Category Archives: Eavesdropping at the Movies

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 371 – Beast

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The absence of presence that is Idris Elba, who we’d like to like one day, stars in Beast, a Jurassic Park knock-off that pitches him against both his distant daughter and an excessively affectionate lion. It’s a film that Mike enjoyed unironically but can’t claim to find much quality in; José, showing off, provides a coherent response, seeing the film’s weaknesses and having no fun.

It’s a mechanical film in more ways than one. The character relationships crash inelegantly into place, the action hasn’t met an idea from a better film that it didn’t try to copy – and the seats share the load, tilting and rumbling along with the images. For reasons beyond our understanding, our local Cineworld offered Beast only in 4DX, the theme park-style augmented exhibition format that purports to enhance the cinematic experience through practical effects such as moving seats, wind, and strobe lighting. It’s a technology that José despises to its core, arguing that it betrays a lack of trust in the film’s own ability to excite its audience, while Mike, who is in his thirties, likes filling himself up with fizzy liquid and sugar and being shaken around all afternoon.

Still, no amount of physical animation can either distract from or add to the vacuum of cinematic substance that is Idris Elba, Beast‘s central problem and central lack. It makes for a film you won’t regret ignoring.

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

 

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 370 – Nope

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Nope, Jordan Peele’s third film as writer-director, following his zeitgeist-capturing Get Out and complex, ambitious Us, invites its audience to speculate on audiences and spectacle. The kinds of things it wants us to think about are clear, and we discuss its themes of commercialised tragedy, fear of the audience, and photography as truth, among others – but what it has to say about them is at best muddled, and, more frankly, disappointingly uncritical. Like Peele’s previous films, Nope is a terrific conversation starter, but unlike them, its contribution to that conversation is weak.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 369 – Bullet Train

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David Leitch, who directed the surprisingly enjoyable Hobbs & Shaw, delivers another surprisingly enjoyable action comedy. Bullet Train is set upon the eponymous Japanese train, which, for two hours, hosts an assortment of assassins getting into scraps and scrapes at the behest of their various employers. It’s stylish, funny, smart, and features a wonderful central comic presence from Brad Pitt, who seems to have relaxed into himself in recent years, his performances exhibiting a delightful spontaneity. Definitely worth a watch, and going on the trailers, Mike really didn’t think he’d be saying that.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 368 – Psycho (1960)

 

 

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We visit the MAC for a screening of the new 4k restoration of Psycho, one of the most analysed films of all time, and arguably director Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous. It’s a film we’ve both seen several times, but not for a few years, and in the cinema setting for which it’s meant, instead of the classroom, there’s a renewed and reinvigorated wonder to its imagery and editing.

We share our feelings about this screening, remark upon things we’d forgotten or had never noticed before, discuss how elements of the film have aged, and compare it to Brian de Palma’s Dressed to Kill, which was, shall we say, inspired by Psycho, and which we recently saw. We find plenty of room for criticism, but although we conclude that Psycho works for us more as a collection of a few iconic scenes than a thoroughly engrossing story from beginning to end, those scenes shine, and nowhere more vividly than on a cinema screen.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 367 – Elvis

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Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is here: a colourful, expressive telling of the story of Elvis Presley, through the eyes of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who opens the film by claiming that he’s not the villain he’s renowned to have been. But the film flattens any complexities in the history it tells so thoroughly that we have no option but to continue to see him as one.

Still, it starts vibrantly and excitingly, understands and loves the sexual allure of Elvis – the lengthy introduction to him leads up to a fabulous scene of crotch-gyration – and Austin Butler is fantastic in the starring role. But once it settles down, is it anything more than a filmed Wikipedia page? Does it offer insight into the story it tells? José will have to tell you, because Mike fell asleep.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 362 – Dressed to Kill

 

 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.