Tag Archives: Pedro Pascal

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 134 – If Beale Street Could Talk and Moonlight – Second Screening

We return to Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, his sumptuous romantic drama set in 1970s New York, for a deep dive, and take the opportunity to revisit his previous film, 2016’s Best Picture winner Moonlight. It’s an enriching conversation and we’re glad we took the time to engage in it. (The first podcast can be found here.)

We begin with Moonlight, working through our responses to what we experienced differently since having seen it previously (Mike last saw it during its cinema release, while José has seen it a few times on more recent occasions). The film’s final third is given serious thought, José in particular enjoying the opportunity to properly work through his longstanding problems with it, which amount to the film’s fear of the sex in homosexuality, its conscious refusal to openly and honestly depict two gay men being intimate – the film denies them even a kiss at the very end – and the critical establishment’s bad faith in refusing to engage with this particular point. It’s great to have finally discussed this topic, particularly paying close attention to the final few shots, where the problems are condensed and made perfectly clear; as José says, it’s an itch he’s wanted to scratch for a long time.

Moving on to Beale Street, we re-engage with some points we brought up in our first podcast, such as the dissonance between the opening intertitle’s invocation of drums and the soundtrack’s absence of them, and the relative richness of the characters that surround Tish and Fonny to the central couple. And we draw out new observations and thoughts, in particular returning on a few occasions to the conversation between Fonny and Daniel, discussing the lighting that drops them into deep shadow, picking up just the lightest outlines of their features as if to expose their souls instead, and how shot selection, editing and the use of a rack focus develop the drama and bring the characters together but simultaneously isolate Daniel within his own traumatic experiences. Mike picks up on a motif of redness in their eyes, acknowledging that the reading he offers is always going to be a stretch but finding it meaningful nonetheless.

We discuss the use of photo montages to reach for the universality of experience that the title implies and we felt was an issue the first time around, José describing how they thematically focus the film on black male incarceration and the lived experience of black masculinity in the United States. Mike feels that it’s a bit of a hangout movie, wanting to spend time with the characters and in their world, despite – perhaps because of? – the hardships they experience and discuss at times; certainly because of the romantic transparency, the care and love that characters show for each other, and the richness of their conversations. José finds fault with how the Latinx characters are lit and generally visually portrayed to less than their best, arguing that they were excluded from the visual romance that bathes the rest of the film.

And we see direct comparisons between Beale Street and MoonlightBeale Street‘s sex scene is an obvious point of discussion with respect to Moonlight‘s ending, but we also find parallels in the elements that depict or imply betrayal between friends, Moonlight‘s hazing scene and Daniel’s ostensible usefulness as an exculpatory witness for Fonny sharing complexities around whether the betrayals they depict are truly betrayals.

A hugely enriching discussion that we had great fun having, thanks to two intricate, beautiful, thought-provoking films.

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: 86 – The Equalizer 2

 

Quiet, meditative, sensitive, gradual. Not the first words that come to mind when considering 2014’s vigilante thriller The Equalizer – though they do apply at times – but certainly descriptors of its sequel, which we loved. Denzel Washington’s ex-spy, Robert McCall, who had managed to extricate himself from a life of state-sanctioned violence and murder, now works as a vigilante for hire, an avenger, conducts himself as a role model, mentor, and cheerleader for those whose lives with which he comes into contact.

We discuss The Equalizer 2‘s ethos of personal responsibility and self-improvement, and its meditative tone. José orates on his love of Denzel and his position as perhaps the most significant figure of black masculinity throughout the history of cinema. Mike adores Antoine Fuqua’s aesthetic of long lenses, shallow focus and moody lighting; a visual sensibility that looks wonderful and intimidating on the big screen, but somehow makes small screens seem big too.

While it’s certainly cut from the same cloth as the first film, The Equalizer 2 is more confident to bask in contemplation and even a kind of plotlessness, and it’s not quite what you’d expect. We think it’s great. Worth seeing while it’s in cinemas.

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.

Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle (Matthew Vaughn, US/UK, 2017)

kingsman-2-poster-slice-600x200

 

i catch myself watching the original Kingsman on TV now with more pleasure than I remember upon the first viewing. I re-see the odd snippet and it seems elegant, fun, attractive. Watching Kingsman: The Golden Circle reminds me that this partial re-viewing is also a partial forgetting: the sexism, the crude anal jokes with the captive princess etc. But nothing about the first film prepared me for how crude, manipulative and exploitative this sequel is. Cynical too, not only in the relentless product placement but in the lassoing in of American stars to pave the way for the success the original didn’t quite achieve there. Thus we see snippets of Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and what what has until now been my favourite presence in the US audiovisual landscape, Pedro Pascal (probably best known from Narcos), none of them except for the latter offered much of a character or even a chance to shine. How much money do these movie stars need anyway? And if the filmmakers brought them in to make the shit shine, they failed. Julianne Moore is the only star who makes anything of the part  played. And Elton John  — who deserves a medal for being so open and game — is the only one the filmmakers succeed in getting some good jokes out of. If the idea behind casting these stars was so that the movie could sell better in the States, then the film is not only cynical but stupid. You can’t cast all the Americans as villains, secondary characters or merely inept and have that be your anchor in their market. But here we are, talking about audiences, markets, stars, what might sell. Yet, one look at how the action scenes are filmed — all so CGI that any human skill, effort, danger, and grace evades one’s consciousness — and the crass ineptitude of the whole project is visible to all. It’s like all the marketing and selling opportunities have been given way more thought than story, characters, and the staging of exciting adventure with slinky gadgets etc, ie. all that we want out of a movie like this. They’ve thought so much about the selling that they forgot to come up with something anyone would want to buy. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

 

José Arroyo

A Brief Note on The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou, China, 2016)

IMG_3655.jpg

A note on the much maligned The Great Wall, which I saw on the weekend: there is no characterisation to speak of, the plot is merely a serviceable monster story, and the theme would please China’s governing central committee. But…It is from the director of Ju Dou, (1990) and Hero (2002) and The House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). It has the most astonishingly beautiful use of colour I’ve seen in recent cinema. Yang and cinematographers Stuart  Dreyburgh and Xiaoding Zhao, plus the set and design people, have created colours so beautiful and so rarely seen in cinema, and then the way they put those colours together in a frame, make them work alongside each other not only to keep the eye on the action but also to please it, is quite exceptional. There’s a scene in a tower in the last great set-piece where the imperial palace is over-run by monsters, the tower is slowly falling apart, and every colour if the rainbow seems to break through — orchestrated and choreographed — in an extraordinary cacophony of colour that is just breathtakingly beautiful: how could so much be arranged to rest so easy and simply on the eye?  This use of colour is conveyed in gorgeous compositions and truly inventive use of camera. Visually, the film is like a Renaissance Masterpiece. As usual with Zhang, the acrobatics are wonderful to watch and there are scenes with women warriors diving into a sea of monsters with spears that is just dazzling to see. And though the characters are archetypes and not fully fleshed out, Andy Lau and Willelm Dafoe and Tian Jing are still worth looking at — if for different reasons — and Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal have great chemistry. It’s out now and if cinephiles aren’t bothered to see it on a big screen they’re not worthy of the name.

José Arroyo