Tag Archives: thriller

371 – Beast

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The absence of presence that is Idris Elba, who we’d like to like one day, stars in Beast, a Jurassic Park knock-off that pitches him against both his distant daughter and an excessively affectionate lion. It’s a film that Mike enjoyed unironically but can’t claim to find much quality in; José, showing off, provides a coherent response, seeing the film’s weaknesses and having no fun.

It’s a mechanical film in more ways than one. The character relationships crash inelegantly into place, the action hasn’t met an idea from a better film that it didn’t try to copy – and the seats share the load, tilting and rumbling along with the images. For reasons beyond our understanding, our local Cineworld offered Beast only in 4DX, the theme park-style augmented exhibition format that purports to enhance the cinematic experience through practical effects such as moving seats, wind, and strobe lighting. It’s a technology that José despises to its core, arguing that it betrays a lack of trust in the film’s own ability to excite its audience, while Mike, who is in his thirties, likes filling himself up with fizzy liquid and sugar and being shaken around all afternoon.

Still, no amount of physical animation can either distract from or add to the vacuum of cinematic substance that is Idris Elba, Beast‘s central problem and central lack. It makes for a film you won’t regret ignoring.

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

368 – Psycho (1960)

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We visit the MAC for a screening of the new 4k restoration of Psycho, one of the most analysed films of all time, and arguably director Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous. It’s a film we’ve both seen several times, but not for a few years, and in the cinema setting for which it’s meant, instead of the classroom, there’s a renewed and reinvigorated wonder to its imagery and editing.

We share our feelings about this screening, remark upon things we’d forgotten or had never noticed before, discuss how elements of the film have aged, and compare it to Brian de Palma’s Dressed to Kill, which was, shall we say, inspired by Psycho, and which we recently saw. We find plenty of room for criticism, but although we conclude that Psycho works for us more as a collection of a few iconic scenes than a thoroughly engrossing story from beginning to end, those scenes shine, and nowhere more vividly than on a cinema screen.

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

362 – Dressed to Kill

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Problematic and protested against upon its release in 1980, and remaining so today, Dressed to Kill is nonetheless stylish and engrossing, showing off some truly great filmmaking. We talk Psycho and cinema’s transgender villains, why Nancy Allen should have been a star, Brian De Palma’s greatest deaths, and the version of Michael Caine that José doesn’t like.

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

341 – Nightmare Alley (1947)

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Listen to our discussion of 2021’s Nightmare Alley here.

We explore 1947’s Nightmare Alley, directed by Edmund Goulding, and compare it to Guillermo del Toro’s new adaptation of the material, which we find superior in almost every way. Mike in particular finds, in the reflection of Goulding’s version, useful ways to appreciate del Toro’s, which at first blush he found uninspiring. We discuss the portrayal and use of the geek, the differences in the introduction of the protagonist (played by Tyrone Power and Bradley Cooper in the old and new films respectively), del Toro’s greater focus on mood and scene setting, and how thoroughly Goulding’s film adheres to the noir genre. And we express our joy at seeing del Toro’s version at the grand reopening of the Electric, the UK’s oldest working cinema, which we completely forgot to do in the last podcast.

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

340 – Nightmare Alley (2021)

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Listen to our discussion of 1947’s Nightmare Alley here.

We talk swoony visuals, alcoholism, a femme fatale pastiche, moral descent, Bradley Cooper’s sexual presence and more in our discussion of Nightmare Alley, Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name.

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

325 – Last Night in Soho

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Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated psychological horror, Last Night in Soho, reaches cinemas, and we dive into its themes, its visual magnificence, its relationship to the era and environment it portrays… and its problems. It’s impossible not to admire this film for its lush cinematography, impressive special effects, and the best of its performances, but its screenplay leaves a huge amount to be desired, not just in how it conceptualises the world and people it portrays, but also, more simply, how clumsy it is in telling its story, bafflingly dropping entire character threads that seem like they obviously have places to go, and handling at least one secondary character’s entire subplot very poorly. We discuss the film’s dream logic, or lack thereof; its fear of the very lure of the grimy world it needs to show us, and the moralism that accompanies it; how it trades in nostalgia of Sixties Soho, despite being keen to exhibit is dark side; and the thematic simplicity of almost everything – things are good or bad, to be loved or feared, and room for complexity, there is none.

With all that said, it’s still a very enjoyable couple of hours, a discussion piece, and thanks to its fabulous imagery and in particular the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith, easy to recommend.

P.S. Mike would like to acknowledge that he is aware that in the course of speaking too quickly for his brain to issue timely corrections, he wildly overstated how much the ghostly figures in Last Night in Soho are referred to as “blank” or “blanks”. It happens maybe once or twice, if he remembers rightly, and in passing. But he asserts that nonetheless, their faceless, amorphous, anonymous design and relentless, zombie-like behaviour does make them a fair point of comparison with the Blanks in The World’s End. So nyah.

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

315 – The Courier

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Benedict Cumberbatch gets himself embroiled in the Cuban Missile Crisis in The Courier, a dramatisation of the true story of Greville Wynne, a British businessman recruited by MI6 to smuggle Soviet secrets provided by high-ranking GRU officer Oleg Penkovsky. It’s a film that offers pleasures in its performances and in the telling of a story you likely haven’t heard, but its storytelling is often banal and sometimes unclear, and, José contends, it’s full of tricks and tropes that are just there for effect – and often not very good ones. Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, set in a similar period of the Cold War and also telling a true story of a citizen’s recruitment to engage in an overseas mission, is an obvious point of comparison, and perhaps The Courier‘s greatest gift is that its mediocrity helps to show off just how assured and polished is Spielberg’s cinematic technique, even if the ideological purposes to which he puts it leave us rolling our eyes.

The Courier isn’t a terrible film, and its performances do make it worth a look… but it isn’t a very good film, either.

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

308 – Old

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Reminding José of 1970s auteur exploitation movies and Mike of The Twilight Zone, M. Night Shyamalan’s Old confines its characters, and most of its action, to an isolated beach at a high-class tropical resort. As you might expect with Shyamalan, it’s best seen with little advance knowledge, as the plot twists and turns, revelations throwing previous events into new light.

But we do, indeed, encourage you to see it – it’s perhaps the most entertaining film Shyamalan’s made in some time, and although his dialogue isn’t the finest you’ll ever hear, his camerawork is some of the most interesting. He’s a director who always seeks an interesting or expressive composition, who isn’t satisfied with shot-reverse shot, and his enthusiasm for the image is infectious. Some things could be better – some dramatic moments could be heightened, and it’s a fairly thin film that may not reward a second viewing, when there’s no hope of surprise. But the first viewing is an engrossing one, and we recommend it.

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

293 – Promising Young Woman

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We’re joined by returning guest Celia, on the phone from Canada, to discuss writer-director Emerald Fennell’s unusual revenge thriller, Promising Young Woman. Following the rape and – implied – suicide of her friend Nina, which goes unpunished, Carey Mulligan’s Cassie drops out of medical school, and now spends her nights feigning drunkenness, allowing men to pick her up and take her home, alarming them with her sobriety as they begin to sexually assault her. When a chance reunion with a former classmate reveals that Nina’s rapist is engaged, Cassie embarks upon a campaign of vengeance against those she considers responsible for and involved in committing and allowing her friend’s rape and its cover-up.

Celia loves it, finding that it invokes and brings to life many subtle and important observations about life for women in the patriarchy, enjoying the various forms Cassie’s revenge takes – particularly the “exercises in forced empathy”, in her words – and feeling a call to arms; José decidedly doesn’t, decrying those observations and revenges as cinematically unrealised in what is merely a filmed essay, albeit one that admirably exhibits a style, an aesthetic and a point of view. Mike bravely sits in the middle, pretending to be superior to the other two by virtue of not exhibiting an extreme response to the film. The discussion is varied and passionate – and full of spoilers. Love it or hate it, Promising Young Woman is a thought-provoking, vital film, and well worth watching.

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

284 – Judas and the Black Messiah

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The story of a civil rights activist who deserved a biopic long before now, told from the perspective of the man who killed him. Fred Hampton chaired the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and using his oratorical skills and powers of persuasion formed the Rainbow Coalition, a political movement in which black, white and Puerto Rican organisations combined and worked together. Hampton was identified as a threat by the FBI and his death is considered an assassination under COINTELPRO, the FBI’s illegal programme of disruption of domestic political organisations. He was killed in December 1969 at the age of 21.

We ask whether it’s a problem that Judas and the Black Messiah frames his story as part of his murderer, William O’Neal’s. For José, the entire story is badly conceived, as Hampton should be the clear focus; for Mike, the problem is in the execution, with O’Neal underdeveloped – but it’s possible that this informant thriller genre structure is what allowed the film to get made in the first place. Mike remarks upon Hampton’s pragmatism in contrast to the narratives around Martin Luther King Jr., murdered only a year before Hampton, which arguably tend to convey idealism for the future as opposed to action in the here and now.

Judas and the Black Messiah is an imperfect but important exploration of an extraordinarily impressive man we should have known more about before now.

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