Tag Archives: drama

115 – Shoplifters

Intriguing, calm, witty, touching. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, winner of the 2018 Palme d’Or, is a modern-day Oliver Twist with real depth of feeling and naturalistic charm. Deceptively simple, it asks big questions of its audience, questions about family, love, loneliness, and how to live a good life.

It’s largely free of significant plot points – it begins with a very young girl, abused by her parents, being taken in by a motley crew of a family living on the poverty line, but from there takes an approach to story that is driven by character and situation. Everything is rendered complex – on the one hand, the young girl is taken in by a group of rescuers who care for her; on the other, they are kidnapping her. It would be true to say the aren’t easy answers to be found, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a harsh watch. It isn’t. There’s an impressive lightness of tone, the film refusing to wallow in victimhood, instead focusing on getting on, day to day. And it has a great sense of humour and keen eye for the romantic and emotionally open. It’s truly moving.

Amongst our praise for the film, we find time to discuss the projection and atmosphere at The Electric, a cinema we’re probably a little unkind to at times, and José orates on the relative lack of circulation of films such as these to a cinephile culture that does exist outside London and would gratefully receive more arthouse and foreign 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.

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112 – Widows – Second Screening

José drags a somewhat recalcitrant Mike to the cinema for a second go at Widows, joined by Lee Kemp (@leekemp), a Birmingham-based filmmaker and founder of Vermillion Films. And wow, we cover a lot!

Mike and Lee both agree that some of the cinematic technique is distracting on the first viewing, whereas second time round, knowing what to expect, it’s easier to appreciate the art of some shots and evaluate them more intimately. José simply luxuriates even more deeply than before in the visual splendour and tone. We agree that it’s a heist film that isn’t really about the heist, though what we then make of that – how clever we think that is – is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is the film’s economy, both visually and in dialogue. It’s so, so elegant and deliberate, and that all becomes clear as we compare things that struck us.

The film’s use of the Church comes into focus – morality and God is almost never in question when it comes up, the film instead framing it in political, corporate and corrupt terms. The film equates the worlds of politics and gang crime, one white, the other black, a theme expressed through the two opposing political candidates and their associates.

We take time to consider the similarities and differences between the central female characters; how, for instance, the two black women are members of very different social classes. We praise how the film depicts how they deal with grief, the lack of connection they so desperately feel, and the way it affords each of them their scene to express it. Mike has, since the first podcast, watched the first Prime Suspect (written by Lynda La Plante, creator of the original Widows) and talks a little about it; José finds it interesting that an originally British television programme adapted in part by a British filmmaker should yield such a sharp commentary on American society.

We also consider wider questions of how to watch films critically. Mike goes on a brief rant about why the lack of seriousness with which media studies education is still taken has resulted in a world of Trump, Brexit, and fake news. Methods of analysis come in for scrutiny; we mention the video essay series Every Frame a Painting and discuss how one of its episodes in particular, the one on 2011’s Drive, is or isn’t a good example of textual analysis. We discuss the scene in which we see the protagonist’s son’s death; would we have watched it differently ten years ago, when it’s set?

All this and even more in a discussion that’s full to the brim. Mike is begrudgingly forced to concede that he misjudged the film the first time. José loves it even more than he thought he could. And many, many thanks to Lee for joining us. And check out War of Words, the UK battle rap documentary on which he worked as executive producer, now on iTunes!

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.

107 – Widows

José falls in love with Widows, a portrait of life and survival in modern America in the skin of a heist film. Mike can see exactly why he should love it, but just doesn’t click with it.

Based on Lynda La Plante’s 1983 ITV series of the same name, Widows sees three women lose their criminal husbands in a heist gone wrong, and their attempt to complete their final job with the promise of a big payoff. The film draws parallels between urban gang violence and entrenched political dynasties, complicates the widows’ grief with sex and intimacy, and constructs the potential payoff not as a cause of celebration but as a way out of bad situations. José finds the film a visual marvel, layered and expressive, but to Mike it’s more a reminder of what he loved so deeply about You Were Never Really Here than great in its own right.

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.

103 – First Man

A weird failure, as Mike puts it, we struggle a little bit to get a read on First Man, Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong. Not content to adopt a mainstream tone, not willing to go full art movie, it gets lost in the middle somehow. Mike sees Armstrong as incongruously passive in his own story, his – and, for that matter, everyone else’s – drive for the Moon light, not believable, ultimately making the landing scene feel cheated, the film trying to convince you of the incredible achievement of the mission only at the last minute.

José finds aspects of the plot interesting, particularly the portrayal of marriage, but sees the use of the daughter as disjointed. Mike finds the film misunderstands Ryan Gosling’s style – his minimalism requires rich surroundings off which to reflect, and with so little here, Armstrong comes across blank. We appreciate the physicality of the space sequences, shot almost entirely with close ups on interiors, though the extension of the shaky cam to the rest of the film is irritating.

A confusing film that we find misguided, and a glance at its opening weekend box office doesn’t bode well. Claire Foy is very good 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.

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.

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.