Tag Archives: drama

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.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 272 – Cool Hand Luke

A key film in Paul Newman’s career that gave us one of cinema’s most iconic lines, Cool Hand Luke is known to both Mike and José – but previously seen by neither. The reasons that it became a cultural touchstone remain crystal clear, despite it failing, to a significant degree, to grab us as it might. We question the authenticity and purpose of Luke’s rebellion, the depiction of prison life, and the flimsy Christian allegory that tirelessly insists upon itself. The brutality perhaps seems unfairly tame today, an unavoidable consequence of coming to the film more than fifty years late, but its comedy still works beautifully and Newman’s charm has gone nowhere. It’s a fantasy, we conclude, for the privileged – an ultimately mortal fight against The Man, the point of which may very well be its lack of focus and clarity of purpose. Jesus was crucified for our sins; will we be recounting the story of Luke in two thousand years? Only time will tell.

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: 260 – The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

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

The winner of the 1971 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis tells an aching story of doomed love within a wealthy Jewish community in Fascist Italy. The 1938 racial laws, enforcing the segregation of Italian Jews, have just been introduced, but the titular family’s titular garden offers insulation from the rising tide of fascism – for a while.

Mike finds the film’s love triangle somewhat banal, but is impressed with the subtly observed way in which the central characters allow themselves to remain comfortably ignorant of the increasingly hostile and dangerous Italy beyond their walls; comparisons to frogs in saucepans abound, not to mention the present-day normalisation of absurd corruption and violence in the Greatest Country in the World™. José is more keen on the romance, but still, the film’s sociopolitical side remains our focus. We consider the film’s use of physical space, the ways in which the Jewish characters can navigate it without being suspected by the racist public, but find themselves eager to retreat to safety as the film develops. We note that The Garden of the Finzi-Continis was made 25 years after the end of the Second World War, but 50 years prior to today: it’s now conspicuously an historical artefact that speaks to the time in which it was made, and whose proximity to the horrors it dramatises is necessary to keep in mind. And Mike reflects on his relationship with his Jewishness in this day and age, and how the film demonstrates that whatever divisions we may find among ourselves, to those who hate us, there’s no distinction.

It’s also Bonfire Night – well, the day after, but it’s a Friday evening so the festivities continue – and we celebrate by closing the window and trying to ignore the fireworks going off outside.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 253 – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

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

Horror tropes pervade I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Charlie Kaufman’s oddball drama about a girl doubting her relationship, but it can’t be considered a traditional horror. Instead, it turns these tropes inwards, likening a controlling, toxic relationship to an isolated, threatening, haunted house. It’s a fascinating and brilliant idea, but despite the film being well-observed and intriguing, it’s not engaging enough, and offers little opportunity for confident interpretation. Mike has little sympathy for its developing surreality; José wants more humour. Still, it’s an ambitious, interesting film, and worth delving into.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 245 – Interstellar

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

Planet Earth is dying, dust storms are wiping out crops, and all-American single dad, former NASA pilot and corn farmer Matthew McConaughey is our last hope for survival. A “ghost” appears in his daughter’s bedroom, appearing to communicate by affecting gravity, and decoding the messages leads our hero to discover the last remnants of NASA, their observations of a wormhole near Saturn, and their journeys through it to planets that might be able to sustain human life. Eventually convinced of the plan’s value and necessity, McConaughey agrees to lead a mission through the wormhole himself, leaving his family behind, but hoping to rescue them in the long term.

Mike was moved and surprised by Interstellar upon its release in 2014, but on this second viewing moves significantly towards José’s unimpressed response, wondering whether it was simply the novelty of seeing new things to which he responded so positively. He compliments the film’s scientific literacy, but complains that its dedication to incorporating scientific principles and registers can impede what should be dramatic developments, making them dry and clunky; José, who has no ear for science, finds that it’s an irrelevance, unable to tell what might be drawn from reality and what isn’t, and feeling that the film doesn’t dramatise it well.

Everything is rendered through the central family and in particular the father-daughter relationship, strained because of the father’s mission, and consistently the film’s most important consideration, a little simple considering the global nature of Earth’s problems and the countless other families the mission is intended to help. The mission’s revelations and problems affect the entire world, and are discussed as such in dialogue, but we feel only the impact on this family – Interstellar speaks of societal problems but doesn’t show or dramatise them. Mike argues, though, that that central connection is handled well, the most effective shot, in a film full of startling visuals, one of a father’s face looking at his children.

We think about the action, and what it lacks. There are plenty of high-concept set pieces, but all seem to miss something in the execution. And we discuss the black hole scene, the design of that space and what it means, and how, while Mike was totally swept up in it upon first viewing, it quickly falls apart.

We’re glad we’ve seen Interstellar again, and at the IMAX Digital, the best available screening outside of true IMAX – because our response can’t be blamed on watching it on a laptop. We saw it as it should be seen, and emerged disappointed. Oh well.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 235 – Vitalina Varela

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

A slow, careful drama, Vitalina Varela – named for the non-professional actor at the centre, who plays a version of herself – tells a story of grief, anger, and discovery. Vitalina, abandoned by her husband in the 1980s, travels to Portugal from Cape Verde to confront him, but finds that he has passed away just days ago. She is left to explore the house he has left empty and the life he led without her for some forty years, and the film gives ample time to the feelings and questions that arise within her.

We discuss the economic situation depicted – this is a slum in Lisbon, built into the ground, feeling a world away from the vibrant, wealthy capital nearby – and Varela’s visual power, her performance one of presence as much as acting, as she moves slowly through the town like a ghost. Leonardo Simões’ cinematography is extraordinarily beautiful, thoughtfully composed and intricately lit, and Mike remarks upon how the edges of the 4:3 frame blend into the blackness of a widescreen television, giving a feeling of an expanse of darkness. We ultimately disagree on how much we liked it: José was engrossed throughout, Mike found the tempo a trial – but stories like Vitalina Varela’s are necessary to tell, rare to see, and worth experiencing.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 232 – Ema

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

A somewhat elliptical family drama from Pablo Larraín, Ema tells the story of a young woman who returned a child she adopted, feels the loss deeply, and wants to get him back. We discuss the central performances from Mariana Di Girolamo and Gael García Bernal, how their characters throw the most painful insults at each other but remain so obviously in love, Ema’s sexual fluidity and willingness to use sex as a tool, the poetic opening movement to the film including the astonishing on-stage, colour-shifting Sun, and whether Ema’s pain is as apparent as we’d like.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 230 – I vitelloni

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

Federico Fellini invites us to hang out with a group of unemployed, lazy twentysomethings in 1953’s I vitelloni, one of his earliest films and an interesting portrait of life in a sleepy Italian town. For José, comparisons to his youth in a sleepy Spanish town abound; Mike finds links to British films that evoke similar feelings. I vitelloni is both culturally specific and universally relatable – every society has some version of the gang one grows up with, and the middle-class youngsters who think they rule the place.

We consider the motif of homosexuality – evoked in different ways by different characters, sometimes explicitly and sometimes only if we want to see it, but present throughout – and the theme of patriarchy, considering particularly the roles of women in the film, be they wives, mothers, or playthings, and ask what their agency is, if any – do they even believe they have any? Life in I vitelloni‘s seaside town is unconducive to personal progress, development, opportunity, and freedom, but where another story would express the frustrations felt by the constricted youth, here they harbour few ambitions.

I vitelloni is evocative and timeless – as coherent and understandable today as it was seventy years ago.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 223 – Army of Shadows

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

Jean-Pierre Melville draws upon his experiences in the French Resistance for 1969’s Army of Shadows, which depicts an ensemble including Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret and Paul Meurisse working to disrupt the Nazi occupation of France, rescuing Resistance members from captivity, operating safehouses… and killing informants.

Army of Shadows‘ view of the Resistance is far from romantic, showing the ordinary people who comprise it being driven to extreme measures in the cause of remaining hidden and evading capture, and the threat of capture and death hanging over them at all times. We compare it to The Great Escape, a caper in which prisoners of war work towards a big victory – there’s nothing of the sort in Army of Shadows, the Resistance only ever staying one step ahead of the Nazis pursuing them. Resistance itself is the victory, and it comes with costs.

We think about continuities between this film and Melville’s other work. The isolation felt in Un flic and Le Doulos comes through here, the Resistance members needing to work together but constantly suspicious of one another, as anyone could turn informant; emotional connection is a danger, as it can be used as a thumbscrew. But the film depicts the courage of the Resistance, the inhumanity of the situations into which they’re forced, and elicits a range of feelings simultaneously. It’s a complex, intelligent, essential film.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 219 – Bacurau

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

A political parable, satire, thriller, high-concept actioner, horror, and Western all at once, 2019 Cannes Jury Prize winner Bacurau is a wild experience and well worth your time. Set in a tiny, remote village in a near-future Brazil, we’re given a portrait of life within an open, tolerant community under the thumb of a distant but powerful mayor, and shortly after the funeral of one of the town’s elders, things start going awry.

To say more would be to spoil the surprises, and we encourage you to check the film out knowing as little as possible. As a fable, it’s a potent piece of work – themes of political abuses, the ownership and withholding of water conferring power, and the value of community and the knowledge of history are all made manifest as Bacurau straddles its genres and provides its thrills. It’s a film that’s as open to interpretation as it is clear about what it thinks – its clunkiness in this respect a positive for Mike while occasionally a little overegged for José. But quibbles here and there pale in significance to Bacurau‘s boldness and intelligence, and you should see it.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 217 – Portrait of a Lady on Fire

A delicate, intelligent love story, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire undulates with complex, interlocking themes and emotions. It’s a film about looking: who looks, who is looked at, how one should be seen, for whom the gaze is intended and what the rules are. Héloïse, a young aristocrat, refuses to have her portrait painted for the approval of a Milanese nobleman; an artist named Marianne is commissioned to do just that, but in secret, forcing her to steal glances at her subject and, outwardly, act merely as her companion. The women’s relationship quickly develops, and soon they are collaborating on the portrait to which Héloïse had hitherto objected.

Sciamma demonstrates an eye for beautiful, sensitive composition, and with cinematographer Claire Mathon creates some simply stunning imagery, evoking 18th and 19th century Romantic art; truly, this film understands what it means to paint with light. We consider the differences between the characters: one formerly resident in a convent, brought home to take over her sister’s role to be betrothed; the other a skilled worker, whose life experience Héloïse is keen to probe – and this is to say nothing of Sophie, the maid, who forms friendships with both Héloïse and Marianne, and the drama of whose life experience surely outweighs theirs combined. We discuss how the boundaries between the three – particularly Héloïse and the two workers – are broken down; without the rule-keeping figure of Héloïse’s mother present, the young women are able, to an extent, to reshape the world in which they live. But patriarchy overhangs the entire film, even with men physically absent throughout; the painting into which Marianne and Héloïse are investing their love is the very thing, intended for the Milanese suitor as it is, that will seal their fate to live separate lives.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an ambitious, confident, complex and beautiful film whose imagery soars on the cinema screen. See it.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 216 – Dark Waters

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

A legal drama about the biggest corruption scandal you’ve never heard of, Dark Waters tells the story of lawyer Robert Bilott’s twenty year long fight to expose chemical manufacturer DuPont’s decades of knowing and unapologetic poisoning of a town, a country, and the entire world. Visited by a West Virginian farmer named Wilbur Tennant, whose livestock and falling prey to unusual medical conditions and dying, Bilott – a corporate lawyer who works to help chemical companies pollute within the law – files a lawsuit, and slowly begins to uncover the company’s secrets.

For José, it’s a film that fits neatly amongst director Todd Haynes’ previous work, which often focuses on power relations and the struggles of the oppressed, sidelined or disenfranchised. For Mike, it might be a new Spotlight, another film about the exposure of vast, historical, institutional wrongdoing. But don’t believe the trailer that makes it look all blood and thunder – Dark Waters, though compelling and dramatic, is a slow burner, methodical and careful, and with a scope that looks beyond the details of the law. The town of Parkersburg, WV is shown in portrait, with shots evocative of Depression-era photography, and Bilott is an interesting character, a man who appears uncomfortable within his own body, whose determination to uncover the truth grows alongside his paranoia that something bad will happen to him, and whose relationship with his wife is a constant that is reframed intriguingly in the film’s final movement.

Dark Waters is a fascinating, intelligent, complex thriller that gives its themes room to express themselves and is full of details and moments that speak to entire inner lives and ways of thinking. Make sure you see it.

(Mike would also like to apologise to Bucky Bailey, one of DuPont’s most unfortunate victims and perhaps the film’s central emotional tentpole, for referring to him as Bucky Barnes, who is the guy from the Avengers films who sports a prosthetic arm and does nothing interesting.)

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 204 – Little Women (2019)

 

José has been brushing up, recently rewatching the 1933, 1959 and 1994 adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. Mike has neither seen any adaptations nor read the book, coming to the story entirely fresh. And so we get to grips with Greta Gerwig’s wonderful, open-hearted, energetic version of Little Women.

José finds much to contrast between the versions, picking up in particular on the unusual dimensionality given to the male supporting characters here, whose roles have previously been thankless. Timothée Chalamet and Chris Cooper particularly impress, the former capturing Laurie’s playful, generous spirit; the latter touchingly evoking Mr. Laurence’s grief. Less successful is Meryl Streep’s Aunt March, who slightly too mechanically reaches for the laughs for which she’s designed.

The girls, though, are a triumph of energetic wildness, ambitions and realism. The scenes they share in their childhood home are well observed, wisely mixing all-American sentimentality you might expect with a disarming sororal combativeness you might not. If there’s a bum note amongst them it’s Emma Watson as Meg, who Mike argues never truly embodies the roles she plays, but Saoirse Ronan is miraculously transparent as Jo, and Florence Pugh gives Jo a burning, vital sense of frustration and fury at always being second best to her sisters. Their relationships make the film the success it is, and, Mike suggests, even when the film begins to wrap their stories up in some fairly convenient ways, so fond are we of them that it’s hard not to be swept along.

Greta Gerwig has achieved magical things with Little Women, and you miss it at your peril.

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: 201 – Marriage Story

A beautifully observed, intelligently written and transparently played drama, Marriage Story shows the separation of two people with deep and ongoing love for each other, and how they change under the stress of their marriage breakup. Mike argues that it’s an advert for therapy, the unread notes in which each partner describes what they love about the other, with which the film opens, returning structurally despite the descent into legal hell and gamesmanship. José remarks upon the generosity the film has towards its characters and the magic that Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver bring, and Mike picks up on the length of some scenes, scenes that move smoothly and in real time through evolving conversations.

Marriage Story is on Netflix now and worth your time.

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.