Category Archives: Podcasts

188 – Bait

Shot in black and white on a clockwork camera from the 1970s, the hand-development of its 16mm film resulting in scratches and unpredictable changes in exposure, and its soundtrack entirely post-synchronised, Mark Jenkin’s Bait is audiovisually suffused with atmosphere and texture, and not a little dreamlike and weird to boot. It tells the story of Martin, a Cornish fisherman struggling to cope with the upheaval of both his region and his life specifically that results from an influx of middle-class settlers. He’s sold his family’s cottage to a family of outsiders, his brother now uses his fishing boat to take tourists on drunken stag parties, and Martin snarls and growls his way through dealing with these changes.

It’s clear that we’re meant to see Martin as a hero, but he’s tilting at windmills – though perhaps that’s WHY he’s a hero – and José argues that the film is deeply conservative, asking, for instance, why it’s so bad that Martin’s brother adapts to his changing environment by taking tourists on trips. Mike argues that the family of newcomers is too caricatured, so keen is the film for us to see them as invaders who fuck everything up, and thinks about the film’s parochialism in the wider context of Brexit – the unfriendliness to outsiders displayed here speaks to anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the UK; is there a difference between the way the Cornish in Bait feel and the way Brexiters throughout the country feel? Perhaps there’s a tension between the relative power and privilege of the “invaders” and “invaded” that we don’t resolve, but in overly simplistic terms we don’t emerge from the film feeling entirely on its side.

Jenkin’s cinematography and editing beautifully conveys what there is to love about Martin’s way of life, concentrating on manual labour and his close-knit community. José suggests that the film looking the way it does makes it feel as though it’s already an object from the past, with the romance, nostalgia and loss that goes along with it – just as it depicts the decline of its way of life. It also puts us in mind of Italian Neorealism, José bringing up Visconti’s La terra trema, Mike thinking of De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, and we’re indebted to Mark Fuller for offering a perspective on Bait‘s place within a tradition of similarly claustrophobic coastal dramas, such as Gremillon’s The Lighthouse Keepers, Epstein’s Finis Terrae, Flaherty’s Man of Aran, and Powell’s Edge of the World. Mike also considers the film’s visual and tonal similarity to Aronofsky’s Pi, thinking about how effectively that film places the audience in the main character’s headspace, and suggesting that the visual design here does the same.

Bait is a considerable film, one that speaks deeply to the loss of a certain way of life and the anger and resentment to which that leads. But the film doesn’t appear keen for this resentment to be questioned, and we feel it needs to be.

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.

187 – Gemini Man

Gemini Man lacks charm, wit, originality, intelligence, any real sense of understanding how to shoot action… but it’s a technological showcase, and with 3D glasses on, sat in a cinema with a 60fps projector (120fps screenings, the film’s native frame rate, are nigh-on impossible to come by), it provides a certain pleasure. We agree that the high frame rate, so widely criticised in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy – and along with the rest of the world, neither of us liked it at all – works surprisingly well here in Ang Lee’s hands, and Mike argues that it’s not only visually enjoyable but genuinely aesthetically valuable, picking up on shots that it noticeably contributes to and considering the way Lee uses stillness early on to help the audience adjust to its look and feel.

We can’t see eye to eye on the film’s other technological showpiece, a fully CGI Will Smith, motion captured but rendered as his 20-something-year-old self. Mike thinks it’s remarkably convincing, truly evocative of the Fresh Prince-era Will Smith with which we’re all familiar and, again, a visual treat, but José finds it a lifeless failure. That’s a criticism, though, that can be made of the film as a whole, and we can’t compliment the screenplay, direction or performances very much at all.

Without HFR 3D, Gemini Man really isn’t worth your time to see. With it, it’s surprisingly attractive, but that can’t rescue the script.

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.

186 – Neither Wolf Nor Dog

It’s enormously disappointing that Neither Wolf Nor Dog is as bad as it is, because its subject – Native American life in a society built upon a land that was taken from them, and the pain, grievances and stories that the displaced people carry with them – is massively, conspicuously underrepresented in US cinema and demands to be explored. Unfortunately, although the story on which it is based is true, the hackneyed device of a white man, Kent, who learns about someone different and with whom we’re supposed to emotionally identify falls on its face, and the filmmaking is awful. When the film visits Wounded Knee and we hear Dan, the Lakota elder, expose his history of pain and loss, Kent’s unearned tears destroy the scene.

Mike argues for the film’s first act, suggesting that it sets up promising questions and themes, and has a slowness that invites the audience to contemplate these. Dan’s interactions with Kent, knowingly using him to tell his stories, conflicts with his friend Grover’s reaction, suspicious but willing to put his feelings aside to do what Dan wants, and his granddaughter Wenonah, hostile and concerned that her granddad might be taken advantage of. This is all inextricably tied to the history of white invaders to America and the treatment to which the natives have been subjected for generations… but the promise of how the film could develop is far preferable to how it does develop, uncritically, unimaginatively using tropes that illuminate nothing and relying on undramatised oral storytelling to express its themes.

José, on the other hand, hated the film from the start and wanted to leave long before the end. He argues that there’s a self-importance to the filmmaker, Steven Lewis Simpson, on display, and Mike argues (with no proof of course) that Simpson edits his own Wikipedia page.

It’s a shame to have to declare that Neither Wolf Nor Dog is terrible but there it is. For people on nodding terms at best with Native American history to emerge from it having learned nothing, having gleaned no insight into the life it depicts, is a fundamental failure on the film’s part. A huge missed opportunity.

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.

185 – Don’t Look Now

Neither of us has ever seen classic British thriller Don’t Look Now before, though we’re keenly aware of the esteem in which it is held. And it’s fair to say that we’re blown away by the expressive visual design and editing style, though Mike at first admits to a certain degree of nonplussedness – a film’s reputation for greatness can often result in a dampened experience when it is finally encountered – but finds that the film quickly opens up as we discuss it.

Don’t Look Now is about grief, and expresses it at a formal level. Donald Sutherland’s character is unable to save his daughter from drowning at a young age, and thereafter, Mike argues, cannot prevent images of her death from flashing into his mind, just as they flash into the film with no warning. His wife, played by Julie Christie, handles her grief differently, and we discuss whether she does so more successfully than her husband – but if there’s something on which we agree, it’s that the film primarily conveys his point of view and experience of his grief rather than hers.

José considers the film’s depiction of Venice, dilapidated, sparse, but still beautiful. We think about the film’s place in the canon, its status as a great horror, comparing it to other British oddities such as Under the Skin and Kill List – is it even right to think of these as horror? And we try to get a handle on some of the motifs used, such as the supernatural element underpinning the husband’s experiences, the red-hooded figure, the elderly sisters, a motif of doubling and replacement, and more, but often having to resort to the anodyne comfort of asserting that this is a film that would benefit from repeated viewing.

However, even after seeing it once, Don’t Look Now captures our imagination and burns its wonderful, imaginative imagery into our minds. If you haven’t seen it, this 4K restoration is doing the rounds as we speak, and it’s how the film should be seen. It images are meaningful and considered. See it in a cinema and it’ll get its hooks into you just as it’s supposed to.

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.

184 – Judy

José reminisces about Judy Garland as a feature of his childhood, a constant presence on his family’s television, and as a person who took on different significance to him as he grew up. Whether he admits it or not, he’s been keen to see Judy since the trailers first appeared. Mike, predictably, neither knows much about her nor cares, although he has seen The Wizard of Oz about a thousand times.

The film’s greatest pleasure is Renée Zellweger’s performance, a pleasant surprise to José as he’s never liked her very much. We agree that the stage numbers leave something to be desired – the production seems to create a disconnect between Zellweger’s performance and singing, sounding artificial – but swoon at moments when it all comes together, particularly in the climactic rendition of Over the Rainbow. José suggests that this is when Zellweger most deviates from any of Garland’s true performances, and perhaps that relative freedom from imitation is what gives her the space to connect to the song here.

In general terms, the film is none too exciting, shot effectively but inexpressively and ticking off the normal plot points of a star-on-the-decline biopic, with money and family worries, substance abuse problems, temper tantrums and assorted other clichés making appearances, and authentic as it may be, there’s only so many times Judy can be late for a gig before the drama wears thin. Her relationship with her children is an emotional wrench, though, and the film builds to an effective ending, powered by that fantastic final number.

There’s a subplot about Judy’s encounter with a gay couple that recognises her importance to the gay community and contrasts her glitz and stardom with the inhumane oppression to which gay people were and are treated – homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK only two years prior to when the film is set. It’s a plot strand that could fall on its face through cheesiness or clumsiness, particularly considering the couple’s role in the final scene, but it arguably succeeds through periphrastic, sparing dialogue, and by tying everything back to Judy’s songs. Everything comes back to those, ultimately, and despite some lacklustre direction here and there, it all comes together when it absolutely needs to.

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.

183 – The Mustang

A captivating performance from Matthias Schoenaerts as a long-time inmate in a Nevada prison gives The Mustang its heart and emotional centre. The story of an isolated man finding the ability to open up through a relationship he develops with a wild horse isn’t going to win any awards for originality and is pretty one-note, but has its pleasures, and is an easy watch.

Writer-director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre calmly avoids asking obvious and important questions of the American prison system in favour of depicting the benefits of the horse training initiative – based on a real-life scheme that operates in a number of US states – and José suggests that her nationality has a part to play in this apparent lack of knowledge about the deep institutional issues involved, or at least her lack of interest in challenging them. The film indulges in cliché after cliché, but, for all its flaws and lack of imagination, Mike liked it, because that’s what he’s like, and we really can’t emphasise enough how good Schoenaerts’ central performance is.

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.

182 – Rojo

In the mid-Seventies, Argentina was terrorised by the Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance), a far-right death squad that disappeared countless people, and it is under this regime of fear and death that Rojo is set – with 1976’s military coup on the horizon. Disappearance is one of the film’s major themes and gives it its central structure: Dario Grandinetti’s Claudio, a lawyer, has an altercation with a rude young man in a restaurant and, though what follows is partially accidental, ends up leaving the man for dead in Argentina’s vast desert.

It’s the first act of disappearance in a film draped with them, disappearances that nobody speaks of, but everybody takes advantage of. Overt signals of the Triple A are absent here – the film shows us how daily life is affected, in a chilling atmosphere not of fear, but of acceptance. Friends are spoken of as having moved away. A house vacated by a family we never see is ransacked by otherwise well-to-do, middle-class neighbours, and presents a money-making opportunity. The culture isn’t fought, it is adjusted to.

Though we find great depth to Rojo‘s thematic complexity, we find less joy in its cinematic technique. José isn’t as critical as Mike, whose arse went to sleep through boredom, but despite an aesthetic that beautifully evokes the 1970s in every way, the film makes no real concessions to the audience, particularly lacking tension, which we feel there was ample opportunity for.

However, despite our criticisms, we recommend Rojo. It portrays a time and place rarely seen, and does so with intelligence and confidence. Its themes, of course, speak not just to mid-Seventies Argentina but keenly to today’s increasingly right-wing societies in Europe and America, and in that light its themes of complicity and adaptation to quotidian far-right terrorism constitute a warning.

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.