🎬 #100 The Best Takes.
This week marks the 100th edition of the newsletter, which is really cool to me. I started this purely to talk about films I like and bring a bit more human touch to recommending what to watch. Especially necessary at a time when we’re faced with more ‘things’ to spend our attention on than at any other point in human history.
I took a bit of time to look over the 99 issues before this one and it’s interesting to see what editions and recommendations resonated most, measured through views and interactions - likes and comments. I thought I’d re-share the top two newsletters from across the past two years to mark the 100th edition. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence or some kind of lucky timing but, not just the top two, but the top three newsletters happened in a row in September this year.
For those that have seen them before it’s a good chance to revisit the films I chat about and for those that missed them, it’s a good time to check them out for the first time.
I also just wanted to thank everyone for reading and enjoying the newsletter. I’m always looking for notes, tips, anything you’d think would help make this better for readers.
I’m looking forward to the next 100.
And as always, happy choosing, happy viewing
FROM EDITION #88 FILM ONE: PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
2020 Dir Emerald Fennell
[1hr 53 mins]
This is director Emerald Fennell’s feature length debut, having acted in various films and then most notably serving as head writer on the second season of the BBC drama - Killing Eve. Her debut is a revenge drama that’s as funny and dark as it is able to play with our expectations. It does this through some very smart casting - for example, Adam Brody, most people remember him as the super nice, innocent Seth on The OC, and that’s exactly what Fennell is hoping when it comes to the opening scene.
Playing with the audience’s expectation that a particular casting choice brings. This is also helped more broadly by the casting of Mulligan - someone you may expect to be more ‘delicate or friendly’ - judging from her past performances. But here, she goes all in on someone intent on seeking revenge for something we don’t fully comprehend until the end of the second act.
She’s haunted, a person stuck in time, unwilling to move beyond the period that this tragic incident took place in. The art direction of her parent’s house, where she still lives, make it feel like a time period all to itself. The pastels, the choice of wardrobe and innocence of bright blues, plus the ever perfect weather make it seem like an unreal world - a tangental story to Clueless. This just makes the dark moments, the moments of vulnerability and pain all the more striking.
Bo Burnham’s role also has us wishing, fingers crossed, that good things will happen for Cassandra. Indeed the expectations of rom coms and meet cute moments has us totally wrapped up in Fennell’s web. At every turn we are confronted with the opposite of what we thought about someone or something. We expect, then are surprised and surprised once again. This is a fun, dark, twisted revenge thriller that had me laughing out loud during the very first shot - the inversion of what a classic night club opening scene would be if it was directed by a man.
TL;DR Get pulled every which way by Fennell’s revenge thriller, comedy, drama, romance - every bit is as juicy as the next.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and the UK.
Fact: The director was 7 months pregnant when shooting began.
Bonus: Fennell appears briefly as Midge in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie.
FILM TWO: OLDBOY
2003 Dir Park Chan-wook
Once you see this film it’s hard to ever get it out of your mind. It does what Korean cinema does best - jumps between slapstick comedy, heart-wrenching revelation and incredibly dark violence all within the space of a few minutes. It has become notorious and lauded for great reason - going places few other films dare.
From the outset were thrown into the mystery - Oh Dae-su, played by a wholly committed Choi Min-sik, is captured for a reason he or we are unaware of. Slowly, the mystery is unravelled. Taking us places we never expected to go, through a maze of startling action sequences and live animal eating. This is a film about as far from bland dumplings as you can get.
Park Chan-wook’s direction keeps us in the mystery alongside the protagonist, weaving together a masterful revenge that feels at times like a platform gamer. This is violent look into the endless repercussions of violence and a deep exploration of the worst possible revenge you could exact on someone - seemingly the answer isn’t death.
TL;DR Chan-wook’s dark, knotty and gnarled revenge thriller is an experience you have to go through to believe, go in knowing as little as possible if you’ve avoided spoilers this far or rewatch and relive it all over again.
*Available to buy on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and rent in the UK.
Fact: Based on the Japanese Manga of the same name.
FROM EDITION #89 FILM ONE:
1959 Dir William Wyler
[3hrs 32 mins]
Wyler’s biblical epic has Heston play Juda Ben-Hur, who, wronged by his best friend, charts his journey back to get his sweet sweet revenge. I promise I’m not obsessed with William Wyler, but this film was just a great example of the ‘boxy’ male physiques I mentioned in the opening.
Now science tells us that you can be incredible strong and not ‘ripped.’ Just look at any powerlifters’ bodies, they’re bulky - not the low body fat varieties that grace the covers of men’s fitness magazines. So Judah could be strong, he’s lean enough, but compared to modern examples - he looks quite ‘normal.’ He doesn’t project the contemporary ideas of a ‘heroic’ body. He looks like he could be a geography teacher who likes to hike.
Everything in a film is used to tell the story or tell us something about the characters. Today, if the film is about a ‘hero’ we can expect to see a body that looks like a lot of hard work went into it, that projects strength and traditional ideals of heroism, big arms, chest, lean and vascular. Similar to the way the Greeks sculpted perfect male bodies that couldn’t really match that of the everyday Greek civilian. We have modern superhero cinema as our version of that. Something to aspire to - but that can feel very out of reach compared to the everyday man.
So here in Ben-Hur, the story is told via everything that Wyler had at his disposal, perhaps, except, the modern benefits of a dedicated training regime with a personal trainer and nutritionist to jack up his protagonist. But, also, this might be the exact look they were both going for. In his predicament I’m sure Ben-Hur didn’t care about being aesthetic, he cared about survival. In fact, research suggests that Gladiators feasted on a mash of beans and potatoes, they wanted to gain strength and size but they also wanted fat. That precious inch or more could help protect them against stab wounds or blunt weapons, acting as inbuilt body armour. 9% body fat with rippling abs might ‘look good’ on camera but in reality it doesn’t offer much protection against a swinging mace.
Which is why Russell Crowe’s physique in Gladiator or Heston’s in Ben-Hur is maybe more historically accurate than say those featured in Zack Snyder’s 300. But the portrayal of the male body in that film has distinct intentions - look how fit these guys are, they must be the best fighting army that ever lived. Like the Greek statues, they are a mythic ideal of the ‘hero’ and fighting fitness. Ben-Hur is the body of a man who doesn’t obsess over how he looks, all he cares about is righting wrongs, unlike the guys below.
TL;DR Ben-Hur’s ‘normal’ body is featured prominently in Wyler’s epic, a physique built to survive, not to grace the pages of GQ.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and the UK.
Fact: Wyler wanted David Lean to direct the chariot race sequence, and even promised him a specific screen credit - ‘Chariot race directed by David Lean,’ but Lean declined.
FILM TWO: BARBIE
2023 Dir Greta Gerwig
If you haven’t seen Barbie I really urge you to go check it out. It’s so much fun and gets away with so much - it’s just a heartwarming example of the joy that cinema can bring to an audience. Everyone is having fun here. And Ken’s physique is plastic doll ‘perfect.’ Something that every man watching the film might want more than even the straight women watching. Everything here is perfect and over the top in a brilliant way. The contrast of real life and Barbie life is the rub that is flawlessly executed by Gerwig and her team.
The fact that Ryan Gosling looks how he looks for the part, is all geared towards the central joke of the film. I’ll not spoil anything, but how it obliterates the ideas of masculinity makes up one of my favourite sequences in the film. The ‘ideal’ male body is just on show to expand on those ideas further - this is a doll that represents a man - like the Greek statues, it’s the ‘ideal’ man - the Vitruvian Man where all proportions are as perfect as the golden ‘beach bod’ skin tone. But it has zero function for the characters other than symbolise their role, e.g. Gosling plays ‘beach Ken,’ so in that sense it’s good for the environment he works in, in terms of pure aesthetics. But it doesn’t help them be who they are, in fact it can be a distraction, taking them away from who they really want to be. The male body here is more appealing to the other Kens - a sign of capability, a sign of discipline, of macho-ness. In fact, in Barbie land, none of the Barbies are that fussed about Ken’s low body fat percentage or well defined pecks. He’s just Ken.
TL;DR Gosling’s ‘ideal’ male physique is all part of the joke of Greta Gerwig’s big swing, big pay off odyssey to the real world and back.
*Available for a decent chunk of a rental fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and the UK. Please, though, see it in the cinema if it’s still playing near you.
Fact: Mark Ronson wrote the song ‘I’m just Ken’ largely as a joke, but Greta liked it and when Gosling heard it he loved it so much he suggested it should be a musical number in the film. Enjoy it here if you haven’t already…
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