An icon across continental Europe though barely known in the UK, the life of Sisi, or Sissi – Empress Elisabeth of Austria to you – has been dramatised often, including in a famous trilogy of films depicting her youth that made Romy Schneider a star. In Corsage, the role is played by Vicky Krieps, and the perspective we’re given is of a woman whose societal purpose it is to bear children and look beautiful reaching the age of 40, a milestone that focuses her mind. It’s a film made by women about the particular effect that ageing has on women under patriarchy, but is it complex and insightful or predictable and obvious? With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.
A mere thirteen years after the release of the highest-grossing film of all time, its sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, arrives to a cinematic landscape that has changed significantly. James Cameron’s epic sci-fi franchise Avatar began life in 2009, when Marvel had released only two of its (at present) 30 films which would make universes, crossovers, and interconnected stories de rigueur for blockbuster cinema – and one of which would, briefly, overtake Avatar‘s record for worldwide gross. That’s how long it’s taken to create just one sequel to Avatar, with no indication that anything more complex than a linear progression of further sequels is planned. And there was no question that this sequel would, like its predecessor, make use of stereoscopic 3D – but while the 2009 film catalysed a new wave of interest in the technology, it has since fallen out of favour, as it always has over the years. As 2023 approaches, is The Way of Water out of date?
There’s an unwelcome element of particularly American and ill-fitting barbarism in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a film that we hoped would be cleverer and more charming than it is. It’s also more of a straightforward thriller than a whodunnit, with one particular alteration to the murder mystery formula meaning that so much is kept from the audience that it stops being fun to play along. There’s still enough here to enjoy, but we’d like the third film to be more like the first, please.
José gave an introduction to the MAC’s screening of The Old Dark House, a 1932 comedy horror directed by James Whale, focusing on queerness. James Whale was openly gay – although what it meant to be openly gay in the 1930s is up for discussion – and knowledge of his sexuality has led to interpretations of his work in that light, including Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933). The Old Dark House arguably invites such readings more explicitly than those, with the demeanour of Ernest Thesiger as Horace Femm (not to mention his surname), the relationship between Morgan (Boris Karloff) and Saul (Brember Wills), and the casting of a woman in the role of patriarch, with actress Elspeth Dudgeon credited as John Dudgeon.
As well as its queerness, we discuss its preponderance of tropes and how well they cohere, its use of distorted imagery, its pacing and more.
The Menu is a smörgåsbord both of scenes, its plot dropping ideas as soon as it picks them up in its rush to entertain, and of styles and genres, with black comedy, satire and horror combining. But while it’s witty and engaging, it’s also inconsistent, unfulfilling, and, although the flights of fancy with which it imbues some of its action are good fun, fairly trite. As is way The Menu thinks of the food it mocks, so is the film itself: it looks delicious at first blush but fails to impress under scrutiny. And such small portions!
The sequel to the best Marvel film by far has to deal with tragic circumstances – the star of the first, Chadwick Boseman, died at the age of 43 in 2020. His role was not recast; instead, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever shows us the funeral of his character, T’Challa, and his sister, Shuri’s, difficulty in dealing with his death. Letitia Wright, playing Shuri, has primarily been a source of comic relief in the MCU until now – we discuss how she copes with the dramatic heavy lifting now required of her.
Despite the foregrounding of Shuri, Wakanda Forever is reliant on an ensemble, and quite a radical one, as José puts it: the story of a male superhero has been adapted to feature a group of women in his place, and what’s perhaps most remarkable is how the film does it without the feeling of overt messaging and tokenism that is often present in tentpole films that do something similar. And the villain, Namor, has been given an ethnic background José assures Mike was never present in the comics, his new Mayan origins and historical conflict with the conquistadores allowing for his underwater civilisation to mirror Wakanda.
While memorialising Chadwick Boseman, Wakanda Forever is able to see a future following the loss of his character. That it would deal with Boseman’s death with tact and sensitivity wasn’t in doubt, but that the world of Black Panther could thrive without him was, and this sequel shows that it’s certainly capable of doing so.
We wanted to like Bros more. Co-writer and star Billy Eichner jumped at the chance to expand the boundaries of the wide-release Hollywood rom-com to tell the story of a gay romance and give representation to people who are usually marginalised, if included at all, in mainstream comedy, and whose inclusion is often at their expense. It’s a shame, then, that it’s dull, uncreative, flat, comedically unimaginative and unskilled, and preachy. What a colossal waste of an opportunity.
Playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, best known in cinema for his breakthrough comedy-drama In Bruges and, most recently, the critical and financial success of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, on which we podcastedtwice, reunites with the stars of the former for an exploration of a male friendship, its dissolution, and the subsequent fallout.
The Banshees of Inisherin offers something of a chamber play: it might not be set in a single room, but the titular island of Inisherin is isolated, barely populated, and promises little by way of escape or a future. Brendan Gleeson’s Colm begins to feel this keenly, and abruptly declares his hitherto long friendship with Colin Farrell’s Pádraic over, intending to devote his life to his music. We discuss how depression might play into his actions, the role of the island in inhibiting ambition, the difficulty an intelligent actor has in playing dumb, the balance of comedy with drama in comparison with McDonagh’s other films, the peculiar masculinity of the way the breakup plays out, how the story might be seen as a modern myth, and how convincing the sense of place is.
There’s a lot to admire about The Banshees of Inisherin, which is arguably McDonagh’s best film, and (equally arguably) his least flawed – which sounds like damning with faint praise for a filmmaker whose work is typically interesting and novel, admittedly, but those flaws have sometimes cast large shadows over otherwise wonderful work (looking at you, Three Billboards). Here, such issues are easier to accept, and it’s consequently easier to enjoy the film’s achievements. In short – see The Banshees of Inisherin.
We indulge in a caper inspired by a real-life attempted overthrow of the US government – no, not that one. The Business Plot of 1933 was alleged to have been planned by business leaders, aggrieved by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election, who sought to remove him and install a retired major general as dictator, and in telling a loose version of this story, writer-director David O. Russell chucks in a doctor, a lawyer, and a wildcard, played by Christian Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie, respectively.
Amsterdam has been a colossal bomb at the box office, and despite its many attractions – including surely the richest and most exciting cast you’ll see all year – we can understand why. It’s on the long side, it’s fuzzy, it’s overwritten, and its messaging, while agreeable, is banal… but it’s also full of charm and novelty, and Christian Bale hasn’t been this fun to watch for ages. Mike’s typically had a cool relationship with Russell’s films but finds this one easy to like; José is less in tune with it, particularly its comic tone, but still enjoys his time with it. It’s imperfect, but deserving of a more welcome reception than it’s had, and worth seeing.
Trauma as metaphor has become a trope of horror in recent years, and Smile features it more bluntly than you’ve ever seen. We discuss its messaging, storytelling, and camerawork, and remark upon the ways in which 2014’s It Follows may have inspired it. In the sense of Ali Baba and the Forty People Who Were Inspired.