Tag Archives: drama

387 – Babylon

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A film Mike was doing his damndest to avoid seeing but eventually agreed to, Babylon is an epic period comedy-drama about the excess and industrialisation of Hollywood in the ’20s and ’30s, and an epic bomb at the box office. Its aesthetics, characterisations, use of race and class, vulgarity, set pieces, bizarre ending and more are up for discussion. Did Mike have as terrible a time as he anticipated?

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

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386 – Tár

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Cate Blanchett’s performance as the title character is the highlight of the otherwise unutterably deflating Tár. What begins as an unexpectedly captivating profile of a world-class musical conductor and promises to develop into a story of sexual and psychological intrigue ultimately fails to satisfy when it refuses to offer thrills and drama – not to mention plot resolution. We pick through our problems with it, including what we find implausible, its reactionary attitudes and low opinion of young people, and its embrace of ambiguity and lack of interest in developing the story of Tár’s downfall.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

385 – Till

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We disagree on Till, which dramatises the events surrounding the infamous lynching of Emmett Till, a black fourteen-year-old boy abducted, tortured, and shot in Mississippi in 1955, and his mother’s decisive actions following the crime, which included having his mutilated body shown in a public funeral service with an open casket, and having brutal photographs of it published in the press. Emmett’s murder and Mamie’s activism forced the USA to confront the reality of its racism and catalysed the civil rights movement – of course, progress made subsequently was not instant and vast racial inequality and injustice is present in the country to this day, but the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 might not have happened if not for the events of nine years prior.

While Till‘s story has often been told and referenced in music, documentary and other media, it’s surprising to say the least that it’s taken this long to be the subject of a major feature film. Perhaps it’s the visceral nature of the case, the importance of the imagery of Emmett’s body that has led to such reticence, and, as José suggests, nervous anticipation of what might be depicted could keep audiences away. That imagery in Till is shocking and upsetting, but the film keeps a tactful eye on what it shows, and refuses to depict Emmett’s torture and murder.

Still, while we agree on the sensitivity and care with which we feel the film handles these crucial elements, we disagree on almost everything else. José sees in Till an intelligent, complex exploration of racism and power structures; Mike finds amateurism in its visual compositions and excess in its orchestral score. It’s a valuable film and one that never indulges in smugness or didacticism, but we refuse to provide a coherent opinion as to whether it’s good or not.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

382 – Corsage

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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.

375 – The Banshees of Inisherin

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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 podcasted twice, 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.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

358 – Vortex

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Gaspar Noé dials down his typical cinematic spectacle to bring us a slow and moving exploration of dementia and how it drives a loving couple apart. He still has one visual trick up his sleeve, however: Vortex uses splitscreen to show us two lives lived in close proximity but not shared. His cameras follow their subjects individually, sometimes observing them go about separate activities, sometimes occupying almost the same perspective as the characters sit together and engage in conversation, nearly giving us a unified widescreen shot that captures both husband and wife in the same frame – but never being able to. But while Vortex is given structure by its visual design, what it depicts is as crucial as how it depicts it. It’s not a sentimental film, but neither is it harsh – and it’s well worth your time.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

357 – Everything Everywhere All at Once

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We’ve seen a lot of the multiverse lately, and Everything Everywhere All at Once brings to it a combination of Gen Z existential angst and mid-life where-did-things-go-wrong woe, in a frantic comic-action-sci-fi wrapper. It’s a lot of things in one, and we discuss as many of them as we can remember, including its campness, puerility, basis in multi-generational immigrant life, film references, endless endings, and much more. It’s full of life and imagination, and despite its unevenness, easy to recommend.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

354 – CODA

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If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is to be believed, CODA, a comedy-drama about the tension caused in a deaf family when the one child who can hear wishes to pursue a career in singing, is the best film of 2021. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not to be believed, and the fact that a straight-to-video Hallmark film can win the most prestigious award in cinema is a damning indictment of film culture today. Still, taken on its own merits, CODA is perfectly likeable and you’ll enjoy spending time in its company. But really. This isn’t good enough.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

353 – The Northman

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Writer-director Robert Eggers, who previously wowed us with The Lighthouse, returns in style with a brutal, bloody Viking epic, based on Amleth, the figure in Scandinavian legend that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s the first of his films to see a wide, mainstream release and large-scale ad campaign to match, and it’s perhaps for that reason that it is in some sense less demanding that its audience put the work in to understand and interpret it – although there remains plenty of room for that, and it’s in a different league to the blockbusters with which it’s competing. It’s a film to put down what you’re doing right now and see at the cinema – it’s vicious, atmospheric, and beautifully shot, and you won’t regret seeing it where it’s meant to be seen.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

349 – The Worst Person in the World

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A Palme d’Or-nominated millennial comic drama from Norway, whose lead, Renate Reinsve, won Best Actress at Cannes last year, The Worst Person in the World explores universal themes of how to find a direction in life, our expectations of our own lives and others’, falling in and out of love, and how to handle the twists that life throws our way. But it speaks to José and Mike differently.

To the older of us, it’s a great film, one that articulates its themes with complexity and develops its characters expressively. To the younger – a millennial, to whom it should speak more directly – it’s a film that’s difficult to connect to, that occupies an emotional register to which he doesn’t relate. We discuss that register, the ways in which the characters behave and respond to one another, the use of chapters to structure the story and narration to tell some of it, and the imagination and life of certain scenes. Many of The Worst Person in the World‘s qualities are obvious, but we don’t agree on its greatness. As they say in Norway, c’est la vie.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.