195 – Le Mans ’66

Cars, business, and a big chummy Brummie combine in 1960s California as Ford sets itself the mission of beating the all-conquering Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, in a film that has not one but two boring titles: Ford v Ferrari in the USA, and Le Mans ’66 in the UK. Mike had a good enough time to see it twice, even though it’s directed by James Mangold, for whom he has little love; José, incredibly, even welled up at the end.

Although one might expect clashes between the egos of our heroes, the Texan car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Brummie racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale), their relationship is really one of friendship, common goals, and coping with the management at Ford, for whom Le Mans is about business opportunity and making their way into the increasingly deep pockets of the American teenager. José finds Ken’s family life of particular emotional interest, the support he receives from his wife a pleasure and their arguments complex, though Mike isn’t as complimentary, seeing the film as overall too slick for its own good, failing to generate real tension in the problems it depicts. This goes for the racing, too, for which he reserves some criticism, opining that while the races are good fun and entertaining larks, they don’t convey the stresses or feeling of endurance as they should. But José, a man who cares not a jot for cars or racing, enjoyed the heck out of them, and perhaps that is an achievement all of its own.

The film offers some rather crude comic representations of Italians, the Ferrari pit crew running around like cartoons, which despite only really showing up twice do stick in the mind; and lightly poses the competition as a continuation of the Second World War, the Allies at Ford battling the Axis Power of Italy (at one point, Henry Ford II, played to a T by the great Tracy Letts, brags to Shelby about the role his factory played in building planes for the American war effort, telling him, “Go to war”). It’s an American film about the greatness of America at the height of America’s cultural standing in the world; as José describes it, their empire.

And plonked in the middle of this American myth-making is a sarcastic showoff from Sutton Coldfield, unable to keep his mouth shut except when he’s got some tea in there. Mike responded with unbridled joy to the attention to detail shown to Ken’s origins, not only in the broad, charming accent Bale employs, but also in the dialect he brings with him, talking of cheese cobs and using the phrase “round the Wrekin”, something most of Britain probably has no clue about, let alone America. Peaky Blinders may have given Birmingham a platform in modern pop culture, particularly amongst Americans, but Mike enjoys Ken here much more, ecstatic that a $100m movie that’s going down well with audiences features a Brummie as one of its heroes.

Le Mans ’66 is an honest to god charm offensive of a film, with entertaining action, performances that do the well-written screenplay justice, and even an emotional sting in the tail. Get yourself to the cinema for it. It’s bosting.

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.

194 – Permission

This year’s Screening Rights Film Festival saw a great start with Permission, an Iranian film about women’s rights, oppression, and male ego, based on the true story of Niloufar Ardalan, the captain of the Iranian women’s futsal team whose husband barred her from leaving the country to play in an international final. After the film, José led a discussion with Riham Sheble and Dr. Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad in which the entire audience got involved.

It’s an enormously interesting film and despite its severe subject matter, a lively, enjoyable watch. Baran Kosari is captivating as Afrooz, the captain, fighting as best she can the system that allows her husband, Yaser, to restrict her movement – which is made scarier by his absence for several scenes. The film cannot possibly be mistaken for suggesting that Yaser’s actions can be justified, but gives him space to express his reasons for them, revealing the danger of a bruised male ego, especially one with the support of unjust laws that can be weaponised.

We also discuss Afrooz’s relationship with her teammate and roommate, who stays in Iran with her out of choice, with respect to the ways in which writer-director Soheil Beiraghi uses code and ellipses to circumvent his country’s censors. And Sahar Dolatshahi’s team manager catches our eye, a powerful figure who enjoys her status among the football federation, and whose sanctimonious, matronly attitude reminds Mike of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Aunt Lydia.

A film we’re very glad to have seen. Thank you to the Screening Rights Film Festival for putting the event together!

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.

193 – The Irishman

A three-and-a-half-hour epic in his signature genre, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks back on the life of a gangster, hitman, enforcer, and WWII veteran, who loses everything. There’s a familiar tone to much of the film, Scorsese getting the gang back together – Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel are wonderful to see, but perhaps the most enjoyable performance comes from Joe Pesci, his Russ a calm, knowing presence, a characterisation that feels like a deliberate defiance of the volatility we remember so vividly from Tommy in Goodfellas. The film weaves a tapestry of power structures throughout 20th century New York, incorporating the mob, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and politicians, all tied together by the wild, paranoid, braggadocious figure of Jimmy Hoffa, played by a brilliant Al Pacino in his first ever collaboration with Scorsese.

Scorsese’s use of digital technology to take years off his cast is a matter of debate between us. José thinks that the use of younger actors would have been beneficial, comparing it to De Niro’s portrayal of Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather Part II; Mike arguing that the technology convinces, facilitates a smooth telling of the story, where, had different actors been used, he might have felt like he was waiting for the ‘real story’ to begin, and doesn’t hamper the facial performances as it might have – though he agrees wholeheartedly that, in his mid-70s, Robert De Niro simply can’t convincingly kick a baker as a man thirty or forty years his junior should be able to.

José asks whether Frank feels enough guilt about having to kill Jimmy, by this point a man who’s been his friend for years. We agree that we think his emotional state is too opaque, though Mike suggests that he’s also tamping down his feelings for the sake of getting on with a task he can’t avoid. The feeling of loss and guilt that this event leads to, though, enormously affects the final half hour of the film, and for Mike it’s a beautifully moving coda to a film that, while hugely enjoyable, often felt free of a clear destination – something José disagrees with, never wondering where it was going.

We also consider Scorsese’s recent remarks on Marvel, suggesting that his perspective is a surprisingly ahistorical one, and that had he been making films in the 1950s he’d have had identical complaints about Westerns, for instance – the dominant genre of the time. But José takes time to agree with his aesthetic and artistic complaints, arguing that Marvel’s films lack ambition, and Mike suggests that his issue really comes down to a level of dominance that is marginalising films of lower budgets and greater ambition. We also discuss the fact that Scorsese has made The Irishman for Netflix, hardly the home of a lover of the cinema, as their model is Internet-based and doesn’t allow for wide theatrical releases, Mike suggesting this represents a conflict between Scorsese’s words and actions; though José argues that, as limited as it is, the film has been given a theatrical release, and one would be stupid to turn down money if it gets one’s film made, no matter the source.

But to bring it back to The Irishman, we had a terrific time and the film throughout is layered with great jokes, considered compositions, and brilliantly written, performed and directed set-piece scenes in which conversation is king, stakes are high, and power is in play. If you get a chance to see it during its brief theatrical window, do so.

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.

191 – Monos

Comparisons to Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies are inescapable in Alejandro Landes’ captivating Monos, about a group of teenage soldiers, stationed on a Colombian mountaintop, whose relationships and leadership break down during a descent into the jungle.

We think about its central imagery, Mike arguing that one image above all speaks for the film as a whole, and its allegorical qualities, José considering the character of the American hostage and the impact of American foreign policy and cultural influence on these kids’ mentalities and environment. Mike suggests that the engrossing experience of watching the film may outshine its thematic substance, but nonetheless we highly recommend it and urge you to see it at a cinema if you can.

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.

190 – Sorry We Missed You

Returning to Newcastle after shining his coruscating lens on the inhumanity of the benefits system in I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach now casts his eye on the gig economy and the exploitation of workers in Sorry We Missed You. A struggling dad and husband gets a job as a delivery driver, coerced into handling unfair responsibility and meeting impossible targets, with the stability of his family bearing the brunt of the stress.

José argues that Sorry We Missed You only tells us what we already know; Mike contends that its dramatisation makes it scarily real. We’re in agreement that it’s not especially interesting filmmaking, though, José suggesting that Loach doesn’t trust images to convey what he wants. And José has never enjoyed his depiction of the working class, finding it unrealistic at best, with no joy or love available to his films’ victims, though he agrees – with some relief! – that there is love in the central family here. Although there’s a lot to criticise in his often mechanical filmmaking, we agree that Loach makes meaningful films with which he sincerely wants to make a difference, and that’s admirable to say the least.

If nothing else, Sorry We Missed You inspired Mike to try and do one nice thing for a stranger upon leaving the cinema, and that must mean it’s a work of genius. If, however, you are already someone who does nice things, then you may find it less inspiring, though it is in some respects vital. It won’t do you any harm to wait until it’s shown on telly though.

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.

189 – Ring

A horror film that everyone knew about when Mike was a teenager, but nobody seemed to have seen, we finally see 1998’s Ring – or Ringu, to transliterate the Japanese title. It’s been beautifully restored in 4K and we were keen to see what all the fuss was about.

And, truthfully, we’re left still asking that. Its influence is obvious, Mike suggesting that alongside 1999’s The Blair Witch Project it defined a new generation of horror cinema, but we don’t find it all that creepy, let alone scary. We suggest a number of factors in its iconic status: its place in the West as a foreign curio, an oddity; its brilliant conceit, a videotape that gives you seven days to live after you watch it, giving it an urban myth quality, rather like the found footage form of The Blair Witch Project convincing people of that film’s reality. And perhaps what was different and interesting about Ring at the time of its release has become commonplace enough to no longer appear so.

However, none of this is to say that we disliked the film, which would be a lie. It remains an intriguing and compelling mystery that makes excellent use of its central idea and creates some truly iconic imagery. We’re glad to have finally seen it, and if you have any interest in horror, this 4K restoration gives you renewed reason to revisit, or visit for the first time, this foundational film.

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.