Tag Archives: drama

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 336 – The Lost Daughter

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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.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 335 – The Power of the Dog

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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.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 333 – The Hand of God

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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.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 329 – House of Gucci

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

A true story of love, ambition, passion, betrayal, and retribution, House of Gucci is entertaining, interesting, and beautifully played… so why isn’t it good enough? We discuss its lack of seriousness of purpose, its failure to express itself with visual flair and use the camera to show us things we really need to see, and how it would have benefitted from giving Lady Gaga’s Patrizia the unambiguous spotlight, rather than making her part of an ensemble. House of Gucci is a film that we have no problem recommending, but given everything it could have been, to come away feeling like it’s a trifle is disappointing.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 328 – Spencer

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

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: 327 – Mothering Sunday

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

A film of surprising delights – certainly for Mike, who hates anything that looks like it could appear on ITV – Mothering Sunday tells the story of one key 1924 day in the life of a young maid. It’s a film filled with grief and lust, beautifully shot and featuring the best of British acting, Colin Firth and Olivia Colman’s performances subtly modulated and multifaceted. It’s imperfect, failing to engage with race as it perhaps should, and a framing device feels rather unnecessary – but it’s a moving and sensitive film.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 323 – The Last Duel

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Don’t believe the trailer, which gives a poor impression of what’s in store: Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic is lighter on the action than you’d expect, and, for a blockbuster, formally adventurous. Based on true events that took place in 14th century France, The Last Duel tells the story of a lifelong feud and a sexual assault… then it tells it again, and then once more. Three perspectives are brought to bear on the events, those of Jean (Matt Damon), a soldier and vassal; Marguerite (Jodie Comer), his wife and the daughter of a treacherous lord; and Jacques (Adam Driver), his oldest friend, and squire to a count – each controls a third of the film, shaping the story as they understand it. It’s an ambitious project, drawing consciously on narratives and discourses around patriarchy and sexual assault whose importance to our cultural conversation have become increasingly established in recent years – but does it work?

Richard Brody’s review of the film in the New Yorker helps to shape our discussion, and can be found here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/the-last-duel-reviewed-ridley-scotts-wannabe-metoo-movie

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: 315 – The Courier

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

Benedict Cumberbatch gets himself embroiled in the Cuban Missile Crisis in The Courier, a dramatisation of the true story of Greville Wynne, a British businessman recruited by MI6 to smuggle Soviet secrets provided by high-ranking GRU officer Oleg Penkovsky. It’s a film that offers pleasures in its performances and in the telling of a story you likely haven’t heard, but its storytelling is often banal and sometimes unclear, and, José contends, it’s full of tricks and tropes that are just there for effect – and often not very good ones. Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, set in a similar period of the Cold War and also telling a true story of a citizen’s recruitment to engage in an overseas mission, is an obvious point of comparison, and perhaps The Courier‘s greatest gift is that its mediocrity helps to show off just how assured and polished is Spielberg’s cinematic technique, even if the ideological purposes to which he puts it leave us rolling our eyes.

The Courier isn’t a terrible film, and its performances do make it worth a look… but it isn’t a very good film, either.

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.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 304 – French Exit

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An offbeat, gentle, surreal, intriguing and slightly camp comic drama, French Exit is a pleasant surprise for us both. Michelle Pfeiffer’s widowed heiress, reduced to selling her late husband’s property, takes what’s left of her life – her cat, adult son, and attitude – to an apartment in Paris, where she resolves to spend her remaining money before ending her life. Sounds hilarious.

And indeed it is, its director, Azazel Jabocs, demonstrating a mastery of tone. We discuss what makes the film work, its visual design, its relationship with and attitude towards money, how that campness José perceives is kept subdued, and more. French Exit isn’t a perfect film by any means, but it is a good one, and a charming way to spend a couple of hours.

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: 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: 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: 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: 281 – The Day of the Locust

Another discussion of — if not a classic — a still remembered film, on Hollywood, and — to add a cherry on top — with the great Karen Black.

An expensive flop in its day, The Day of the Locust maintains a cult intrigue for its critique of Hollywood and descent into madness. It’s new for both of us, and we discuss the qualities its cast brings, what could be better about its industry commentary, its moments of surprisingly graphic violence, and who, or what, its titular locusts are.

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: 280 – A Sun

We explore a wonderful Taiwanese film that Netflix forgot it had, A Sun. An intimate yet epic drama about the effects of a single mistake that reverberate through a family and down the years, it’s gorgeously lit and shot, and although it feels as long as it is, every moment is earned and valuable. It asks fundamental questions of its characters and of us, the most important of which is: What does it mean to be a good person?

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: 273 – Suzaki Paradise: Akashingō

A young, destitute couple seek survival and stability in Yuzo Kawashima’s 1956 drama, Suzaki Paradise: Akashingō (in English, this subtitle is given as Red Light, or Red Light District). Tsutae and Yoshiji spend their last few yen on a bus to anywhere, ending up on the outskirts of Tokyo’s red light district, separated from it only by an ominous bridge that is spoken of by the locals as though fearful, dreaded, even mythical. They take to their new home differently: Tsutae easily finds work as a waitress at a bar, comfortable for reasons that become clear; Yoshiji, a former office worker, has trouble adjusting, and, though it’s not put into words as such, spends much of the film depressed.

We discuss the portrayal of Tokyo’s unfortunates, their attitudes to life and to each other, and the tightrope Kawashima walks between wallowing in poverty porn and sentimentalising the couple’s situation. The motif of the bridge is a potent one, recurring throughout, and we consider how it’s used, what it signifies, and how it combines with the film’s theme of patriarchy and how it oppresses both women and men.

Suzaki Paradise is a concise and potent film, an intelligent dramatisation of social and economic issues in post-war Japan, and an expressive melodrama. It’s worth seeking out.

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.