the reason we’re really there. The deaths we’re accustomed to enjoying in Saw films just aren’t given to us in sufficient excess or quantity in Spiral; Chris Rock’s protagonist, a detective hunting a Jigsaw copycat, dominates the story. As if catching the murderer is more exciting than watching him work. Honestly.

Despite our disappointment in the film, we enjoy our return to the cinema after nine months away, José finding a new appreciation for the meditative quality of submitting himself to a movie he can’t pause in a darkened room, after a year of experiencing a fractured, distracted mental state watching streaming media. Mike likes the bigness of the screen, and that’s as far as his introspection takes him. In an increasingly vaccinated Britain, this return to the cinema is more optimistic than the shaky and short-lived reopening of last summer, and feels like it stands a good chance of lasting. And a damn good thing, too. We’ve missed it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 296 – And Then There Were None (1945)

We explore René Clair’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel of – in the US – the same name, And Then There Were None. In terms of quality, it’s nothing to write home about, sadly, but is interesting nonetheless.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 293 – Promising Young Woman

We’re joined by returning guest Celia, on the phone from Canada, to discuss writer-director Emerald Fennell’s unusual revenge thriller, Promising Young Woman. Following the rape and – implied – suicide of her friend Nina, which goes unpunished, Carey Mulligan’s Cassie drops out of medical school, and now spends her nights feigning drunkenness, allowing men to pick her up and take her home, alarming them with her sobriety as they begin to sexually assault her. When a chance reunion with a former classmate reveals that Nina’s rapist is engaged, Cassie embarks upon a campaign of vengeance against those she considers responsible for and involved in committing and allowing her friend’s rape and its cover-up.

Celia loves it, finding that it invokes and brings to life many subtle and important observations about life for women in the patriarchy, enjoying the various forms Cassie’s revenge takes – particularly the “exercises in forced empathy”, in her words – and feeling a call to arms; José decidedly doesn’t, decrying those observations and revenges as cinematically unrealised in what is merely a filmed essay, albeit one that admirably exhibits a style, an aesthetic and a point of view. Mike bravely sits in the middle, pretending to be superior to the other two by virtue of not exhibiting an extreme response to the film. The discussion is varied and passionate – and full of spoilers. Love it or hate it, Promising Young Woman is a thought-provoking, vital film, and well worth watching.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

I made a trailer for the podcast which can be seen below:

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 292 – Affair in Trinidad

 

Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford star in Gild– sorry, Affair in Trinidad, Hayworth’s first film upon her return to Hollywood after four years away, and a blatant rip-off of a certain classic film noir from 1946. (There’s also a chunk of Notorious thrown in for good measure.) Expensively cobbled together at Columbia boss Harry Cohn’s instruction, its production was rushed, with its script barely presentable and Vincent Sherman’s direction lazy, but audiences weren’t put off – it made $7m domestically, blockbuster box office in 1952.

Now featured as part of Columbia Noir #2, a box-set from the same series that includes The Garment Jungle, we take the opportunity to see what Affair in Trinidad has to offer – for José, the answer is, “not much, besides Rita Hayworth, gorgeous gowns and rich cinematography” – and discuss more besides, including Hayworth’s name and image, and how and why they were changed. Affair in Trinidad is far from a good film, but one of historical interest, and certainly worth seeing for any fan of Rita Hayworth.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 291 – Sound of Metal

A film that offers a beautiful evocation of community, as Riz Ahmed’s drummer suddenly loses most of his hearing and joins a retreat for the deaf, Sound of Metal also feels regrettably, and unforgivably, dishonest in some of the ways it engineers its story. In this respect, we disagree over one of the film’s key scenes, but agree about what it goes on to depict in the final act. Despite the severe problems we have with the film, it has pleasures to offer, including an outstanding central performance from Ahmed, whose wide-eyed, puppy-dog expressions transparently convey fear, anger, worry and determination, sometimes all at once. For Ahmed alone, it’s worth seeing Sound of Metal.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 290 – Godzilla vs. Kong

The fourth entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse, the first crossover in the series, sees a journey to the center of the Earth and Hong Kong made the playground of its titular colossi. In this cinematic universe seeking to challenge Marvel et al., Mike finds visual splendour and an ambition to reach for something a little more meaningful than your usual blockbusters. Indeed, the character of Godzilla, in particular, is well-known to derive from Japan’s horrific experience as history’s first and only target of nuclear warfare, and Mike argues that the MonsterVerse seeks to continue to use its creatures as giant metaphors that punch and breathe fire, unleashed by humanity’s insatiable consumption and arrogant claim on the natural world. José isn’t that impressed with this reading, but finds things to enjoy, particularly the beautiful imagery – though, he argues, while it demonstrates incredible skill and craft on the part of the artists who created it, art is precisely what it lacks. But luckily, although we butt heads over Godzilla vs. Kong, Birmingham remains intact.

Our podcast on Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Mike’s review of 2014’s Godzilla

José’s review of 2014’s Godzilla

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 289 – The Trial of the Chicago 7

At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, riots erupted when thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police. Seeking to crush the energetic counterculture, the US government put on trial a group of eight defendants, some political organisers, some cultural radicals, some with hardly any influence, a pacifist, and a Black Panther, hoping to convict them for conspiracy to incite the riots. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is a good fit for this story, the disparate group of defendants arguing amongst themselves sharply, and many scenes flowing beautifully towards their own internal climaxes; the same cannot be said of his direction, the film lacking much visual flair and instinct for expressive imagery.

We revisit our common theme of British actors playing Americans, José finding more fault with it here than Mike does – we can, at least, agree that Sacha Baron Cohen’s accent is atrocious, his Abbie Hoffman a weak point. Mike expounds upon how much he hates himself for how much he likes Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, comfort food for the American left, which he sees echoes of here.

We find flaw upon flaw with The Trial of the Chicago 7, but despite every one of them, it’s an immensely watchable film with a terrific ensemble cast and entertaining dialogue. With an awareness of its limitations and economy with the truth, we recommend it.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 288 – The Father

Anthony Hopkins is magnificent as The Father‘s title character, an old man losing his grip on reality to dementia, in debut director Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own stage play. We discuss the techniques the film uses to situate the audience within the mind of a dementia sufferer, and whether they lose their potency as the film develops. The Father‘s origins on stage are obvious in its sparse setting and focus on dialogue, and we suggest that the raw power of seeing the performances live, an immediacy, is lost here – though the cast, particularly Hopkins and Olivia Colman, are impressive nonetheless. Mike argues that the film somehow lacks enough plot to even fill its 97-minute duration, and would have worked better as a short film – José suggests that it ends up in cliché.

Still, for a while at least, it’s an extraordinarily effective dramatisation of what it might feel like to suffer from dementia, convinced of your own mental acuity while contradicted by everyone and everything around you. The Father doesn’t offer a pleasant experience, but it is a valuable one.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 287 – Minari

A gentle drama about Korean immigrants making a life for themselves in 1980s Arkansas, Minari‘s tone is consistently light, despite some of the upsetting events that occur. Mike argues that it reflects a child’s perspective of life, protected by their parents from the worst of life, or simply not understanding the darkness in what they experience – writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based the film on his own upbringing on a farm in Arkansas. José identifies strongly with the story, commenting on the similarities and differences with his youth as a Spanish immigrant to Canada. Minari is a good-natured film with no room for cynicism, and, for José, a joyous experience to watch.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

Peter Kim George has a wonderful piece on the film that amongst many other riches also touches on the issue of casting, which is becoming a recurring concern of mine. He writes, ‘

Another issue is that Steven Yeun is miscast as Jacob. He is miscast for the same reason he was so superbly cast in Okja and Burning — Yeun’s bodily mannerisms and speech are American through and through. By mannerisms, I mean those dimensions of culture and nationality that trickle into the most basic, lived instincts of how one sits in a chair or expresses hesitation. In Okja and Burning, it imbues a hybrid otherness to his character, which works so well in Bong’s and Lee’s films, respectively. Chung notes in an interview that he had originally imagined the role of Jacob for someone from Korea.

Still, it is difficult to write that Yeun is miscast in Minari, for several reasons. One, a mostly non-Korean viewership (still a remarkable feat in itself for a non-English language film) is unlikely to notice that Yeun quite obviously does not fit the mold of a man who comes of age in 1960s and 70s South Korea, so why bring it up? Add to which how prominently Yeun features in the film’s marketing and press — a Korean actor may have been a better fit, but certainly would not have given Minari its visibility. ‘

 

Also Kevin B. Lee has produced a very interesting video essay some of you may want to follow up on.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 286 – Zack Snyder’s Justice League

In 2017, Justice League, DC’s answer to Marvel’s continuing Avengers crossovers, flopped. Director Zack Snyder had left the film several months before release, his role taken over by MCU regular Joss Whedon, and significant changes were made in an attempt to lighten the tone of what had so far been a rather bleak series. Immediately, talk erupted of a director’s cut – the so-called Snyder Cut – that would represent Snyder’s true vision, uncompromised by studio executives’ fears and directives. Initially no more than a meme responding to that film’s quality, it was given oxygen by Zack Snyder’s insistence that it did actually exist, and it now reaches us via online streaming in the age of Covid-19. There’s perhaps no other set of circumstances in which it would have been made real – on top of the original budget, the creation of this director’s cut cost some additional $70m – but what an opportunity to compare and contrast two versions of the same film.

At four hours in length, this is a version of Justice League that would never have seen a theatrical release, but the time it affords its characters to develop is welcome, and a huge improvement over the sketchy treatment some of them received in the original film – particularly Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher, who arguably becomes the central character in the Snyder Cut. We discuss and disagree on the decision to change the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 to 1.33:1, which José loves but Mike considers a mistake, and look over a few key scenes and shots to explore the differences between Snyder’s and Whedon’s aesthetics.

And we discuss that new ending, additional scenes which help the Snyder Cut conceive of the overall story as epic, mythological fantasy, and more.

It’s a surprise to us both that we enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Justice League as much as we did, but there you have it. The four hours flew by and if this leads to the studio’s renewed interest in completing Snyder’s planned series, we’re up for it.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 285 – Nomadland

Frances McDormand and a cast of non-professional, real-life nomads unite to explore the life of the modern American itinerant in Nomadland. We consider the line between fiction and reality, the non-professionals who appear bringing their real experiences and stories with them, and discuss what drives a person to their way of life. Like director Chloé Zhao’s previous feature, The RiderNomadland is a textural, contemplative film, and perhaps one that grows in stature upon reflection – while José loved every moment, Mike was bored by the tempo, but finds much to praise nonetheless. A film worth taking the time to sink into.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 283 – Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Ethics and truth in the land of documentary come under the microscope in our discussion of Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s love letter to his childhood friend, Andrew Bagby, is a sensational and moving film that you should know as little as possible about before watching. It’s exceptionally effective, built out of a combination of interviews, home footage, still photos and more, masterfully edited to generate emotional affect – but despite its qualities, there are real issues fundamental to its form. It’s a hybrid of two types of film that find themselves in competition here: it’s a documentary, a form about openness and truth; and a thriller, withholding information until it reshapes everything you’ve learned so far. It’s a tension that may well be impossible to avoid – to resolve it might be to totally change Dear Zachary from the deeply personal, passionately made film it is.

The story Dear Zachary tells is powerful, moving and utterly gripping, and the conversation to which it will lead you is rich and illuminating. We recommend it without reservation, even though we have serious reservations about it.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 282 – Lapsis

First-time writer-director Noah Hutton imagines, in Lapsis, a near-future gig economy dystopia that isn’t that different from our own. Unable to pay for his brother’s healthcare, Dean Imperial’s Ray takes on contracting work for a Google-esque tech giant, hiking through forests laying cables. Imperial’s performance is a standout, his Ray always sympathetic and legible, and Hutton’s sketchy, piecemeal world-building suits the film – until it doesn’t. Lapsis creates a recognisable milieu and has a leftist politic with which we broadly agree and are happy to see, but as its story develops it wants to evoke the feeling of doom one would expect of a revealed conspiracy, without the burden of having to bring together its disparate subplots and building blocks in order to explain anything.

Despite our reservations, we enjoyed Lapsis and are glad to have seen it, and are keen to see what comes next for Noah Hutton and Dean Imperial.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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