156 – Spider-Man: Far From Home

José returns from a week at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, just in time to see Venice crumble in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the latest injection of plot development to the Marvel series. It hits him in the gut and the film doesn’t recover, José seeing a lack of respect and intelligence that colours the entire experience for him. Mike, on the other hand, doesn’t particularly care for buildings, and finds a lot to like, including one of the more interesting villains Marvel has offered, one that self-referentially comments on image-making and the expanding chasm between what the public is shown and what is actually happening, and a setting – a school trip across Europe – that provides a way for the competing parts of Peter Parker’s life to interfere dramatically.

There’s much up for debate, our experiences differing severely. Two things we can agree on: it isn’t particularly well shot, and Tom Holland’s performance soars. Comme ci, comme ça, as they say in Europe.

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.

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155 – Diego Maradona

Following his critically acclaimed documentaries about Formula One legend Aryton Senna and troubled jazz singer Amy Winehouse, Asif Kapadia turns his inquisitive lens to Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest footballer of all time, and a man who moved rapidly from the slums of Buenos Aires to worldwide fame, winning the World Cup with Argentina and leading declining Italian club Napoli to two league championships. Kapadia’s film beautifully and economically tells his story, making understandable and human the dark side that accompanies the success, including an illegitimate son, his infamous addiction to cocaine, and perhaps less well-known, his association with the Camorra, the Neapolitan crime syndicate.

Mike has never really “got” these kinds of documentaries, and José is more than happy to oblige him with his impressions of what they do, and in particular what this one does so well. It is not just about the man but about the times, places, people and cultures that were the environment of his life. Maradona is rendered deeply human as the film details the grip that not only the Camorra held on him but also his football team, Napoli’s president refusing to sell him at his request, a capitalist demand for the value he holds, and then, when he is used up, this once-idolised, deified icon of Napoli is unceremoniously discarded, left to quietly slink away as his former worshippers turn on him – and all the while, the human cost to Maradona is incalculable, his extraordinary level of fame extraordinarily difficult to cope with, his descent into deeper drug dependence tragic and his punishment for beating Italy at the World Cup brutal. The film draws an important and poetic distinction between Diego and Maradona, as described by Fernando Signorini, his former fitness coach at Napoli: Diego is the youngster from the slum who loves to play, has insecurities and worries, and is, as Signorini says, “a wonderful boy”; Maradona is the star, the mask that cannot show any weakness, and an unpleasant counterpart to Diego – but without Maradona, Diego would still be in those slums. What the world has always seen is Maradona. What Kapadia shows us is Diego, hidden away, a victim of his own success, further and further buried but, nonetheless, always present.

We also talk a little about Amy, Kapadia’s 2015 documentary, which Mike has watched recently as José’s suggestion and truly loathed, finding it as exploitative and demon-feeding as the media frenzy it depicts and decries. José believes that Mike is too moralistic, but Mike disagrees, and that’s where we leave it.

But! Diego Maradona. It’s a truly great documentary, complex and rich, subtle and tragic, beautifully, smoothly edited, and featuring plenty of thrilling footage of one of the greatest footballers of all time doing the things that gave him that reputation. It’s fantastic. Don’t miss 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.

154 – Ma

A horror movie that cleverly inverts one or two tropes of the genre, we ultimately feel Ma is less than the sum of its parts, but worth a look nonetheless.

Director Tate Taylor is clearly very good with actors, and every performance here is pitched well, but he doesn’t have such an aptitude for building tension or developing psychological creepiness. The writing doesn’t help him – while Mike insists that the film’s premise is full of potential, it’s not built upon very successfully. But Octavia Spencer is brilliant as the central villain, eliciting laughs and jumps at will, and her Ma is an engrossing character, if a bit reliant on cliché.

José points out the film’s concentration on women, male characters being secondary, and its interesting inversions of gender tropes, in particular a very male gaze: the objects of desire, men are disrobed and splayed out for Ma’s pleasure, and the camera doesn’t shy away from displaying them. Unfortunately, the film seems to have aimed for its 15 rating, sometimes appearing to edit around gore and explicit imagery rather than indulge in it, resulting in a somewhat disappointing feeling that it wants to be more graphic than it’s willing to be, to its detriment. One can’t shake the feeling that, for all Ma‘s boldness, there’s still a more visually expressive, confident film in here, itching to get out.

So it’s worth a look for the interesting way it deploys gender representation, and some wonderfully entertaining performances. Just don’t be disappointed if you’re a bit disappointed.

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.

153 – Godzilla: King of the Monsters

But for its astonishing visuals, we don’t have much time for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a rather boring, incoherent film with an aspect that is at best lazy and at worst offensive. But it does look pretty! Wait, as Mike says, for its home media release, and capture yourself some lovely screenshots.

Mike’s review of 2014’s Godzilla

José’s review of 2014’s Godzilla

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.

152 – Rocketman

A musical biopic that understands its own music, that uses its songs not necessarily when they’re chronologically appropriate but when they fit emotionally and thematically, Rocketman beautifully and energetically tells the story of Elton John’s rise to and struggles with fame. Taron Egerton is notable for his work in the Kingsman films, but here he is given a true star role, imbuing his Elton with attitude, presence, and a bolshy walk. And, for the two of us in particular, it does us the great favour of giving us a new appreciation for the music, helping us realise that each of us has always taken both it and Elton’s cultural importance for granted.

The film is produced by Elton, functioning as a sort of autobiography, and although this justifiably raises questions of authenticity, honesty, filtering and bias, the film and man are so likeable, and the way in which it depicts his lowest points so open, the film completely sells its story and depiction of Elton’s character and those around him. (Though, as José describes, the coda in which we’re shown a modern, married, parental Elton, who is nothing like the one whose story we’ve just been told, does suggest that for all the authenticity we feel during the film, the message we’re left with is a somewhat disappointing, “anyway, that was a different Elton, I’m not him any more”.) Similarly, certain tropes common to gay stories, such as pining for a straight friend, being isolated emotionally, and being preyed upon by another, more confident, gay character – something for which we criticised Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody – are here rendered convincing and understandable.

We fall in love with its style and storytelling strategy, the risks it takes in building slightly cheesy set-pieces, set-pieces that indeed reflect a certain amount of cheesiness present in Elton himself. The film impressively and confidently narrativises its music, flowing into songs, turning emotionally-charged conversations smoothly into musical numbers, liberal new arrangements allowing Elton’s entire family to share their loneliness in I Want Love and making Elton’s decision to enter therapy a moment of trumpet-worthy triumph in Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. José doesn’t go for the climactic moment with Elton’s childhood self, but Mike is with it completely, tearing up – before Elton could heal, before he could love, before he could fight all his addictions and fears and pain, he first needed to learn to love himself!

Rocketman is simply wonderful. It deeply understands its own music and freely reworks it to give it new life, teaching us to love and appreciate it anew. It’s lively, funny, imaginative, bold and entirely engrossing. Don’t miss 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.

151 – Booksmart

Ridiculously, relentlessly, laugh-out-loud funny, we had a brilliant time in Booksmart. It’s a last-day-before-graduation high school comedy about two girls determined to finally have some fun having been bookworms their entire lives. José loves the central relationship between the straight and lesbian best friends, Mike loves the empathy and openness the film shows towards every one of its characters, deliberately constructing them at first as high school archetypes so that it can go on to reveal their hidden depths.

Booksmart is a simply brilliant comedy with tons of heart and you will have a fantastic time. Don’t miss 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.

150 – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

First they killed Keanu Reeves’ dog, and in revenge, he killed everyone, and it was brilliant. Then they had to make two sequels, and they couldn’t come up with a very interesting story. But the action was still world class. Or was 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.