Tag Archives: Action

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 377 – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

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

The sequel to the best Marvel film by far has to deal with tragic circumstances – the star of the first, Chadwick Boseman, died at the age of 43 in 2020. His role was not recast; instead, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever shows us the funeral of his character, T’Challa, and his sister, Shuri’s, difficulty in dealing with his death. Letitia Wright, playing Shuri, has primarily been a source of comic relief in the MCU until now – we discuss how she copes with the dramatic heavy lifting now required of her.

Despite the foregrounding of Shuri, Wakanda Forever is reliant on an ensemble, and quite a radical one, as José puts it: the story of a male superhero has been adapted to feature a group of women in his place, and what’s perhaps most remarkable is how the film does it without the feeling of overt messaging and tokenism that is often present in tentpole films that do something similar. And the villain, Namor, has been given an ethnic background José assures Mike was never present in the comics, his new Mayan origins and historical conflict with the conquistadores allowing for his underwater civilisation to mirror Wakanda.

While memorialising Chadwick Boseman, Wakanda Forever is able to see a future following the loss of his character. That it would deal with Boseman’s death with tact and sensitivity wasn’t in doubt, but that the world of Black Panther could thrive without him was, and this sequel shows that it’s certainly capable of doing so.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 369 – Bullet Train

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

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: 366 – Thor: Love and Thunder

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

We’re into the land of diminishing returns with Marvel, it seems, with the novelty of a shared cinematic universe having worn off and the big storyline everything was building to for ten years now over. Of course, another big event is sure to be on its way in another decade, but will we care by then?

Not if Thor: Love and Thunder is anything to go by. Between the thinning appeal of Taika Waititi’s self-satisfied comedy and the uninvolving and lazy plot, characters, and imagery, it’s an unmemorable failure of Marvel’s action comedy formula. Admittedly, Christian Bale makes his Voldemort-esque villain, Gorr the God Butcher, more threatening than you might expect, given his simplicity and lack of screen time, and there’s some fairly charming comic business between Thor and his semi-sentient weaponry. Tough to recommend just for those, though.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 363 – Top Gun: Maverick

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

Top Gun is back after a mere 36 years away. We talk Tom Cruise’s unusual longevity as a star, the ways in which this sequel uses and develops its predecessor’s plots and characters, the direction and editing of the action, and how Maverick has become Obi-Wan Kenobi.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 361 – The Italian Job (1969)

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

The Italian Job is a classic British caper familiar to everyone who’s grown up in the UK, so often has it been shown on telly and so embedded in British culture is the iconography of the red, white and blue Minis, the chase through Turin, only being supposed to blow the bloody doors off, and of course, the cliffhanger. Even those who, like Mike, have never watched it from beginning to end, know and love it as an unimpeachable icon of British cinema.

Which may be curious, considering Mike’s dislike of a UK that has left the EU in a storm of angry little Englanderism and British exceptionalism, as that reliving-the-war, one-in-the-eye-for-the-Europeans attitude can be read throughout The Italian Job – but, José argues, it’s a film that conveys affection for the continent, too, in its globetrotting nature and the beautiful scenery it shows off; and after all, its release came just a few years before the UK joined the EEC, which would later become the EU, in 1973. So it’s not quite that simple.

The Italian Job‘s notion of national identity is also conveyed through class, which is clearly delineated here, particularly through its use of Michael Caine and Noël Coward, who each connote specific strata of the class system. Importantly, this is no tale of class warfare – everyone’s in it together for Queen and country, and the gold heist that everything’s leading towards is explicitly given a national purpose. All that gold isn’t being stolen just for fun: who it’s being stolen from and for are key.

While our heads swirl with all these issues and more – including whether the chase is a good as all that, and the sexism of the comedy delivered by Benny Hill’s character – we have a grand old time at The Electric seeing The Italian Job. It falls short of cinematic greatness, but it’s jolly good fun, and those iconic images and sequences, which might only have existed in your mind’s eye for years since you last chanced upon the film on TV, don’t disappoint when you see them once again.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 357 – Everything Everywhere All at Once

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

We’ve seen a lot of the multiverse lately, and Everything Everywhere All at Once brings to it a combination of Gen Z existential angst and mid-life where-did-things-go-wrong woe, in a frantic comic-action-sci-fi wrapper. It’s a lot of things in one, and we discuss as many of them as we can remember, including its campness, puerility, basis in multi-generational immigrant life, film references, endless endings, and much more. It’s full of life and imagination, and despite its unevenness, easy to recommend.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 355 – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

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

Marvel’s invasion of the multiverse is now well under way, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness this dense network of alternate realities sets the stage for a race to save – what else? – the world. Which world? Dunno. Our world, the most important one, at least, but maybe all the others too.

While director Sam Raimi has history with superhero movies, having helped to bring the genre to a new maturity with his Spider-Man trilogy, it’s his low-budget horror experience he brings to bear on the MCU – there’s more than a little Evil Dead in here. It’s surprising and invigorating, and the low-rent, rough and ready feel it conveys integrates well with the expensive computer-generated embellishments we’re used to from Marvel. Multiverse of Madness is visually dazzling.

Sadly, it’s not dazzling anywhere else, its plot overstuffed, its thematic through lines unsatisfying and problematic. It relies quite heavily on specific knowledge obtained from previous films and television programmes in the series; the less of that context you have, the less this story will mean to you. And magic and the multiverse are quickly becoming the cheap, mechanical get-out clauses they’ve always had the potential to be, rather than thought-through, coherently applied storytelling elements: write yourself into a corner? Make up anything you like! Magic and multiverse can paper over any cracks your plot might have. The result is a disappointingly joyless experience whose visual splendour can only fleetingly distract from some fundamental issues with the story and themes.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 353 – The Northman

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

Writer-director Robert Eggers, who previously wowed us with The Lighthouse, returns in style with a brutal, bloody Viking epic, based on Amleth, the figure in Scandinavian legend that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s the first of his films to see a wide, mainstream release and large-scale ad campaign to match, and it’s perhaps for that reason that it is in some sense less demanding that its audience put the work in to understand and interpret it – although there remains plenty of room for that, and it’s in a different league to the blockbusters with which it’s competing. It’s a film to put down what you’re doing right now and see at the cinema – it’s vicious, atmospheric, and beautifully shot, and you won’t regret seeing it where it’s meant to be seen.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 351 – Morbius

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

Sony’s Spider-Man Universe has given us a charming Venom origin storya rather less charming Venom sequel, and now another film about a well-intentioned man inadvertently possessed by something that demands he feed on humans. In Morbius, Jared Leto’s brilliant scientist finds a cure for the blood disease that has tormented him and his best friend throughout their lives – except that it comes with a side of vampirism.

In short, Morbius is not a success. José describes it as what people who claim to hate Marvel, which has produced some very good films, truly do hate. It’s as blunt, CGI-laden and uninvolving as that kind of criticism implies. Mike tries to be fair to it – the hallway bit isn’t too bad – and we agree that there’s one actor to like in it, although we disagree on which one that is. José accuses the film of failing to appreciate that one thing a star should deliver in this type of work is physical appeal; Mike accuses José of shallowness.

But as fun as it is to tease José, Morbius is not a fun film to have to sit through in order to get to do that. One to avoid.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 347 – Ambulance

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

In the high-concept mould of Speed and Unstoppable, Michael Bay’s Ambulance gives us an ambulance, hijacked by bank robbers, that isn’t allowed to stop moving. It’s a real throwback to the era of genuine stunts, cars flipping over on fire, helicopters flying under bridges, and charismatic villains – with much less charm than you’d like, insultingly mechanical use of archetypes to manipulate your feelings, and low expectations of its audience. We discuss how well or badly it balances its actors, tells its story, uses its milieu to offer a portrait of the society in which it’s set, and more.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 346 – The Batman

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

The latest in a long line of Batman reboots, The Batman claims the definite article for itself – and deserves to. Richly shot, dark, romantic expressiveness spilling from every frame, The Batman leans in hard on bringing the noir of the source material to the screen with unabashed sincerity. It’s the best Batman film of them all.

Deleted scene of Barry Keoghan’s character meeting Batman giving a clearer view of the Conrad Veidt makeup job

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 344 – Uncharted

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

Having gone through fourteen years of development hell, the first of Sony’s planned videogame adaptations arrives – Uncharted, starring Tom Holland, turns the famously cinematic action-adventure treasure-hunting puzzle-solving games into surprisingly enjoyable action-adventure treasure-hunting puzzle-solving cinema.

Well, “famously” is relative – Uncharted is an enormously successful blockbuster series with which Mike is familiar, but José didn’t even know there was a series on which the film was based. With the benefit of his experience, Mike discusses how the film adapts five games’ worth of material and the expectations he had, and we consider the characters’ relationships and personal stakes, conceptualisation of the action, the similarities and differences to Indiana Jones, and Antonio Banderas’ villain.

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

Thinking Aloud About Film: A Deadly Secret (Mou Tun-fei, Hong Kong, 1980)

We discuss our fourth Mou Tun-fei film, A Deadly Secret (1980). It was made the same year as the more sensational and political Lost Souls, and suffers in the comparison, being an entertaining but generic and unsurprising Martial Arts Romance. It also suffers in the comparison to his earlier humanist, nuanced and visually remarkable Taiwanese films, I Didn’t Dare Tell You (1969) and The End of the Track (1970). It is nonetheless quite enjoyable; and we talk about all this and more in the podcast 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

As you can see in the film below, the film feels very patriarchal. The story is melodramatic, about an impossible love only united in death. Desires are frustrated by family and politics. The film offers a critique of corruption but seems to accept the gender relations as they are. A taste of that is evident in the gif below:

The film also has very entertaining early special effects, good martial arts choreography, interestingly edited, as can be seen below.

You can get a taste of what the film promises in the trailer below:

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 332 – The Matrix Resurrections

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

Listen to our episode on 1999’s The Matrix here.

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?

The interview with Jean Baudrillard referenced by Mike can be found here.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 322 – Venom: Let There Be Carnage

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

Venom returns after his surprisingly enjoyable, if trashy, 2018 solo debut, but we don’t find much of a way to have fun with this sequel. Its cast is underserved by both the direction and screenplay, Tom Hardy appears to want to be seen as a slob, there’s not a memorable shot throughout, and most of the comedy, while promising in principle, falls flat. Mike asks where the real carnage even is, the film scared to show anything even cartoonishly gory, while José decries the carnage generally present in American cinema in general, this film, like so many, unable to conceive of a way to generate excitement without blowing things up and causing destruction.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 321 – No Time to Die

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

Daniel Craig’s Bond bids us goodbye in No Time to Die, the culmination of his fifteen-year tenure as the gentleman’s spy – but is it really Bond? The character, and the films in which he appears, have changed in tone and attitude in recent years, in response to several factors, including criticisms of misogyny and the cinematic influence of the Bourne series, all of which results, for José, in a film that while good, just isn’t Bond any more. We consider what makes No Time to Die‘s Bond different, discussing his clothing, the intensity of serialisation from one film to the next, and the Bond girl – and, as Mike suggests, the character’s key change in attitude: Craig’s Bond takes things seriously and is capable of being outraged.

Although we pick at these things, the film is easy to recommend. The action is well-executed, Rami Malek’s villain beautifully played (if lazily written), and the entire affair is hugely enjoyable. Where Bond goes from here, who knows, but No Time to Die is a good send-off for Craig’s incarnation.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 316 – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

 

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

A new day, a new entry in the MCU, and on this occasion we’re introduced to an entirely new set of characters and mythos: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fills us in on the history of a young Chinese-American man and his dad’s magical jewellery. Like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, it’s a film whose connection to the wider MCU is light, establishing characters, a setting, and story elements that are certain to tie in to subsequent films, but free of the obligation to prioritise them at the expense of itself. And like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, that freedom works in its favour – it’s of a piece, interesting, pretty, and entertaining.

We discuss the film’s setting in a Chinese-American immigrant context, comparing it in particular to The Farewell and Crazy Rich Asians: all three films dramatise the cultural differences between the new and old country, and the ways in which the younger generation might face challenges in visiting or returning to their ancestral home. Indeed, Awkwafina appears in all three films, and, even in supporting roles, expresses this subject all by herself. We also think about the MCU’s use of the film to address its own past, a character from Iron Man 3 returning: Shang-Chi not only rejects the way the earlier film totally reconfigured him from the comics, but also addresses the Orientalism with which he has historically been associated.

And there’s more besides – Tony Leung’s beautiful, evocative performance of a character that nonetheless doesn’t quite work; the quality of the action, much of it a cut above what we typically expect from Marvel; and that classic Disney trick – if in doubt, animate a cute animal. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a promising start to the MCU’s next phase, and we look forward to finding out how its world will integrate down the line, but it’s worth seeing on its own terms.

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: 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: 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.