149 – Game of Thrones

For the first time, Eavesdropping at the Movies is talking about television… or is it? Game of Thrones spent eight years and countless millions of dollars in pursuit of cinematic production values, visual spectacle, and the world’s unquestioning fealty and attention. Is it television? Is it film? Is it something in between? How can we even talk about it if we can’t define our terms?

Well, after 73 episodes, HBO’s epic, brutal, violent, sexy, melodramatic fantasy has finally reached its conclusion, and everybody’s been watching. José’s been watching it since it started. Mike’s been watching it since last month. Did it end well? What made it interesting to watch? How did it change over the years? What of Podrick? All these questions and more might be answered in this spoilerific conversation.

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.

Advertisements

148 – Avengers: Endgame

A big one. The Marvel Cinematic Universe closes a chapter – kind of – with Endgame, a three-hour behemoth that concludes stories that have been told over 21 films in 11 years. It’s elegiac, both of its characters’ fates following the end of Infinity War, and of itself, offering a good deal of fan service to its vast, devoted audience, some members of which have grown up knowing nothing other than the MCU as the dominant mode of cinema. We take our time to discuss it in a two-part podcast.

The first part is, as usual, recorded upon our return from the cinema, the film still ringing in our ears. We saw it in a packed screening, the room filled with excited fans from whom the film elicited exactly the vocal and rich emotional responses that bring such occasions to life. Though three hours is a demanding duration by anyone’s standards, and could certainly be seen to speak to a certain self-importance, the film makes very good use of its time, particularly in the opening hour, in which we are given copious time to understand the ways in which the world has changed following Thanos’ fatal snap, and the remaining Avengers’ responses to it all. We discuss whether the Russo brothers, the film’s directors, offer much by way of creative visuals – to Mike, the film’s visual core is simply about scale, while José remarks that some of the compositions appealingly evoke comic book panels. Mike brings up the way the MCU overall has to some degree always been about competition between Iron Man and Captain America, and how Endgame concludes that both in the story and metatextually, giving Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans respectively their own emotional moments.

The second half, recorded three days later, largely builds on a roundtable article in the New York Times, in which five of their pop culture writers discuss both Endgame itself and the MCU’s impact on cinema culture over the last decade. It brings up a number of interesting subjects, particularly those that consider the MCU as a cinematic phenomenon rather than the specific content of the stories themselves.

So. It’s a big film and a big podcast to go with it. We found it worthwhile to take our time to think over some of the cultural issues the MCU raises, and as for arguing about this character or that scene, well, sometimes it’s fun to indulge.

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.

147 – At Eternity’s Gate

Despite a wonderful central performance from Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, one that earned him an Oscar nomination, and some beautiful imagery, At Eternity’s Gate leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It’s a film with a contemptible view of the rural folk it depicts, some overly distracting visual design (particularly an effect that renders the bottom third of the frame out of focus for long periods of the film), banal talk of personal philosophy, and ultimately, no interesting perspective to offer on van Gogh.

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.

146 – Todos somos marineros

Todos somos marineros (in English, We’re All Sailors) was partly inspired by a workshop in which a group of students spent eight hours discussing the opening line of The Merchant of Venice, and a news story about three Russian sailors left stranded in a Peruvian port due to the sudden bankruptcy of the company they worked for. Writer-director Miguel Ángel Moulet developed a story about just that predicament, a story in which two of the sailors are brothers attempting to find their place in the world, stranded in the coastal city of Chimbote, able neither to go home nor to establish a stable life in Peru, living in limbo, tentatively making connections with the locals.

Moulet is a graduate of EICTV, the Cuban film school, where José visits and spends a few days teaching every year, and this is how we come to bring this podcast to you, José having been screened Moulet’s debut feature recently and keen to share it with us. We’re far from the first to see it, the film being on the festival circuit and already having picked up a number of nominations and awards, including the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize at the Toulouse Latin America Film Festival. A screener was made available for us to watch, and we’re so grateful that it was, as it’s a beautiful, sensitive film.

That line from The Merchant of Venice reads: “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad”, and that simple thought informs the tone and themes of Moulet’s entire film. Todos somos marineros is a story about isolation, displacement, loneliness, and a kind of all-encompassing, ethereal sadness. The central four characters pair up throughout the film – the two brothers, Tolya, the elder, who feels a degree of paternal responsibility towards his younger brother Vitya; the cafe owner and her delivery boy, Sonia and Tito, who function as a kind of surrogate mother and son; Tolya and Sonia, who are in a loving relationship, and Vitya and Tito, who grow close and whose relationship leads to the film’s climax and quiet cliffhanger ending. These pairings are developed and expressed subtly, intelligently, and with heart.

The film makes significant use of long takes, both moving and still, and doesn’t exactly discriminate between when they should and shouldn’t be used. At their best, these shots allow the performances space to breathe, contribute to a delicate, slow pace, or help to convey a rich sense of the characters’ environment; at their worst, they distract from or even obscure what the film is showing us. There’s also use of a trope in which the film opens on a flashforward we’ll return to later, one that effectively establishes a strong mood and mystery but which Mike argues is not purposefully used, and which detracts from the film’s later scenes. (At least, that’s his argument for why he didn’t grasp what was going on in the film’s final third.) On the other hand, there is simply gorgeous cinematography by Camilo Soratti, his camera capturing dense, diffuse natural light infusing the air over Chimbote with extraordinarily beautiful colour and texture. And, overall, Moulet’s direction exhibits a strong control of tone, the film surging with the sense of sadness and loneliness so crucial to it.

There’s more besides all of this to discuss, and we take our time to do so. Todos somos marineros is an imaginative, rich debut feature that is deservedly earning praise and winning prizes. There’s no predicting if and when it will come to a cinema near you, but if you do get the opportunity to see it, we urge you to jump at it.

José spoke to Miguel Ángel Moulet recently, and their conversation (in Spanish) can be heard here.

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.

145 – Dumbo (2019)

The latest of Disney’s CGI-driven remakes of its classic hand-drawn films, Dumbo features a rather cute elephant with too little screen time and two abysmal child actors with far too much. Tim Burton is on paper the ideal director to mine the circus setting for visual and situational surreality, splendour, and threat, and to a degree he does, but in comparison to the work that gave him his signature – Beetlejuice, the Batman films and Edward ScissorhandsDumbo is milquetoast to say the least. It’s a film of rote sentimentality and far too little humour, clumsily treading that weird Disney line of plagiarising its own classics in the name of reimagining them, and despite a flourish here and there, and the best efforts of Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito to inject their scenes with life – and the considerable cuteness of the cute little cute elephant – its emotional sterility and lack of imagination are summed up in the way it concludes by setting Keaton’s mad futuristic circus entirely ablaze, a pointless climax, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But the elephant is quite cute.

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.

144 – Us

Mirrors and doppelgangers and dual meanings and symmetries abound in Jordan Peele’s Us, in which a family of four is terrorised one evening by a family of four identical copies. Like Get Out, Peele’s 2017 debut, Us is hyper-aware of its genre’s ability to make use of bold metaphor to offer coded commentary on social issues.

We find more room for a variety of interpretations in Us than in Get Out, and our conversation ranges from talk of race and its importance or lack thereof, consumer culture and materialism, cultural items and icons, including and especially Michael Jackson, someone who embodies duality better than perhaps anybody, the 1986 charity event Hands Across America and the competing ideas conveyed by its imagery, and far more. We also find the time to discuss and praise Lupita Nyong’o’s incredible pair of central performances, creating two fully embodied characters, the technicality of her physical acting always perfectly evident but never distracting. She’s extraordinary.

We have our problems with it, including its structure, lack of scares, and some imagery that we find lacking in meaning or clarity, and it’s a less tight and cogent film than Get Out, which we ultimately agree is superior. But it’s ambitious, intelligent, witty, original and rewarding. See it.

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.

143 – mid90s

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is a small, charming hangout movie about LA skater culture in, as the title suggests, the mid-90s. For Mike – who sees comparisons with This is England and Skate Kitchen – it’s somewhat unoriginal, if entertaining and engrossing, but José completely falls in love with it. It’s certainly worth your time.

Links to things mentioned in the podcast:

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.