Tag Archives: drama

102 – A Star Is Born

Hyped up, already very successful, and widely well-received, A Star Is Born earns strong reactions from us. To Mike it’s at points truly reprehensible, to José simply a confused failure. Mike has never seen any of the previous versions – he tried and couldn’t make it – while José finds writer/director/star Bradley Cooper’s new remake unworthy to share their company. The novelty of seeing Lady Gaga unmasked soon wears off, her performance opaque and lacking in presence. We agree that Cooper is very good and truly a star, though with the opprobrium he receives from one half of us, he must have done something to Mike in a previous life.

We discuss and debate what we make of the film’s characters – Mike finds them deeply unlikeable, toxically compatible, which isn’t in itself a bad thing but for the fact that the film wants to render it romantic. (Cooper has a real problem with consent and personal space.) José finds their love difficult to believe in, particularly Gaga’s for Cooper. Quite why she’s so hot for him is barely even told, let alone shown.

Cooper’s take on the music industry is out of date and simplistic, which is more than disappointing considering he was working with one of the biggest pop stars of the last decade. We each have our reasons for finding the suicide scene nonsensical. And Mike describes his problem with the film’s ending.

A lot to talk about, most of it negative. See you again in between twenty and forty years for the next version.

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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101 – The Little Stranger

You find us in contemplative mood, picking apart a film described by José as “genuinely puzzling” and Mike as “The House with a Doc in Its Walls”. The Little Stranger builds light gothic horror around class and ambition in 1940s Warwickshire, a stately home providing the setting of the action and focus of Domhnall Gleeson’s town doctor.

With some difficulty, we attempt to grasp the film’s themes and intentions, never quite feeling we get the full measure of it. It doesn’t help that it basks, to some extent, in ambiguity, and also that half the lines are mumbled so as to be rendered truly unintelligible. There are things we like, particularly its sure sense of era and class, and its rich production design, but we can’t overall say we recommend it.

What we can recommend, though, is a visit to Evesham’s Regal Cinema, where we saw the film. A multipurpose venue that hosts live shows as well as regular cinema screenings, it oozes charm and style. A leisurely Sunday drive amongst sunny A roads took us there, and what a lovely day was had by all. Even if the film was a bit disappointing.

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.

98 – A Simple Favor

“From the darker side of director Paul Feig”, as the ubiquitous advertising has it, and the film doesn’t disappoint. A Simple Favor pairs Anna Kendrick with Blake Lively as the least compatible friends you can imagine, friends with dark secrets and desires. We find Feig a complete master of tone, able to control the film’s descent into some very, very murky places without ever losing its ability to remain light and likeable. It’s a quite an achievement.

We discuss the way the film makes the female characters prominent and diminishes the role of men, eschewing the typical noir hero role for Kendrick’s Nancy Drew escapades, and the pleasure in seeing her character develop and assume control. The use of flashback is interesting and at some points quite brilliant, with important plot points being conveyed through subtle eyeline matches and just a few short shots recontextualising things we already know, or think we know. Mike finds the plot grows a little overcomplicated towards the end, and indeed predicted one or two developments – normally he prides himself on his gullibility – but these are nitpicks, at best, in a hugely entertaining film.

And it’s a film noir played for laughs! José can’t stress that enough.

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.

94 – The Rider

A contemporary Western played by non-professional actors and based closely on their real lives, The Rider is both heartfelt and riddled with cliché. Brady is one of a group of young men in the American Midwest who ride bucking horses and bulls, risking severe injury and death, in what can be seen at once as both a vital act of keeping tradition alive and a tacit admission that the opportunities offered by America are dwindling and serve to keep people in their place. Mike also describes it as “a stupid sport”.

José sees a kinship with American Animals in its portrayal of young American men with no sex lives or apparent interest in sex lives; Mike believes it’s a film that will flatter those who like to pride themselves on seeing “quality” cinema. There are scenes of beauty, including those with a former rider profoundly injured and restricted to life in an assisted living facility – Brady’s love for his friend, expressed throughout the film, is touching. And the horse wrangling is simply spectacular and worth it for its own sake.

A film with deep flaws, an indulgence in cliché, visual unoriginality, and too rosy a view on its subject matter, but nonetheless with flashes of beauty.

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.

88 – Red Sparrow

We catch up on home media with an erotic thriller that, while it fails to titillate, offers a fascinating portrayal of totalitarianism, sexuality, control and ownership of the female body and the way power is expressed through it, revenge, and more. Jennifer Lawrence stars as a ballet dancer forced into working for the state as a honeypot, tasked with seducing Joel Edgerton’s CIA operative for the purpose of smoking out his mole.

We are in agreement on the extravagant thrill of the opening, and the electifying darkness of the sex school’s complex dynamics and brutal methods. Mike is less interested in what occurs when the action moves into the field, and holds out hope for an ambitious (and insane) conclusion; José, more realistic, expounds on why the film’s developments should be interesting enough for Mike as they are. The plot grows convoluted, the visual design less expressive, but ultimately we love what Red Sparrow offers and wish we’d caught it when it was at the cinema.

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.

86 – The Equalizer 2

Quiet, meditative, sensitive, gradual. Not the first words that come to mind when considering 2014’s vigilante thriller The Equalizer – though they do apply at times – but certainly descriptors of its sequel, which we loved. Denzel Washington’s ex-spy, Robert McCall, who had managed to extricate himself from a life of state-sanctioned violence and murder, now works as a vigilante for hire, an avenger, conducts himself as a role model, mentor, and cheerleader for those whose lives with which he comes into contact.

We discuss The Equalizer 2‘s ethos of personal responsibility and self-improvement, and its meditative tone. José orates on his love of Denzel and his position as perhaps the most significant figure of black masculinity throughout the history of cinema. Mike adores Antoine Fuqua’s aesthetic of long lenses, shallow focus and moody lighting; a visual sensibility that looks wonderful and intimidating on the big screen, but somehow makes small screens seem big too.

While it’s certainly cut from the same cloth as the first film, The Equalizer 2 is more confident to bask in contemplation and even a kind of plotlessness, and it’s not quite what you’d expect. We think it’s great. Worth seeing while it’s in cinemas.

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.

84 – BlacKkKlansman

We breathlessly debate BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s comic drama based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. With limited time – Mike has to leave for work at some point and he’ll only let himself be so late – we dig right in. Discussed is the film’s point of view on culture and particularly cinema, arguing that a single film can wield the power to affect an entire nation; John David Washington’s performance, the influences we can see in it, and whether a more charismatic star might have been beneficial; our attitudes to Lee’s pamphleteering and the pros and cons of propagandistic cinema; the film’s direct address of Trump’s America and its tragic, somewhat surprising ending; and more.

We question whether the film’s comic treatment of David Duke, head of the KKK, carefully undercuts our delight in mocking him or dangerously indulges it. Duke is rendered a figure of fun in some notable and hilarious scenes, but the film ensures we recognise that he has never gone away. And Mike is particularly affected by Adam Driver’s character, a Jew in name only who, through being threatened by the KKK and confronted by Ron, is forced to reckon with his identity and the fact that it’s been easy for him to ignore it for most of his life. (The Howard Jacobson article he references is linked here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/07/howard-jacobson-jews-know-what-antisemitism-is-and-what-it-isnt-to-invent-it-would-be-a-sacrilege)

As we acknowledge in the podcast, we unfortunately missed the first few minutes of the film, which is only one reason we want to see it again. Mike is bursting with thoughts and can’t get them all out; Jose vacillates on the film’s artistic value, though not its cultural value. There’s much, much more to consider in BlacKkKlansman than we were able to in this podcast and we shall return to 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.