Tag Archives: drama

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 358 – Vortex

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

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: 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: 354 – CODA

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

If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is to be believed, CODA, a comedy-drama about the tension caused in a deaf family when the one child who can hear wishes to pursue a career in singing, is the best film of 2021. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not to be believed, and the fact that a straight-to-video Hallmark film can win the most prestigious award in cinema is a damning indictment of film culture today. Still, taken on its own merits, CODA is perfectly likeable and you’ll enjoy spending time in its company. But really. This isn’t good enough.

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: 349 – The Worst Person in the World

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

A Palme d’Or-nominated millennial comic drama from Norway, whose lead, Renate Reinsve, won Best Actress at Cannes last year, The Worst Person in the World explores universal themes of how to find a direction in life, our expectations of our own lives and others’, falling in and out of love, and how to handle the twists that life throws our way. But it speaks to José and Mike differently.

To the older of us, it’s a great film, one that articulates its themes with complexity and develops its characters expressively. To the younger – a millennial, to whom it should speak more directly – it’s a film that’s difficult to connect to, that occupies an emotional register to which he doesn’t relate. We discuss that register, the ways in which the characters behave and respond to one another, the use of chapters to structure the story and narration to tell some of it, and the imagination and life of certain scenes. Many of The Worst Person in the World‘s qualities are obvious, but we don’t agree on its greatness. As they say in Norway, c’est la vie.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 342 – Belfast

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

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: 339 – Parallel Mothers

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

José gives Mike a history lesson on the Spanish Civil War, the scars it left on Spanish culture and society, and filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s own relationship to it and the dictatorship to which it led, under which he grew up and which fell in the few years prior to his ascent to prominence. His new film, Parallel Mothers, inspires this review of the past, embroiled as it is in confronting Spain’s modern history and, José argues, adapting elements of it to the melodrama of motherhood that forms its primary plot – a plot which is used to explore questions of lies, psychic violence, and instrumentality that are part of the film’s critique of Spain’s Pact of Forgetting, its political and cultural agreement to avoid confronting the legacy of the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship, which the itch to scratch historical memory is seen to disturb.

It’s a film with serious flaws, and a disappointment given Almodóvar’s estimable body of work, especially the masterpiece that was his most recent film, Pain and Glory, but a film that creates this kind of discourse is to be valued. It’s pat, one-dimensional, and with a leadenness of tone that isn’t typical of Almodóvar, whose sense of humour is usually so reliable – but still worth seeing.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 336 – The Lost Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

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.