We’re remotely joined by filmmaker, previous guest, and, crucially, Mike’s brother, Stephen Glass, for a discussion of Paul Thomas Anderson’s period romance, Licorice Pizza. Stephen last helped us explore Anderson’s previous film, Phantom Thread, and again brings his knowledge of and passion for the director’s work to our discussion.
We consider the efficiency with which Anderson creates rich portraits of characters and their lives from few details; how the blossoming love between the protagonists, a boy of 15 and woman of 25, avoids feeling exploitative or uneasy as the age difference suggests it might; how the film is able to feel loose and free despite conforming to its genre; the likability, or otherwise, of the setting and era; Anderson’s focus on faces and use of reflective surfaces; and whether one particular running joke that begins as hilariously, stunningly outrageous, overplays its hand and ends up in the realm of the unacceptable.
Licorice Pizza is a sweet romance draped in a loving portrait of a particular place and time, and laced with good jokes. Still, your mileage may vary, as Mike’s devoted, grumpy intransigence in the face of José’s and Stephen’s enthusiasm demonstrates, but even he has to admit it’s a very good film.
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut feature as a director, The Lost Daughter, paints a powerful portrait of Leda, a middle-aged woman for whom motherhood never came naturally, and whose exposure to a young family on holiday ferociously reminds her of her experience of raising two daughters. It’s a film that bravely and forcefully repudiates the notion that motherhood should be natural to women, the key expectation of them, and joyful.
We discuss Olivia Colman’s performance and the appealing ordinariness she’s conveyed on television and in film for two decades, and Gyllenhaal’s direction of a script she wrote, which arguably omits too much context for some of what we see, but which is at its core devoted to telling its story visually, taking opportunities to spend time exploring Leda’s state of mind – although it could work through some of Leda’s behaviour more convincingly. Nonetheless, The Lost Daughter is a striking, expressive film that tells a story we don’t often hear, about a kind of person we don’t often see.
We talk subverted expectations, how an artificial performance makes sense on a character who’s pretending to be something he’s not, the way in which forty years of oppression eats into a person’s soul, rejection of familial expectations and the performance of unspoken fraternal duty, and more, in our discussion of Jane Campion’s fascinating, complex, and beautiful drama, The Power of the Dog.
We’ve enjoyed Adam McKay’s previous couple of films, The Big Short and Vice, in which he dramatises real events in a pointed, opinionated, satirical manner. He now brings the same attitude to the apocalypse, painting a picture of a world in which an asteroid is headed on a collision course with Earth, poised to end the human race’s existence unless something is done… and nobody cares.
We debate its merits and failures, agreeing that it’s a comedy with few laughs, but José arguing for its place in the national theatre of ideas that cinema has always been in America, and as a response to that question we’ve been hearing asked for several years now – how can you satirise a reality that’s this absurd to begin with? Mike asks why McKay’s previous films worked where this fails, and suggests that it’s an inability to be indirect, to work in poetic ways – something that’s effective when being openly sarcastic, as in The Big Short and Vice, but that falls short in Don’t Look Up‘s appeal for earnestness and depth of character.
An ambitious film, then, attempting to holistically satirise the state of things as they currently stand – but at best, a mixed bag.
Paolo Sorrentino reaches into his childhood to tell a story that’s in equal parts comic and tragic, with access to the off-kilter and fabulistic, in The Hand of God – whose title references that infamous goal scored by Diego Maradona, who Sorrentino semi-seriously credits with saving his life – as he dramatises here. We discuss the imagery, the familial banter, the curious opening scene, choosing Naples over Rome, and an oddball friendship with a happy-go-lucky smuggler.
We talk Ali in Wonderland (1975), currently on MUBI. It’s an avant-garde political documentary directed by Djouhra Abouda, and Alain Bonnamy. Its play with form is intended to punch the spectator into awareness, and thus very much part of the Deconstructionist zeitgeist of its time. We discuss the use of split screen, distortions, slow motion on beat, juxtapositions; its rendering of historical memory; the way the film connects colonialism with migration. It’s a work you’d perhaps now expect to find more readily in a gallery rather than in a cinema, like an installation, and worth seeing for many reasons, which we discuss in the podcast below.
The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT
‘Ali is a film on time and wear. The derision and melancholy of history. The directors well demonstrate the political link between colonialism and migration. It’s not a militant film. It’s something else: a look which derails the quotidian and returns to the misery and exploitation, of which migrant workers are the victims, an element of the fantastic. The real, edited and displayed, is more powerful and surprising than fiction; it is also more violent than political discourse (translation is my my own and possibly thus imperfect).
“Ali au pays des merveilles est un film sur le temps et l’usure. La dérision et la mélancolie de l’histoire. Les auteurs montrent bien le lien politique entre la colonisation et l’émigration. Ce n’est pas un film militant. C’est autre chose : un regard qui détourne le quotidien et redonne à la misère et à l’exploitation dont sont victimes les travailleurs émigrés, les dimensions du fantastique. Le réel donné et découpé est encore plus fort, plus surprenant que la fiction : il est aussi plus violent que le discours politique”
Tahar Ben Jelloun , Djouhra et Ali au pays des merveilles, Le Monde, 3 janvier 1977
I’ve spent almost all the Christmas holidays so far obsessing over Yaoi Manga. They’re written by women, mainly for a female audience but are about gay relationships. There’s always an older guy who’s top; a younger more androgynous one (like Bowie, or Tadzio) who constantly gets raped. The external world is a yakuza one of crime, physical action, and sexual brutality. The leads, however, think only of their all-encompassing feeling. The only impediment to their love is what each feels for the other, homophobia only manifested as a prelude to a rape, which is endured but often results in sexual pleasure. There are usually no women at all in these S&M-y gay stories written by women for women, or at best a fleeting appearance (a prostitute; a kidnap victim). The external world is ruled by power relations, wealth and money; the internal world by power relations that are dissolved through mutuality of feeling that goes beyond passion. I thought these were all fascinating original observations based on a vast amount of current reading and was slightly deflated to find them all (with greater depth and range) in the genre’s wikipedia page.
After eighteen years away and vast changes in the blockbuster landscape in which it once broke incredible new ground, the Matrix series is back with a fourth film, The Matrix Resurrections. Keanu Reeves’ Neo is once again plugged into the Matrix as Thomas Anderson, but having trouble separating reality from dreams of events that happened twenty years ago… if dreams are what they are.
We discuss Resurrections‘ endless self-reflexivity, how it uses motifs and themes of the previous films, updating them where necessary and bringing more out of them (Mike is glad of the much improved use of mirrors). We also consider the film’s inclusivity, which is key to the Wachowskis’ work, and an uncomplicated joy here – it’s not difficult for people from a range of ethnic backgrounds and situated in different places along sexual and gender spectra to coexist in a blockbuster with no particular importance placed upon their identities, as Resurrections proves. You just have to want to do it, and the world that results is beautiful. And, at heart, it’s a middle-aged romance – for which José swoons!
Resurrections isn’t without its issues, and we consider those too – Mike asks whether the sense of wonder associated with the special effects of the original films is simply gone forever in a world in which literally anything can be done, and is, with all-powerful CGI, and we agree that the action is a Bourne-inflected disappointment, especially so in a series that itself spawned so many imitators of its own action scenes two decades ago.
But seen in its entirety, The Matrix Resurrections is an imaginative and interesting continuation of the story begun twenty years ago, and a holistic triumph of well-intentioned, positive and effortless representation. Whoever thought we’d get a fourth Matrix? And that it would be this different, and this good?
We discuss Chahine’s last film, Le Chaos, and are delighted by what we see; a political melodrama that offers all the pleasures of the genre — one feels for these people who long for love and freedom but who aren’t allowed to achieve their wants through repressive social and state mechanisms. The villain is a torturer and rapist. Chahine’s achievement is that he makes him understandable, whilst offering a Marxist critique of a corrupt culture through a film that always sides with the powerless. The mise-en-scène is masterful; the film is brilliant. Thanks very much to the kind friend who made it possible for us to see it. We have 15 more Chahine films we have not been able to source; so if any of you know where we can buy/source/see them, we would appreciate it. In the podcast we also discuss how the film can be seen as an amalgamation of recurring Chahine thematics as well as recurring visual motifs and we try to connect this film to the rest of his oeuvre. It’s one to see.
The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT
Listeners might be interested in comparing the way the film was marketed in Egypt:
…an in France:
also, this is the Variety article where Richard picked up the information about Khaled Youssef’s involvement
I talk to Max Bawtree about Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-Ho, South Korea, 2003), focussing on its use of violence, representation of gender, and the importance of cinematography and framing throughout. The podcast may be listened to here:
Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story is here at last. The obvious question it raises is just why such a well-regarded film needs a remake – and the answer quickly becomes clear. Robert Wise’s 1961 adaptation of the 1957 stage musical is indeed a classic, but this new version comes from and enters a different America, one in which its message, José argues, is more urgently needed but faces a more difficult challenge to be heard. And on top of that, it’s just a really good film.
We discuss the film’s use of colour and lighting, the brutality of the violence and believability of the gang, the purpose and effects of having a lot of dialogue spoken in entirely unsubtitled Spanish, and much more. The songs are timeless, the romance heartfelt, the imagery beautiful. West Side Story is a great success.
I talk to Dominic Thornton about Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: Retribution, with Dom trying to persuade me of Anderson’s merits as a filmmaker, focusing on his stylistic approach to action, the star power of Milla Jovovich, and how Resident Evil can be read through the lens of Baudrillard’s ideas of the simulacra.
The podcast may be listened to here:
A discussion with Emily Jackman on Blade Runner (Scott, 1982), its influences, its impacts and its cultural significance, across all areas of culture, including fashion:
In 1975, caring for her infant son and unable to spend much time away from home, Agnès Varda turned her camera on her neighbours on her street, Rue Daguerre in Paris. In Daguerréotypes – the title a pun on the photographic process for whose inventor the road is named – she both observes them at work, running their shops and providing their services, and asks them questions about their lives, discovering where they’re originally from (most are not Paris natives) and how they met their husbands and wives. It’s a gentle, relaxed form of portraiture, one that combines imagery of the practicalities of daily work with the subjects’ descriptions of dreams and histories – although the use of a travelling magician’s show is arguably a little too precious. We discuss the different ways in which we respond to their stories, José commenting on Varda’s clear affection for the subjects, Mike arguing that there’s a tragic dimension that overhangs the film, with talk of dreams and escape.
Daguerréotypes is a sensitive portrait of a local community and a time capsule of an era that is now half a century old, and worth watching.
Eunsoo Lee and José Arroyo discussed Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Compared to other representative SF films before 2000, A.I.‘s David may exist as a character who desires to be a human being, but it also can be said he represents a new style of mecha narrative in which the human being is not the right aim. In addition, With the theory of SAVE THE CAT, Eunsoo discusses SF narratives as genre arts. As a film genre, they discuss to what extent the SF narrative is able to offer a variety of narrative styles.
The podcast may be listened to here:
I talk to Théo Stöcklin to discuss the violence depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). We debate the necessity and morality of such graphical violence which brought significant media attention at the time. We also discuss the other kinds of violence, including the systemic and psychological violence of the Ludovico experiment as well as the film’s misogynist gaze.
The podcast can be listened to here: