A quick note on Christopher DiRaddo’s The Family Way

To create a novel that is at once suffused with kindness and yet a page turner is a rare and wondrous thing. I can’t recommend Christopher Di Raddo’s The Family Way enough. It’s not a literary novel and it won’t gobsmack you with the beauty of its sentences nor the sophistication of its theoretical underpinnings . But it has characters you’ll recognise in places you’ll be familiar with wondering about things you might be wondering about now. It is a gentle, nuanced exploration of the importance of various kinds of families — the ones we make, the ones we’re excluded from, the ones we’re born into, the ones that are thrust on us, and, after being initially resistant to what I saw as the yuppyness of it all,  I ended up being very moved by it. But the main reason I’m going on about it so is that I was gripped by a narrative propulsed by kindness. It’s Di Raddo’s second novel and I’ll bet it will find a big audience if marketed properly. Certainly those on the lookout for a hit TV mini-series would be smart to have a look.

José Arroyo

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.

 

Some more thoughts on Mildred Pierce

Preparing a class on Mildred Pierce and binged on the Todd Haynes TV series yesterday, which I thought beautiful and moving. It reinforced my feeling that cinema is not only condensed — condensed I suppose could also mean insufficient, missing out important bits, truncated — but poetic; that that condensed form needs to be used variously, that everything has to contribute, allegorise, fulfil the obvious function and do something else. Even the speech in the Curtiz version seems to mean not only what it says literally but also something else. The Haynes version also uses visuals beautifully but has more space. Curtiz’s visuals are striking; and that also made me think of a comparison of the performances in the two adaptations. Crawford is so impactful, and her performance certainly hits all the notes….but not the spaces between the notes like Kate Winslet does in the Haynes version. Winslet moved me so whereas Crawford leaves me awestruck. Anyway, a thought.

The close-up below, part of the magnificent star entrance at the beginning of Mildred Pierce. After two years away from the screen (not counting her cameo in Hollywood Canteen), Crawford returns in rainy streets, under lamp-pots, weaving in and out of the shadows wearing fur that seems to bristle with a dark and luxurious sensuality….and now about to throw herself from a bridge. Why? It’s terrific…and a hint of what Crawford might have carried over from her ‘Silent’ movie days.

‘The wool gets pulled from her eyes’: light as dramatic revelation and narrative device:

Mildred Pierce is chock-a-block with brilliant examples of the Expressionist work so characteristic of Curtiz. This moment, were Bert finds his wife has remarried is a favourite, partly because it’s not only expressive in many ways (Burt’s feelings, his anger, perhaps jealousy) but also via the shadows and timing, that they’re hidden, only partly perceptible, and full of a passion and violence we haven’t seen him exhibit before.

Winslet in the TV version, shot like a woman in a Hopper painting — lonely, lost — but also evoking another range of feeling: anxiety, fear, defeat, desperation. The look in the last five seconds or so is beautiful.

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 25: Contexts 15 – Growing Up (Chen Kunhou, 1983)

We discuss this absorbing and extremely likeable film in the context of New Taiwanese Cinema. Chen Kunhou was then Hou’s regular cinematographer. This feels , to an extent,  like a transition between the style of the earlier Hou films and the later ones. Hou Hsiao-hsien collaborated on the screenplay and we compare this to Hou’s earlier films (and find it lacking). There’s a sense that that this is a first try for ideas that were better developed in Boys from Fengkuei & Time to Live and a Time to Die.

There are spoilers in the podcast. The film is a maternal melodrama, where the mother’s point of view is sidelined in favour of the son’s, the husband’s, the society, a childhood schoolmate of the son. We find fault with the screenplay, the structure and the visual story-telling. What in Hou feel like ellipses that afford depth, here  come across as unbelievable plot holes or plot twists. We are nonetheless very charmed by it and highly recommend.

The podcast my 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

An example of the clumsy visual story-telling we refer to may be found below:

 

José Arroyo

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.

On The Rocketeer and The Mark of Zorro — Not Just For Kids podcast

I’m delighted to have been invited to the Not Just for Kids Podcast to discuss The Rocketeer and The Mark of Zorro:

The web link is here:

https://notjustforkids.libsyn.com/chapter-8-swashbuckling-nostalgia-the-rocketeer-the-mask-of-zorro

 

Aug 25, 2021

“He probably wears the mask to hide his bald head and unsightly features.”

For those who cherish Disney, worship at the altar of Spielberg, love nothing more than immersing themselves into the world of Aardman, let us introduce you to Not Just For Kids. This is the podcast that revisits the films we cherished growing up, be they family films or something we maybe shouldn’t have been watching. Host Russell Bailey continues our four series as we wallow in the 90s.

The film academic and co-host of Eavesdropping at the Movie, Jose Arroyo joins to wallow in the nostalgia of The Rocketeer and The Mask of Zorro

Email us: notjustforkidspodcast@gmail.com

Find us on Twitter, Instagram and Letterboxd: @adultstoopod

Give the Not Just For Kids Movie Club a listen: https://anchor.fm/russell-bailey2

Follow Jose on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoseArroyo16

Listen to Eavesdropping at the Movies: https://eavesdroppingatthemovies.com/

Other links worth your time –

The influence of Adventure of Robin Hood on 90s cinema (including The Rocketeer): https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/584997495

Hou Hsiao-hsien: 24 Contexts 14 -That Day On The Beach (Edward Yang, 1982)

Two old friends reunite after 13 years apart. Tan Weiqing  (Terry Hu) was in love with the brother of Jia LI (Sylvia Chan) but the couple were forced to separate after he was forced into an arranged marriage with someone else. This ruined his life. Jia Li ran away to marry for love but ended up just as unhappy as her brother and her friend. Tan Weiqing lost herself in her work and became a famous concert pianist; the other started a successful business, but only after her husband disappeared, one day, at the beach. Did he die? Did he ran off to Japan after scamming millions from his work?.Could someone do that to someone they loved?  Will Jia Li ever know? Does it matter? A poetic exegis on love, loss and happiness with a focus on women’s perspectives and experiences; a melodrama in art cinema mode, with gorgeous images beautifully shot by Christopher Doyle. Sylvia Chang is a luminous Jia LI, radiating strength, purpose, sadness and chic. Hou Hsiao-hsien appears as part of a gang of boisterous Wall Street types. The discussion may be listened to below:

 

The podcast my 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

Listeners might also be interested in seeing the opening scene of Wong Kar-Wei’s Days of Being Wild which illustrates my point about the shooting and editing styles:

 

 

Listeners might also be interested in this article on Silvia Chang from MUBI:

https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/all-about-sylvia-chang?fbclid=IwAR0cEoynmB59uobnYYKvkmTsEVZGEIpQlQSIKMzbQUzBp7a74wW1rQwQpMc

Some images that caught my eye from the film:

José Arroyo

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.

Two observations on Little Caesar

Two observations on Little Caesar:

one: I’d forgotten the extent of Little Caesar‘s influence on The Godfather:

and two: watching Little Caesar, it’s easy to forget that Douglas Fairbanks was a big star: The Prince of Hollywood if not of Hollywood cinema, though a significant box office star throughout the early to mid ’30s; the only one I can think of who made films with Garbo, Hepburn, Crawford, Davis, & Dietrich. Yet, he not only seems callow in Little Caesar — he was very young –but physically overpowered by the diminutive Edward G. Robinson:

As we can see in some shots, Fairbanks was considerably taller (see below):

..and Robinson might have been sitting in 25 cushions in the previous screengrab…but there’s physical size and screen impact ;and on-screen Robinson is the one that blows everyone else away.

 

JA

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 309 – The Suicide Squad

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

Apparently dissatisfied with the dismal reception of 2016’s Suicide Squad, DC has bravely decided to vaguely reboot the property with a spot-the-difference name change to The Suicide Squad, probably hoping that this new film will effortlessly send its predecessor down the memory hole. We ask whether it hits that whimsical tone it clearly wants to and discuss imperialism, satire, racism, gazing at males, rats, story structure, excessive volume and more.

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

 

José Arroyo in Conversation with Ilaria Puliti

Ilaria Puliti holds an MA (with distinction) in Film and Television Studies (University of Warwick), an MA (with distinction) in Teaching Italian to Foreigners (University of Urbino, IT), an MA in Intercultural Business Communication (University of Urbino) and a BA in Asian Languages and Cultures (University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’). She is currently researching Rural Modernities: the Politics and Aesthetics of Extra-Urban Experiences in Italian Cinema.

What follows is an extended conversation with Ilaria  on Luca (Enrico Casarosa), focussing on how it lends itself to readings of queerness and of migration, and also relating the film’s world to postwar Italian culture and society. You can listen to it below:

…or watch/listen to us in what is my very first vodcast below:

 

José Arroyo

 

 

 

Curtiz´influence on Spielberg and 90s cinema

A demonstration of the influence of Michael Curtiz’ The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) on Spielberg (as seen in Hook, [1991]), on other 90s films such as The Rocketeer (Joe Johnston, 1991), on Robin Hood adaptations throughout the nineties…and with more to come.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 307 – Space Jam: A New Legacy

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

1996’s Space Jam is beloved of people Mike’s age throughout the Western hemisphere, despite basketball’s limited reach beyond North America – it was a Looney Tunes film, full of imagination and laughs, and is today a nostalgic linchpin for millennials. And because millennials now make films, it’s back, twenty years on, with Space Jam: A New Legacy, featuring LeBron James in Michael Jordan’s central role as the basketball star who joins forces with the Looney Tunes to defeat a team of superpowered villains.

But the wit and tone of the 1996 original is nowhere to be found here, beyond those unacceptably brief moments in which Bugs Bunny and co. get to shine. There’s a heavy focus on family, a theme that’s come up more than a few times on recent podcasts and never feels intelligently explored, with LeBron’s son held hostage in scenes that are supposed to heighten the sense of threat but in fact just grind any sense of entertainment to dust. But even that isn’t the film’s biggest problem – it’s the corporate project of it all.

Now, that a big-budget studio property has a corporate project to it is no surprise, but the extent of A New Legacy‘s is shocking. As LeBron and his son are sucked into Warner Bros.’ computers, the studio’s back catalogue becomes their universe, quite literally. The Looney Tunes have a planet. Harry Potter has a planet. Game of Thrones has a planet. Even Casablanca has a planet. And throughout, clips from old films are invaded by the Looney Tunes, references pop up constantly, and characters from countless properties pepper the crowd at the climactic basketball game. Any of these alone is nothing to screech about, and indeed, spotting characters and references is fun on its own merit – but the ethos behind it all, of making Warner Bros. the sole provider of culture in a universe pathetically dependent on the work it cannibalises from itself, is as revolting as it is revoltingly proud of itself. It really has to be seen to be believed. But in order to believe it you’d have to see it. What a dilemma.

So, no. We don’t recommend Space Jam: A New Legacy. Mike’s still going to try to get José to watch the first one though.

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

 

Hou Hsiao-hsien 23: Contexts 13 – In Our Time ( Yi Chang, Ko I-Chen, Tao Te-Chen, Edward Yang — 1982)

A central film in the history of New Taiwanese Cinema. A portmanteu film, like The Sandwich Man,  composed of films by four different directors :Dinosaur/ Little Dragon Head, d: Tao Te Chen; Expectations/ Desires, d: Edward Yang; Leapfrog, d: Ko I-chen; Say Your Name/ Show Your ID, d: Yi Chang. The films are structured in chronological order, each film set in a different decade from the 50s to the 80s.

In the podcast we discuss the figure of the Child in Taiwanese cinema, which seems to be a recurring pattern.

We’re thrilled by the extraordinary depiction of the female gaze in Edward Yang’s episode and the beautiful and complex way it’s visually conveyed. What Yang can do with a pan is quite extraordinary. You can get a flavour of this from the little trailer I made below:

We talk about how this new wave comes across as a ‘boy’s club’ and discuss the context of the last episode in relation to Sylvia Chang. We also wonder whether Sylvia Chang might be overlooked more by Western critics than Taiwanese ones and the effect that that might have on our perception and accounts of this cinema in the West and whether this is an effect of overvaluing auteurism at the expense of social and industrial contexts.

We note the use of music and discuss how those choices might have affected the international circulation of this film. We talk about the many common elements these short films have with Hou Hsiao-hsien’s early commercial work. After evaluating each of the works in some detail, we conclude by highly recommending the film.

The podcast may be listened to below:

 

The podcast my 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

 

José Arroyo