First watches: Discoveries in film | July 2023

A sinking ship, a brutal weapon, four braindead terrorists, and a revolution in Barbieland.

6 min readAug 18, 2023

A Night To Remember (1958)

The simplest moments inspire true horror.

Due to the constant opinions, theories, and facts shared on social media around the time of OceanGate’s doomed expedition— and seeing James Cameron pop up on news stations to explain so effortlessly and articulately why it should never have been allowed in the first place—I sought out a Titanic film I hadn’t seen before. A Night To Remember was made in 1958 when the true extent of the ship’s destruction remained unknown. In this film, it sinks in one piece. In 1985, the wreck was discovered in two ruined halves, under 12,400 feet of water.

This isn’t to say the film’s old hat or dated — except by design. It doesn’t look or really even feel like a film from the 50s. Many survivors were around to visit the sets and advise the filmmakers, so it’s not hard to believe that the characters are stepping out of the early 1900s and into the future, on what they believed was a virtually indestructible, technological marvel. Arguably more than when it was originally released, director Roy Ward Baker’s foreboding, patient take on events leaks tension at every turn. Oodles of it, even with barley any incidental music.

He manages to give a naturalistic yet sweeping perspective on mounting panic, stopping here and there to zone in on certain passengers. All of whom are incapable of imagining their fate; many dismiss the chaos around them as temporary, solvable, not their concern. And those who do see the writing on the wall display forgivable cowardice or heroic bravery, with very little space between. The simplest moments inspire true horror: children enjoying the ship’s flares, passengers worrying about their material possessions, and a stoic father ensuring his family’s safety despite his own near-certain demise.

Oppenheimer (2023)

Nolan leaves us with a complete, chaotic sense of dread.

Nolan’s an odd one. I can usually reel off an unlimited number of reasons why I should dislike his movies, but I find myself enthralled nonetheless. He says, “Don’t try to understand it, just feel it.” That’s all well and good, but trusting the process and submitting oneself to a “vibe” doesn’t feel reliable when you’re an hour deep, trying to grasp the stakes in a non-linear time-travel spy thriller, and you can’t make head nor tail of what anybody’s saying because Ludwig Göransson’s music has been turned up to 11. Göransson’s back after Tenet, playing music at a courtroom hearing that wouldn’t feel out of place during a space battle.

In and of themselves, these scores are gargantuan, hypnotic, utterly immersive — my favourite is Dunkirk’s unending anxiety-attack courtesy of Hans Zimmer — but smooshing them together with Nolan’s screenplays seems haphazard at best. Regardless, I watched Oppenheimer in 70mm from the 4th row at the Delphi Filmpalast. I was deafened — yes — but also deeply affected. I was saddened by the absence of empathy displayed by world leaders. And disturbed by the rampant patriotism, used to facilitate such a horrific and unprecedented loss of life. And nervous — about the future.

It’s an onslaught. It’s loud. It’s constantly flashing, cutting to-and-fro, recontextualising itself and lurching in all directions mid-conversation. One portion of the movie is in colour — Oppenheimer’s subjective view — and the other’s in black and white — a more objective view of proceedings surrounding the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It should feel utterly incoherent and indecipherable, but Nolan leaves us with a complete, chaotic sense of dread. It’s an inception point, if you will. Any viewer who hasn’t been worried about the complete obliteration of our world in an all-out nuclear conflict certainly is now.

Four Lions (2010)

Straight out of the genius, possibly disturbed comic mind of Chris Morris.

I was crushing on Riz Ahmed HARD and found myself reminded of that Gogglebox clip: “We all like a bad boy, don’t we?”… “Yeah, not a fucking terrorist though, Chris.” Eye-candy aside, Four Lions is not for the faint of heart. You could be forgiven for running an inflammatory headline in the Daily Mail stating that it’s making a big joke out of a very real and complex threat. After all, it comes straight out of the genius, possibly disturbed comic mind of Chris Morris — the man behind Brass Eye’s brilliant satirical takedown of an early-noughties moral panic: namely, “Paedogeddon”.

The titular Four Lions are four goofy Muslim terrorists — Omar, Barry, Waj, and Hassan — who bond over some very dark and destructive ideas, sharing banter that wouldn’t feel out of place in an episode of The Inbetweeners. Though they have plenty of reasons to argue, they find shared purpose in extremism, and ultimately — as they would see it — their own self-sacrifice. Morris is deft at showing how institutional racism can unintentionally abet radicalisation. As suspicion of a terrorist plot mounts, rather than investigate these psychotic, lazy, self-righteous “four lions”, law-abiding Muslims are tackled and arrested instead.

The final quarter is oddly profound and, simultaneously, surreal, clownish — absurd. In a last-ditch effort to unite around their shared purpose — suicide — these idiots find themselves in daft costumes at a local fun run, where they will bomb innocent civilians and be remembered as martyrs. Of course, their plan slowly unravels, leaving them confused, without meaning, and adrift. They’ve strung each other along and now the hollow nature of their ambitions is finally revealed. Things finish in a very sorry state. I’m not sure what I was expecting. A happy ending?

Barbie (2023)

This fumbles hard but somehow sticks the landing.

This feels like it should have been released opposite Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Both films are grotesquely over-stylised and bombard viewers with a unique brand of quick-fire, colourful humour. One is laddish; the other, very girly. But I rewatched Scott Pilgrim recently and it hasn’t aged well. I can see a similar fate befalling Barbie which, currently, feels “of the moment”. The 2010s weren’t ready for what amounts to a hyperactive continuation — perhaps even a provocation — of online discourse surrounding feminism, misogyny, and toxic masculinity. And yet, Barbie doesn’t use its runtime to arrive at the most obvious endgame: true equality.

Writer/director Greta Gerwig tries to put Barbie on a pedestal by undermining Ken, and in doing so, unintentionally arrives at satire. Those opposed to feminist ideals might say that women want to rule the world and revoke men’s opportunities to provide for their families, resigning them to lives without purpose. Instead of alluding to these arguments, Gerwig enacts them: Barbieland is run by women, but as Ken has been rejected by Barbie, he introduces a “patriarchy”, which amounts to him strutting about in a fluffy jacket. Of course, order must be restored, with power stripped from Ken and returned to Barbie — supreme ruler.

But in the real world, men have nefarious motives. There are struggles for power, money, dominance. There are true and terrifying threats of violence, degradation, and emotional torment. Real equality is arguably very far away, if not impossible. The one place real equality could last is in Barbieland — a permanently pink paradise, wherein everyone’s innocent and all anybody wants is to play house and be happy. This could have served as inspiration for the real world characters (such as Mattel’s CEO, Will Ferrell). So, this fumbles hard but somehow sticks the landing. At the last minute, Barbie meets her maker, watches an emotional slideshow celebrating womanhood, and then attends her gynecologist.

A Night To Remember (1958)

Honorable mentions:

  • Black Mirror: Nosedive (2016) — Better than Joan Is Awful.
  • Turtle Journey: The Crisis in Our Oceans (2023) — Aardman animation doing the Lord’s work, in under two minutes.

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