288 – The Father

Anthony Hopkins is magnificent as The Father‘s title character, an old man losing his grip on reality to dementia, in debut director Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own stage play. We discuss the techniques the film uses to situate the audience within the mind of a dementia sufferer, and whether they lose their potency as the film develops. The Father‘s origins on stage are obvious in its sparse setting and focus on dialogue, and we suggest that the raw power of seeing the performances live, an immediacy, is lost here – though the cast, particularly Hopkins and Olivia Colman, are impressive nonetheless. Mike argues that the film somehow lacks enough plot to even fill its 97-minute duration, and would have worked better as a short film – José suggests that it ends up in cliché.

Still, for a while at least, it’s an extraordinarily effective dramatisation of what it might feel like to suffer from dementia, convinced of your own mental acuity while contradicted by everyone and everything around you. The Father doesn’t offer a pleasant experience, but it is a valuable one.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

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287 – Minari

A gentle drama about Korean immigrants making a life for themselves in 1980s Arkansas, Minari‘s tone is consistently light, despite some of the upsetting events that occur. Mike argues that it reflects a child’s perspective of life, protected by their parents from the worst of life, or simply not understanding the darkness in what they experience – writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based the film on his own upbringing on a farm in Arkansas. José identifies strongly with the story, commenting on the similarities and differences with his youth as a Spanish immigrant to Canada. Minari is a good-natured film with no room for cynicism, and, for José, a joyous experience to watch.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

286 – Zack Snyder’s Justice League

In 2017, Justice League, DC’s answer to Marvel’s continuing Avengers crossovers, flopped. Director Zack Snyder had left the film several months before release, his role taken over by MCU regular Joss Whedon, and significant changes were made in an attempt to lighten the tone of what had so far been a rather bleak series. Immediately, talk erupted of a director’s cut – the so-called Snyder Cut – that would represent Snyder’s true vision, uncompromised by studio executives’ fears and directives. Initially no more than a meme responding to that film’s quality, it was given oxygen by Zack Snyder’s insistence that it did actually exist, and it now reaches us via online streaming in the age of Covid-19. There’s perhaps no other set of circumstances in which it would have been made real – on top of the original budget, the creation of this director’s cut cost some additional $70m – but what an opportunity to compare and contrast two versions of the same film.

At four hours in length, this is a version of Justice League that would never have seen a theatrical release, but the time it affords its characters to develop is welcome, and a huge improvement over the sketchy treatment some of them received in the original film – particularly Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher, who arguably becomes the central character in the Snyder Cut. We discuss and disagree on the decision to change the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 to 1.33:1, which José loves but Mike considers a mistake, and look over a few key scenes and shots to explore the differences between Snyder’s and Whedon’s aesthetics.

And we discuss that new ending, additional scenes which help the Snyder Cut conceive of the overall story as epic, mythological fantasy, and more.

It’s a surprise to us both that we enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Justice League as much as we did, but there you have it. The four hours flew by and if this leads to the studio’s renewed interest in completing Snyder’s planned series, we’re up for it.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

285 – Nomadland

Frances McDormand and a cast of non-professional, real-life nomads unite to explore the life of the modern American itinerant in Nomadland. We consider the line between fiction and reality, the non-professionals who appear bringing their real experiences and stories with them, and discuss what drives a person to their way of life. Like director Chloé Zhao’s previous feature, The Rider, Nomadland is a textural, contemplative film, and perhaps one that grows in stature upon reflection – while José loved every moment, Mike was bored by the tempo, but finds much to praise nonetheless. A film worth taking the time to sink into.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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

284 – Judas and the Black Messiah

The story of a civil rights activist who deserved a biopic long before now, told from the perspective of the man who killed him. Fred Hampton chaired the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and using his oratorical skills and powers of persuasion formed the Rainbow Coalition, a political movement in which black, white and Puerto Rican organisations combined and worked together. Hampton was identified as a threat by the FBI and his death is considered an assassination under COINTELPRO, the FBI’s illegal programme of disruption of domestic political organisations. He was killed in December 1969 at the age of 21.

We ask whether it’s a problem that Judas and the Black Messiah frames his story as part of his murderer, William O’Neal’s. For José, the entire story is badly conceived, as Hampton should be the clear focus; for Mike, the problem is in the execution, with O’Neal underdeveloped – but it’s possible that this informant thriller genre structure is what allowed the film to get made in the first place. Mike remarks upon Hampton’s pragmatism in contrast to the narratives around Martin Luther King Jr., murdered only a year before Hampton, which arguably tend to convey idealism for the future as opposed to action in the here and now.

Judas and the Black Messiah is an imperfect but important exploration of an extraordinarily impressive man we should have known more about before now.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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

283 – Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Ethics and truth in the land of documentary come under the microscope in our discussion of Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s love letter to his childhood friend, Andrew Bagby, is a sensational and moving film that you should know as little as possible about before watching. It’s exceptionally effective, built out of a combination of interviews, home footage, still photos and more, masterfully edited to generate emotional affect – but despite its qualities, there are real issues fundamental to its form. It’s a hybrid of two types of film that find themselves in competition here: it’s a documentary, a form about openness and truth; and a thriller, withholding information until it reshapes everything you’ve learned so far. It’s a tension that may well be impossible to avoid – to resolve it might be to totally change Dear Zachary from the deeply personal, passionately made film it is.

The story Dear Zachary tells is powerful, moving and utterly gripping, and the conversation to which it will lead you is rich and illuminating. We recommend it without reservation, even though we have serious reservations about it.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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

282 – Lapsis

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 politics 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.

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

281 – The Day of the Locust

An expensive flop in its day, The Day of the Locust maintains a cult intrigue for its critique of Hollywood and descent into madness. It’s new for both of us, and we discuss the qualities its cast brings, what could be better about its industry commentary, its moments of surprisingly graphic violence, and who, or what, its titular locusts are.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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

280 – A Sun

We explore a wonderful Taiwanese film that Netflix forgot it had, A Sun. An intimate yet epic drama about the effects of a single mistake that reverberate through a family and down the years, it’s gorgeously lit and shot, and although it feels as long as it is, every moment is earned and valuable. It asks fundamental questions of its characters and of us, the most important of which is: What does it mean to be a good person?

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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

279 – Rocky – Part II: The Rocky series

Listen to part one of our Rocky podcast here.

Our two-part discussion of Rocky concludes with a look at the entire series of eight films, including the two Creed movies. It’s a series that’s deeply interested in its own history, regularly referring to it in montages of characters’ memories, journeys back to iconic locations, and the reintroduction of one particular character in Creed II. The series rewards its audience for its investment, although despite featuring a soap opera-like series of melodramatic plot developments over its many films, almost everything that refers to a previous film refers to the first one. Other than the events of 1976’s Rocky, which laid the foundation for the series, only Apollo Creed’s death and Ivan Drago’s defeat in Rocky IV have lasting impact on later films.

We discuss how, following his superhero-like physicality in the Eighties, the character of Rocky is brought back down to Earth in his old age, his body ravaged by time, his life broken by loss. And we think about how the milieu evolves over time, the music, for instance, changing from barbershop/a capella singing in the Seventies, through power ballads in the Eighties, to rap and hip-hop in the 2010s. And we discuss much more besides.

You can track significant changes in cinema and culture over the last fifty years through the Rocky films. Each one feels like a snapshot of American life at its time. We can’t recommend most of the films as examples of great film art, but the last three, Rocky Balboa, Creed and Creed II, stand above the first five, the Creeds especially feeling like a breath of fresh air with the directorial talent on display. But it’s a fascinating series to work through, earnest and open-hearted throughout, and immensely likeable.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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