We take a trip to London to see Avatar: The Way of Water again, this time on the biggest screen in the country at the BFI IMAX, in high frame rate and 3D. We discuss the difference in experience between seeing it here and at the IMAX Digital cinema at Cineworld Broad Street, where we saw it previously. Mike questions why the film switches between 24fps and 48fps, rather than sticking with the high frame rate throughout – director James Cameron describes how HFR assists in making 3D imagery less difficult to resolve, and implies that he limits its use to avoid the so-called “soap opera effect” that made the Hobbit films and Gemini Man look so cheap, but Mike doesn’t buy that it’s necessary to keep returning to 24fps, and thinks Cameron’s a big scaredy-cat. José, on the other hand, can’t seem to tell the difference between the frame rates at all.
We also discuss what a second viewing of the film brings into focus that we hadn’t put our finger on before, Mike comparing it to the nature documentaries that IMAX have produced for years, and José implores the film community to drop its snootiness and embrace the opportunity to see such a marvellous spectacle while it’s still in cinemas. It’s really special.
A mere thirteen years after the release of the highest-grossing film of all time, its sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, arrives to a cinematic landscape that has changed significantly. James Cameron’s epic sci-fi franchise Avatar began life in 2009, when Marvel had released only two of its (at present) 30 films which would make universes, crossovers, and interconnected stories de rigueur for blockbuster cinema – and one of which would, briefly, overtake Avatar‘s record for worldwide gross. That’s how long it’s taken to create just one sequel to Avatar, with no indication that anything more complex than a linear progression of further sequels is planned. And there was no question that this sequel would, like its predecessor, make use of stereoscopic 3D – but while the 2009 film catalysed a new wave of interest in the technology, it has since fallen out of favour, as it always has over the years. As 2023 approaches, is The Way of Water out of date?
Nope, Jordan Peele’s third film as writer-director, following his zeitgeist-capturing Get Out and complex, ambitious Us, invites its audience to speculate on audiences and spectacle. The kinds of things it wants us to think about are clear, and we discuss its themes of commercialised tragedy, fear of the audience, and photography as truth, among others – but what it has to say about them is at best muddled, and, more frankly, disappointingly uncritical. Like Peele’s previous films, Nope is a terrific conversation starter, but unlike them, its contribution to that conversation is weak.
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.
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?
Eunsoo Lee and José Arroyo discussed Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Compared to other representative SF films before 2000, A.I.‘s David may exist as a character who desires to be a human being, but it also can be said he represents a new style of mecha narrative in which the human being is not the right aim. In addition, With the theory of SAVE THE CAT, Eunsoo discusses SF narratives as genre arts. As a film genre, they discuss to what extent the SF narrative is able to offer a variety of narrative styles.
First-time writer-director Noah Hutton imagines, in Lapsis, a near-future gig economy dystopia that isn’t that different from our own. Unable to pay for his brother’s healthcare, Dean Imperial’s Ray takes on contracting work for a Google-esque tech giant, hiking through forests laying cables. Imperial’s performance is a standout, his Ray always sympathetic and legible, and Hutton’s sketchy, piecemeal world-building suits the film – until it doesn’t. Lapsis creates a recognisable milieu and has a leftist politic with which we broadly agree and are happy to see, but as its story develops it wants to evoke the feeling of doom one would expect of a revealed conspiracy, without the burden of having to bring together its disparate subplots and building blocks in order to explain anything.
Despite our reservations, we enjoyed Lapsis and are glad to have seen it, and are keen to see what comes next for Noah Hutton and Dean Imperial.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.
Birmingham’s full-size IMAX cinema closed in 2011, having proved unprofitable (the independent venue it became, the Giant Screen, closed four years later for the same reason), so it’s off to the Manchester Printworks, home of the second-largest screen in the UK, for our second viewing of Tenet. We ask whether the full IMAX experience is worth it, Mike comparing the feeling of the images offered to those he saw in Dunkirk and The Dark Knight; José argues that it’s detrimental to the film to be exhibited in different cinema formats, as shooting in IMAX’s 1.43:1 aspect ratio, where the film is supposedly best seen, with the knowledge that it’ll be cropped for conventional cinema screens for its wide release and home media, means that artistic, interesting composition is impossible – you can’t compose well for two frames at once.
Mike suggests that an easily overlooked pleasure of Christopher Nolan’s cinema is turning his films over in your own head, playing with the logic, asking questions of it and trying to unlock the puzzle box – something he’s been doing since his first screening, and which we both spend some time on after this one. Laying out the timeline, speculating on what might happen that we’re not shown – this isn’t the first of Nolan’s films to invite that type of reflection. And Mike describes the pleasure of understanding things that aren’t hidden but simply too many to grasp all at once the first time – now that he broadly knows the film, things that left him confused at first now smoothly fall into place.
We reflect again on the film’s score, performances, and action scenes, finding that rather than changing our initial impressions, this second viewing helps us to perceive and explain better what made us feel the way we did at first. We find more to discuss – the use of Elizabeth Debicki’s height, the cost of Nolan’s adherence to achieving visual effects without the use of CGI, the pleasure of the way in which Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character interacts with the heroes, whether Mike is just shit at watching spy movies – but our overall experience hasn’t changed. What we liked, we still like; what we didn’t, we still don’t.
(Mike’s short film, which he claims was harder to make than Tenet, can be seen below. It’s probably worth mentioning that if you still don’t know what Tenet is about, watching this could constitute a spoiler of sorts – after all, Mike brought it up because of its vague similarities.)
After a long wait and three delays, Christopher Nolan’s latest high-concept blockbuster, Tenet, has finally arrived in British cinemas. This description is a spoiler-free zone, but the podcast is decidedly not, so tread carefully before you listen: We spill every secret the film has to hold. The ones we could figure out, anyway.
Following our revisitation of five of Nolan’s massive flicks – the DarkKnighttrilogy, Interstellar, and Inception – we’re keen to see how Tenet fits amongst its brethren. We consider, as we have done repeatedly, Nolan’s action direction, the aesthetic design, the tone, the concept that drives everything, how it’s explained, what we love, what let us down, and, well… to detail anything further would be indecent.
Mike is gobsmacked by it, finding brilliance in some of the film’s execution, though is keen to make more than a few criticisms. José is much colder towards it, dismissing it as no more interesting than comic books for children – can Mike’s enthusiasm rub off on him? Tenet has its flaws, but it’s ambitious, intriguing, large-scale, wonderfully cast and acted – it’s worth your time.
A film many have heard of and few have seen, Southland Tales is writer-director Richard Kelly’s infamous difficult second album. Six years after his eventual cult hit Donnie Darko, this sprawling, confusing mess of an end-of-days parable was released to thunderous bafflement and almost no box office. We dive in and find that perhaps all we needed was to give it thirteen years to breathe.
There’s no defending much of the film’s execution. Kelly’s visuals are functional at best, almost never expressive, and rather obvious, there’s an abundance of plot that feels at once over- and under-developed, and there’s no emotional way in to significantly connect with any character. But Southland Tales is chock full of ideas and ambition, and there’s much to respond positively to. José considers how its critique of American culture continues to resonate today; Mike suggests that alongside M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, it captures the state of mind of post 9/11, pre-financial crash, perpetually warring, deeply conservative and fearful America. Kelly may show little instinct for visual expression, but his ability to cast well and get the best out of his actors is remarkable, and for José, Justin Timberlake and Dwayne Johnson have never been better. And we consider the use of Revelations in the voiceover, and wonder where Seann William Scott has been for the last ten years.
For a Saturday night in, it’s tough to recommend Southland Tales. As a sizzlingly ambitious attempt to combine just about every worry it was possible to have in mid-2000s America into a grand work of sci-fi satire, it’s fascinating and worth your time. Its reach far exceeds its grasp, but that’s so much more appealing than the other way round.
Hollywood action in the Eighties was a world unto itself, and we look back on two specimens of one of the genre’s icons, Arnold Schwarzenegger. One a delightful, over-the-top romp, the other a macho, moody sci-fi, we compare and contrast Commando and Predator.
We’re in agreement that Predator is the better film, but that Commando offers the better time. José describes this era as his awakening to the fact that heterosexual men were checking out each others’ bodies – Arnie and co. are put on display, made to flex their muscles in absurd ways, their bodies painted in glistening sweat, for the pleasure of a straight male audience. We discuss how Arnie’s extraordinary body means entire films have to built around it: elsewhere cast as a pseudo-Greek hero and android killing machine, in Commando and Predator he’s theoretically human, but still a G.I. Joe male fantasy inhabiting similarly oversized films. Similarly, his accent always needs at least a hint of acknowledgement – the films taking a line of dialogue here and there to reassure us, don’t you worry, we also know he sounds odd.
We also think about the fact that these films have simply lasted. Commando in particular is not a very good film, but 35 years after its release it retains a loyal audience, and has to be considered a classic of a kind. Though dated and easy to critique in all sorts of ways, there are still pleasures in this cinema, and Arnie in particular.
A film I´ve only seen once and yet to fully figure out. But I am already entranced by it and convinced of its greatness. It´s not ‘entertaining’ in a traditional sense. It´s dour, and harsh, sexy and tender, with moments of harrowing violence and many instances of sexual violation, some by women towards men. It´s a complex movie. And beautiful: amber lights reflected on space-ship helmets designed to show as much of Robert Pattinson´s face as possible, the luminous greens of a garden inside a spaceship that seems an Eden, keeps everyone alive but hides dead bodies.
Denis makes a space movie like no other I´ve seen. The spaceship here is not a phallic cock triumphantly piercing through the atmosphere and into space but a box, rusty, like a jail, which is kind of what it is. The ship houses convicts who were given the choice of life sentence on earth or a mission into space, one which would take several generations to succeed, so reproduction is necessary. The spaceship has a fuck box were inmates go to relief their sexual frustrations but which also gathers sperm that women are then forcibly inseminated with.
Monte (Robert Pattinson) is the only one who chooses to remain celibate but Dibs, the doctor played by Juliette Binoche, has sex with him whilst he´s sleeping and forcibly implants the sperm he´s left in her on a younger woman. Finally, after many failed attempts, a baby is born in the ship, and Dibs tells Monte it´s his.
Conceptually the film is fascinating. The ship is a jail. News from earth keeps arriving in soundbites, faded images of Native Americans dying in early Westerns, news that is no longer relevant. Life on board is always on 24 hour notice. If the daily log isn´t filed nightly, the ship shuts down and with it the food and energy necessary for survival. Moreover, the ship is heading towards a black hole and previous attempts to change direction have failed. Will Monte and his daughter succeed when they try again at the end? We don´t know.
It´s a film to think about a whole lot more but what remains vivid at present is Pattinson´s performance, so reticent, recessive even, but conveying a hurt, a shying away from society, yet power too — he´s muscly and built– and capable of great tenderness with the child. He reminded me of that famous ´L’enfant’ poster but one imbued with a more complex character and motivation, less syrupy. The look of the film is astonishing also, with haunting poetic imagery, imaginatively composed, and expressively coloured. It´s not an easy watch. But it´s a great film, mysterious and complex, one to see again and think about some more.
(Our two-part discussion on the previous Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, is available here and here.)
The Star Wars saga ends – for the third time – with The Rise of Skywalker, a return to J. J. Abrams’ whimsical ways, following Rian Johnson’s creative and dramatic work in The Last Jedi. Disney and Abrams have clearly taken the vocal response of the franchise’s self-appointed guardians seriously, overwriting everything we liked about Johnson’s film, offering us mild, defanged plot developments and characterisations, but once we accept that, we find a lot of fun in this closing chapter’s sense of adventure and melodrama.
It’s clear from five minutes in, having been told three times that Rey’s parents, revealed to be nobodies in The Last Jedi, are actually hiding a secret that makes them very important indeed, that The Rise of Skywalker intends to do away with everything that made the last film so interesting and challenging. It’s a disappointment, but in declaring its intention to simply continue the soap opera and gallivant around the galaxy, the film needs to at least do a good job of that. And it does, José remarking upon how pleasurable it is to see a film of such high production values, and Mike finding that Abrams manages here to really capture the adventurous spirit of the original trilogy that he succeeded only in imitating in The Force Awakens, those core ideas of quests and gangs and brand new planets all working smoothly here. It’s an arguably surprisingly beautiful film too, light and dark dramatically interacting in geometrically precise shots that emphasise scale and power. And that melodrama between Kylo and Rey that we so loved in The Last Jedi, returns and develops here, the bond between them creating shared, tangible, intimate spaces just for them.
On the negative side, not only does the sense of corporate damage control never go away in the film’s refusal to make anything of The Last Jedi‘s developments, but weak, insulting attempts at inclusivity and representation also rankle, a gay kiss especially conspicuous for just how momentary it is, a shot of two extras crudely implanted within the film’s celebratory denouement simply drawing attention to its own tokenism. José suggests that the return of Billy Dee Williams as Lando is a similarly insincere and lazy effort at racial representation, as his is a minor character in the original trilogy, undemanding of the send-off given here to Luke, Leia and Han, but as the only non-white character in Star Wars of any significance whatsoever, he’s brought along for the ride. And underneath it all, a real character, a big part of the gang in Episodes VII and VIII, Rose, has her role reduced to almost nothing here, an obvious response to the truly vile behaviour of the fans towards actor Kelly Marie Tran.
It’s a mixed bag overall, a film to watch with one eye earnest and one cynical, but we’re thrilled with its action, adventure and spectacle, and its central melodrama is evocative and rewarding. A good conclusion to the saga… until Episode XII, of course.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
The Matrix, the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking, iconic sci-fi, is twenty years old this year, and we catch a one-off screening of its 4K restoration. Mike can’t believe he’s old enough for a film he watched as a kid to have a restoration, but this is the world we live in. Or is it?
Well, what an experience The Matrix remains. None of its pleasures have diminished with time, and with the benefit of the years that have passed since its initial release, we see it with fresh eyes. Mike looks at it as part of a late-90s cyberpunk/rave culture era that acts like a time capsule, comparing it to films such as eXistenZ, The Beach, and Johnny Mnemonic, films born of the same culture and dealing with similar philosophical themes, and asking why only The Matrix has stood the test of time. José notes how the film is a product of its time in terms of technology – landline phones are not only everywhere but have plot functions, the computers are large and clunky, the text they display neon green.
We remark upon the film’s slow, noirish start, its willingness to flit between ideas and motifs, dropping them as quickly as it picks them up, and of course, the extraordinary action scenes, as thrilling today as they ever were. José considers the sustained, if not indeed increasing, appeal of Keanu Reeves, and the world’s affection for him. Mike asks whether Neo and Trinity’s love story really works, offering that he found the emotional core of the film to instead be the Oracle scene, and in particular the extraordinary warmth and humour that Gloria Foster brings to it. He also bangs on for a bit about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and assorted other shite. (He would also like to add here that his phone background has for years been an image of the Matrix’s ‘green rain’, and he may, in fact, believe that he is the One.)
What an unadulterated thrill it was to see The Matrix again, on the big screen where it belongs, after so many years. It may be bizarre to think of it as an old film now, but time makes fools of us all, and it’s a true great.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
Worth noting that the film remains as influential as ever and only yesterday (Aug. 2, 1919), watching The Boys on Amazon Prime, the film was utilised as a pop culture reference known to all (see below)
A tweeny sci-fi based on a manga, Alita: Battle Angel tells the story of a young cyborg found on a scrapheap and given a new lease of life by a kindly doctor. She doesn’t remember who is she or where she came from, but takes to the dystopian world around her, finding excitement and energy in it, quickly realising an aptitude for combat and inclination to explore, and developing a relationship with a young man who seeks escape to a floating city that promises a better life. Oh, and she’s completely CGI in a live-action world.
Neither of us is too enthusiastic about the film, though José is far less interested in it than Mike, who finds things worth praising, particularly how Alita’s attitude to her body can be read in terms of transgender experiences. But the world-building is weak, relying on simple tropes, and Mike decries the sequel set up, convinced that the story it’s likely to tell could and should have been a part of this film. We vaguely agree that the action is enjoyable, José holding the reservation that he felt no connection to the characters, and Mike picks up on a tonal imbalance, suggesting that a film so clearly aimed at tweens should be less comfortable with swearing (something he also notes about Marvel, though to a lesser extent).
Mike is at pains to point out that despite acknowledging flaw after flaw, he had a good time. José has no time for such nuance, finding almost nothing in it he liked.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
The first part of Marvel’s ending to the unendable story wallops us with two and a half hours of punching and planets. Mike is even more gullible than usual. Jose stays cynical and rightly so. The film leads to discussions on whether we can actually find themes in it, the leaps of faith necessary to buy into it, the way in which we can’t help but buy into the story logic in the way we talk about it, and the nature of even trying to talk about corporate assets this enormous. It all gets quite meta. Jose mentions the state of modern America again. We bring up Call Me by Your Name somehow.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.
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We discuss why Blade Runner 2049 is so moving and beautiful, how it develops and unfolds from the first one including relating gestures and costuming as well as characterisation and design. Lots of spoilers.