255 – The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail

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One a great masterpiece of cinema, the other a cultural icon of its day, we compare and contrast Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner with Nora Ephron’s technologically updated remake, You’ve Got Mail. We discuss how each film treats its conceit of two people who dislike each other unwittingly falling in love over anonymous correspondence, the former film’s couple hating each other less vitriolically, the latter giving us more insight into the details of their messages; the latter making their story the entire focus, the former handling it as the main part of a range of stories that take place amongst its characters.

We consider whether James Stewart’s Alfred and Tom Hanks’s Joe are nice people, and what the films’ endings have to say about them and the women they fall for. José focuses on the films’ approach to class and power, praising The Shop Around the Corner‘s portrayal of working people and decrying You’ve Got Mail for barely even seeming to notice its uncritical acceptance of corporate power. And we consider more besides, including how Lubitsch’s camera makes a static setting evocative and expressive, that Godfather bit, and the similarities and differences in Hanks and Stewart’s often-compared personas.

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

254 – L.A. Confidential

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A corrupt police force intersects with the glamour of Hollywood in L.A. Confidential, the tightly-plotted neo-noir that won the Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress in a year dominated by Titanic, and established the status and careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey. Over twenty years since its enormously successful release, does it hold up? We discuss its basis in the real history of L.A. and its sense of place, whether the screenplay deserves its plaudits, how it functions as a noir and more.

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

253 – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

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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.

252 – Tenet – Second Screening

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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.)

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

251 – Tenet

Listen on the players above, on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify. Click here for our second podcast on Tenet.

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 Dark Knight trilogy, 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.

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

250 – What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

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What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael gives us the opportunity to reflect on a woman who, for José, stands above all other popular film critics, and whose work has always remained resonant. Pauline Kael effused about, excoriated, and defined an era of cinema and the culture that surrounded it, and changed the way films were written about. Through interviews with other critics, filmmakers and her daughter, Gina James, What She Said tells the story of Kael’s life, work, philosophies, and controversies.

And not very well. The documentary doesn’t ask interesting enough questions about Kael’s life, glossing over areas that just beg to be explored, such as the relationship that produced Kael’s daughter, which is handled only with a cursory line of superimposed text. José finds fault with the use of Sarah Jessica Parker to recite excerpts of Kael’s reviews, feeling it to be wasted time; Mike argues that we’re here because of her work, so it’s sensible to include examples of it, and the use of appropriate film clips to accompany the words works well. Wasted time or not, the film doesn’t show much interest in digging deep.

However, there’s pleasure to be had in spending time with What She Said‘s interviewees, and sinking into its vast assortment of archive footage and illustrative film clips. It’s a fan film, in the end, and enjoyable if approached with that in mind, and though Mike finds it hagiographic, José is glad of it as a corrective to Kael’s detractors, of whom there were many, who saw her as a harridan and whose sparring with her almost always had an obviously misogynist component. It’s an unsatisfying documentary, but well-meaning, and recommended to anyone with an interest in film culture and its history.

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

249 – The Old Guard

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An ambitious, large-scale Netflix production, The Old Guard throws special ops, behind-enemy-lines-style action together with intriguing superhero-style mythology. Charlize Theron leads a team of immortal warriors, ranging from hundreds to thousands of years old, who find themselves on the run from corporate and military-industrial pursuers.

José is captured by the film from the beginning, his love for Theron’s action stardom and the film’s mysterious setup pulling him in; Mike takes an age to warm up to it, his inherent suspicion of all things Netflix keeping him wary. But when the story develops its romantic side, he softens, and both agree on what the film does best: the defiant declaration of love from one man to another, surrounded by armour-plated, heavily armed police. The Old Guard approaches representation of different sexualities and ethnicities in heartfelt, open ways, and the prospect of sequels that develop that further – perhaps even a universe – is promising.

Ultimately, José loves The Old Guard much, much more than Mike, but it wins us both over.

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

248 – Inception

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Could we have found a Christopher Nolan film that José actually enjoys? We explore the brilliantly imagined and executed Inception, a heist movie set inside the human mind, talking up the intelligence and creativity with which the central concept is used, the elegant and effective intercutting and structure, and the noirish, expressive romance that underpins the entire affair.

We’ve had some disappointments with Interstellar and the Dark Knight trilogy, but Inception was just the antidote. Boy, are we fired up for Tenet now.

Making spoof Inception trailers was all the rage around the time of its release, and here are the two Mike made.

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

247 – The Dark Knight Rises

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We finish off Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, the most entertaining and enjoyable of the three films. In a Gotham free of crime thanks to the draconian Dent Act, passed in the wake of Harvey Dent’s murder at, so the story goes, the hands of Batman, who hasn’t been seen since, the intriguing, intimidating, revolutionary figure of Bane arrives to terrorise and occupy the city. A recluse since the events of The Dark Knight, the threat of Bane gets Bruce Wayne back in his cowl, but he finds he’s met his match.

We again question the film’s politics, Mike arguing that its fascism isn’t so much particular to this series as a core component of Batman in principle, and that maybe the most a Batman story can do is ignore it, rather than fix it. Its aesthetics come back into focus too, in its cinematic style and militaristic sensibility, José taking issue with both, though he loves the opening set piece. He finds a new appreciation for Michael Caine, and we take pleasure in the new additions to the cast, particularly Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway, and we leave the series in agreement that no matter our problems, it ended on a fun note.

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

246 – The Dark Knight

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Having established a muted tone in Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s Batman series receives a welcome injection of flair in Heath Ledger’s Joker, the villain and main attraction of 2008’s The Dark Knight. Ledger’s Joker captured imaginations and helped the film to a billion dollar box office gross, back when hitting that milestone was rare. José, as with Batman Begins, never got The Dark Knight, while Mike was so hyped for it that he saw it twice in IMAX before its official release. We discuss what holds up today and what doesn’t, what the appeal is, the 70mm IMAX cinematography, how and why the film became a cultural meme, and what ideologically drives it.

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