You could practically hear a collective sigh when the new Joker film was announced. I think it’s fair to say that The Onion said it the best:
When the original trailer was finally released, it gave me super-heavy Taxi Driver vibes: misunderstood loner in a morally corrupt city who just snaps. I wouldn’t say I was that too off, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
For the rest of society, everyone’s minds went straight to that asshole who shot up a theatre in face paint. Since The Dark Knight the Joker has unfortunately become a symbol for edgy incels and loner types, an issue that was amplified by Jared Leto’s juggalicious take on the Clown Prince – though mostly ironic, but it’s no secret that the Joker holds a special place in every shitposter’s catalogue.
Due to this negative energy (the shooting-part, not the meme-part…unless we’re talking about incels, but again getting ahead of myself), an exhausting amount of hype and fear made for excellent publicity. Personally, I wanted to see it regardless – I’m a sucker for mid-century modern aesthetic and Joaquin Phoenix. And Batman, generally. Plus I wanted to see if it was just like Taxi Driver.
I was pleasantly surprised.
We meet Arthur “Happy” Fleck (Phoenix), a mentally ill man who lives with his mother (Frances Conroy) in the worst part of Gotham, a city plagued with corruption on all levels. Art is our tragic character, someone who is abandoned by any and all who can help him, until he inevitably snaps.
Despite my poor synopsis, this portrayal of Joker is incredibly well-defined: Art is an unreliable narrator, but not a liar. He has no political leanings during the riots – all of his qualms are personal. It’s the rest of Gotham that recognizes that there is power in his iconicism – after all, they started this movement before they knew Arthur existed.
The big question is: does this film demonize the mentally ill?
No. If anything it exposes the poor support systems for the mentally ill, or rather, the institutions funding the support systems when dealing with a corrupt society.
Additionally, Arthur’s illnesses appear to be a blend of nature and nurture, and every bit of the “nurture” part is made up of the worst circumstances possible – circumstances that could have been prevented.
So the bigger question is: does this excuse his actions?
Of course not, you silly person.
The first strike was self-defense, sure, but that’s it. The rest was self-empowerment.
Art turns violent because he finds release – he is getting back at the bullies while challenging the status quo. No one cares when he’s attacked, so why not fight back? He’s got nothing to lose. We can feel sympathy for Arthur the struggling clown, but that is far from empathizing with his behavior. His behavior spirals when he discovers there are no consequences for his actions.
And if you’re of the mindset that this film promotes violence, that’s admitting that you not only don’t understand right from wrong but also cause and effect.
Is this film “dangerous?”
What does that even mean?
People act like they’ve never seen an antihero before.
How does Joaquin Phoenix fare against the other Jokers?
I think Joaquin Phoenix is a fantastic actor: Arthur is sympathetic but unnerving, like an uncanny personality valley. This portrayal adds to that definition that I mentioned earlier, both original and timeless. To break it down, I present the following:
My Brief Joker Character Breakdown
Cesar Romero – a cartoon brought to life
Jack Nicholson – an unpredictable criminal/cartoonish gangster, style icon
Mark Hamill – a well-written literal cartoon, practically perfect in every way
Heath Ledger – unreliable narrator, liar, anarchist, modern, claims to be chaotic but seems to do a lot of planning, gritty/funny
Jared Leto – an attempt at quirky contemporary, ultimately gross, highly romanticized
Joaquin Phoenix – pitiful, mentally ill, theatrical/obsessed with comedy, embraces absurdity
This being established, how does Joker fit into the Batman mythos?
As much as I enjoy Batman films, I’m not the best aficionado on the subject, so it’s not so much if it does than if it can.
As of now, this film serves as a standalone character study that forces its way into the Batman mythos. Thomas Wayne is a classist candidate who wants to make Gotham great again, who becomes a martyr for a new Gotham. But even if you somehow didn’t know anything about the Waynes, the film still stands as a cautionary tale for a broken system, especially when Gotham is the perfect placeholder for any metropolis.
Bruce’s appearance in Joker serves as a reminder that he is also a victim of circumstance, only he does what’s in his power to help prevent tragedy rather than revel in insanity (though the latter is tempting). Because we presently don’t know anything about Bruce’s future, this is not perceptively in the Batman universe.
If there was to be a sequel where Bruce confronts Arthur as Batman, he would be confronting a figurehead, a man not directly responsible for any of the chaos done in his image. Additionally, this is a man who is a danger to himself and others who is not easily “fixed,” it would be more of a introspective on Bruce’s role as Batman as well as shaking his morals, which was already done in The Dark Knight.
Should Todd Phillip’s vision splinter into it’s own take on the Gothamverse, I’d rather have Bruce Wayne be an entrepreneur by day and private eye by night. Arthur would become his reminder to stay grounded. I’m also imagining that the Rogue’s Gallery is just as socially-relevant: Oswald Cobblepot is a deformed blue-blood from a rival family, Pamela Isely is a bio-terrorist, Selena Kyle is a kleptomaniac animal activist…. It’s a weird idea, but it’s doable. I also feel like each story would end the same way: bittersweet, sad, heavy, probably just as thought-provoking or controversial if done correctly.
I dug it. It was reminiscent of Taxi Driver and American Psycho with a bit of Falling Down and a dash of Network for taste, culminating in something surprisingly different.
If you grew up with this book series, you might remember that the stories themselves were actually not that memorable at all, but Stephen Gammell’s beautiful illustrations bored into your very soul and remain tucked deep in the recesses of your memory banks.
Scary Stories takes place during a time of turmoil in small-town America: Nixon is on the verge of winning the presidential race while barely-adults are getting shipped off to ‘Nam to die. This particular town is known for a haunted house, home to a restless spirit who was known for telling scary stories to the townschildren who were later killed.
When our plucky horror-fiend Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) steals the ghost’s infamous storybook, the stories come to life and prey on her and her friends’ worst fears.
Adapting this campfire tale anthology has proven to be a tricky task, even with horror master Guillermo del Toro behind the helm(ish). Though trying its best to weave a narrative, the story itself is what happened if Goosebumps, Paranorman and It had some sort of a three-way lovechild with a bad case of the jump scares.
Considering the artwork’s iconicism, one would think they’d go all out, right? Though an excellent attempt was made, the monsters were unfortunately buried under a CG sheen rather than opting for practical effects. The camera also refuses to linger much, reaction-cutting like crazy, resulting in that overproduced style of young adult horror.
Despite this lack of definition, I think there are some merits to be found if you squint hard enough. For instance, I appreciated that the setting was in the late 1960’s, rather than cashing in on the 1980’s/1990’s nostalgia grab. However attempts to reel in on that childhood trauma and small-town-wartime-angst/paranoia comes off as heavy-handed and rather clunky.
In short, this is a decent 13+ scary movie, but sadly lacks the needed grit and tonal atmosphere to make something beautifully original. Personally, I think an anthology film would have been more fun and effective – like a gritty Trick or Treat. But I guess we’ll find out in the inevitable sequel.
Oh hey there, it’s been a while. I just wanted to talk about possibly one of my new favorite directors, Ari Aster, starting a blip with his 2018 feature debut, Hereditary. Mild spoilers ahoy!
After the death of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette) is doing her best to keep her shit together – after all, her mother was a source of incredible trauma for her and their family. But even after death, Annie’s mother wouldn’t cease to drive her crazy.
In terms of accolades, this film is probably the most underrated of 2018 next to Searching and Mandy (and probably Mute, but I haven’t seen it yet).
Halfway through the film Collette delivers a monologue that gives me chills every time – I was hoping that scene alone would gain some attention.
The beauty of this film as a horror piece is that you can’t tell if the chaos is grounded in the physical or the supernatural until the end. Even then either way can be arguable. Additionally I feel that every reaction to each terrible event is plausible, if not understandable.
Hereditary is a mental health awareness piece under the guise of supernatural thriller. Even Aster only considers it a drama. The tension is built up so beautifully, each extreme becomes an emotional crescendo. As creepy as it is, I love showing this movie to people so I can watch their reactions. Both Collette and Alex Wolf have fantastic performances, so come for the drama, stay for the coming of great Paimon.
After such a strong debut, sometimes a victory lap is in order.
Midsommar begins with Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a one-sided toxic relationship held together by dependence and guilt. Things only get more awkward when Dani is reluctantly invited to what was originally intended to be a stag trip to Sweden with Christian’s friends.
The tension is palpable from the get-go, and things only get worse from there: their destination is within the Hårga – an isolated
cult commune with little room for modern amenities. Luckily for our party, they are to witness a midsummer event that the Hårga only celebrate every 90 years. When this festival kicks off with a gruesome ättestupa ritual, our novice anthropologists realize that they probably should have picked a different topic of study.
Pagan-influenced bloodshed aside, the focus of this story is what happens when selfish individuals enter a community of selflessness. In the case of Dani and Christian, we’re dealing with extreme anxiety and utter idiocy, respectively. Dani has been through so much trauma, she is an emotional void of sorts, constantly on the verge of a breakdown. Christian is clearly painted as an assholish coward throughout – avoiding the inevitable with Dani as much as possible while mooching off of his friends.
In spite of her emotional condition, Dani proves to be open to new experiences, slowly warming up to the Hårga’s traditions. Because the events taking place, we as an audience cannot know what daily life is like, and really if they’re on psilocybin all the time or exclusively during festivals.
Regardless, psilocybin is a psychedelic that makes one feel closer with nature as well as peers, so this commune in the middle of the wilderness is the ideal place to be on shrooms 24-7. In Dani’s case, when she’s isolated she’s left with hallucinations of her traumas, but when she’s with the Hårga, she has a sense of belonging – so when she finally genuinely smiles, you feel it. Christian’s experiences, however, are thwarted by skepticism and discomfort.
Midsommar is a love story in a way, in the sense of feeling connected with one another through experiences rather than expectations. But due to Dani’s impressionability, she is easily taken advantage of. It was almost reminiscent of The Witch when Pelle asks Dani regarding Christian, “does he feel like home?”
Despite the utter beauty of this undertaking, I keep ruminating on that Pelle claimed his parents were burned alive, implying they were previous tributes – but didn’t they say the ceremonies were every 90 years? I think it can be argued that due to the absolute communal nature of this, well, commune, through all the shared feelings and expressions, would it be so hard to believe that each elder could be called a parent? Or that past trauma is shared through generations to the point of being a constant. It’s fishing, but it’s possible. Or maybe 90 years isn’t literally 90 years. Or maybe I missed something? …Or maybe it’s just a plot hole.
Both films are unified in trauma and grief, with any hopes of closure dashed away before they can even be actualized. Additionally the idea that when one is vulnerable, any influence can be let in – both literally and figuratively. Cults also appear in both films, but they almost appear to be a backdrop for our protagonists – working behind the scenes while Annie and Dani slowly break from the inside out.
I’ve been going through Ari Aster’s short films, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.
When John Carpenter’s 1978 classic was unleashed to the masses, it revealed an underlying paranoia that evil lives and persists and can erupt at any moment, in any neighborhood. This evil is slow and calculating – more so, patient.
Halloween also succeeded in putting an expressionless face onto the boogeyman, which unfortunately also belongs to William Shatner. One aspect that we don’t often attribute to the original is this was the beginning of a horror staple: virgins live, sluts die.
Henceforth throughout horror history, the promiscuity of barely-legal women has been predictably met with horrific ends, but of course, not until at least a top is off. This sexist exploitation has plagued the horror genre for decades – but finally, the times they are a-changin’.
Forty years after the incident, we find Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) alone and well-armed: a paranoid agoraphobe who has been waiting for the day Michael Myers escapes his prison. The overt theme of this sequel is victimhood: A victim can live in fear or survive and conquer. What Halloween manages to do is make the story as much about Michael as it is about Laurie; so often do we focus on the monster, we forget to think about those who survive. Every survivor has a story.
This may be bold of me, but Halloween is the kind of sequel we need right now. We already know the monster, so this is the perfect opportunity to build on some broken characters.
We establish that Laurie’s behavior has wrecked her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), but now she has time to bond with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who seems to be a mirror image of Laurie at her age. Laurie herself has become more or less a menace – even referential scenes swap Laurie in the place of Michael.
By retconning the series, the film has given wiggle-room for the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. For example, in removing the notion of familicide, Michael Myers is a much more realistically terrifying presence, stalking his old hunting grounds with wild abandon (well, as wild as a murderous, slow-moving giant can be). Again, not only are his victims not screaming down the street with their boobies a-floppin’, but we also get a better grasp of who they are, or rather, were. And surprisingly, the majority of the victims were men, one of whom (arguably) asked for it.
Though not necessary, I would recommend re-watching the first Halloween before seeing this one, just for the sake of appreciation. John Carpenter gave Halloween (2018) his blessing, and with good reason.
In the not-too-distant future Japan, an epidemic of dog flu causes a quarantine of all and any canine throughout Megasaki City, exiling them to Trash Island. One boy, Atari Kobayashi, will stop at nothing to return his best friend Spots back home.
Of course I enjoyed this. It’s Wes Anderson and stop motion animation. About dogs. That’s three of my favorite things right there. And the title’s a pun, that’s awesome. Not to mention, all of the little subtleties within the narrative that speaks volumes about the various themes of the
But first, the bad stuff.
Upon a simple googling, the topic of cultural appropriation and stereotyping popped up quite a bit, so I’m going to explain my views on this, the best that a white-cis-straight-middle-class-American can.
It is true that even though it’s set in Japan and many characters speak Japanese, the main cast is predominantly white, thusly advancing the plot the most.
This effectively “others” the Japanese cast, resulting in villainous Japanese and white heroes, that is, if you count the dogs as white.
My immediate response is that dogs don’t have a race other than dogs, so on the voice-acting part, I don’t think that main cast makes a difference: they speak common. The whole movie deals with themes of miscommunication and finding understanding. The language barrier isn’t treated as a joke or anything of that nature. (If anything, it’s hilarious to have puppies sound like babies.) The real trouble is the only American character, Tracy Walker.
Tracy acts as a leader for the rebels against the pro-cat regime. Unfortunately because she is white, she stumbles into the “white savior” role. It could be argued that she is a characterization of the idea that folks of different cultures can learn from/help one another through understanding, but that is a very rough sell.
I honestly believe that those parts of the plot could have been re-written so it were less dialogue-based. Even though I don’t speak Japanese, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was happening on the villains’ end, so there’s no reason why our little scientific revolutionary couldn’t have been Japanese.
Another argument is that Japan serves as just a backdrop for this film: not having any weight to the plot, but at least feature old-timey Japanese staples (samurai, sumo and taiko drums). Albeit, these staples still hold influence today – and it’s not like there aren’t historical fables in western films (and it can be argued that Isle of Dogs is like a reverse Hachikō).
Additionally, I have seem some folks mention that the use of mushroom clouds is in bad taste, but I don’t believe this was intentional – I think it was just a large boom for the sake of comedy, and there many ways it could have been much worse. Personally, I think this film is only offensive if you’re looking to be offended.
Now that I’m done with that heaviness, this movie really is delightful. Amazingly, no animal gets killed – that’s a Wes Anderson first. It’s a story of a boy and his dog as well as understanding and change, and it is wonderful.
I took my sweet time getting to the theatre on this one, especially after each spoiler-free headline I caught was incredibly divisive – I mean, to think that the prequels could be considered canon over Last Jedi? It’s like everyone’s taking crazy pills. In lieu of the screaming, I thought I would talk out the good and bad of the latest in the franchise. If you don’t want spoilers, I’ll just tell you that I liked it – other than that, read no further.
The Thing That Made Me Literally Say “What the f*ck?” Out Loud
Yes, I am talking about Leia revealing her Force powers. I don’t believe that there was any doubt that she had some sort of Force ability (considering her bloodline) but some sort of hint within the film series would have been nice. Sure she didn’t have any Jedi training, but we could have seen her meditate or something like that.
Otherwise, having her Superman to safety so dramatically was utterly ridiculous. And personally, I think it would have been more appropriate if she had died then and there – hear me out:
Much of Kylo Ren’s character development is hindering on his internal conflict (okay, so he’s the embodiment of internal conflict) – I personally loved that moment of hesitation which lead to someone shooting Leia before him. If she had died, the audience would know that he would have had to live with the fact that he did not kill her in the end, furthering his self-doubt.
Now that I think about it, Kylo probably doesn’t know that she survived, so better yet, he still knows that he hesitated. There will always be doubt, but more on him later.
Finn’s Storyline / The Rebels
For the most part, Finn’s plot felt like busywork. Arguably the disastrous chain of events could be blamed on Laura Dern’s character, Admiral Holdo. Though I do believe that she was mostly a foil to Poe Dameron, to prove that there is benefit to strategy over impulse, it would have been most beneficial for her to maybe, I don’t know, explain this plan to him? Maybe it was just hubris on her part, like she had something to prove?
However, because the true Rebels made their own plans, we got to see a different side of the war, which I appreciated. Being that the main plot is so caught up in light v. dark, it was nice to see neutral parties, as well as how other parts/people of the galaxy is affected – and thanks to Finn and Rose, a new generation of rebels are inspired.
Unfortunately, a lot of this is lost in an overdrawn chase sequence. Additionally I dug Rose as a character, but the romance angle near the end seemed like too much too fast (not a fan).
The Death of Luke
Many folks took umbrage to how Luke met his end. After all, this was the greatest Jedi in the galaxy, and he Force-projected himself to death. Thematically, I thought this worked. The showdown with Kylo was incredibly satisfying, and Kylo knows that he could not best Luke in the end. Furthermore, Kylo has no idea that Luke actually died, so he lives on in legend.
I actually enjoyed everything with Luke – the angst, the bitterness, and ultimately the redemption. Many also hated the fact that he tried to kill young Ben Solo – but it was a subconscious fleeing doubt and nothing more – a misunderstanding that he had to own up to. I also almost cried with happiness when puppet Yoda came back to teach Luke a final lesson. So with his demise, I have to agree with Rey: he was finally at peace, and knew that everything was going to be alright.
I have mixed feelings about him. As a character, it’s great to have such a conflicted villain. On the other hand, his denial and outbursts are just childish and annoying. I want to see him use his failure to empower his rage – to own his mistakes to do better, to indeed let the rage flow through him – some confidence, goddammit. What do we have instead? Doubt and brooding. Lots of brooding.
Sure, he’s following Vader in letting his fear turn to anger, but if I recall, we didn’t really like Vader’s transition that much – it was better when we just knew him as a mysteriously powerful, unstoppable force. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good tragic villain, but they have to be a rare combination of well-written and well performed to gain a sympathetic audience.
Obvious marketing ploy is obvious. However, the porgs weren’t nearly as annoying as I expected them to be, and their origin is actually quite charming. The crystal foxes didn’t really bother me either – I took more offense at a salt-coated planet, but that’s just me.
Final Thoughts: Legends Among Us
I think there’s something wonderful about the common theme of inspiring legends as well as belief. I really like that no matter what, Kylo will always be wrong: even after utter destruction, the stories will always endure, and so will hope. Even though the film ends on the note of “out-with-the-old,” the legends will remain at the core.
After a lifetime of neglect and abuse, Drew Glass (Niko Nicotera) returns home to wreak havoc upon his druglord father (Mark Boone Junior). But ol’ Larry catches wind of his boy’s scheme and calls in a hit (Marilyn Manson).
Let Me Make You A Martyr offers a mixed narrative on backwoods retribution and spiritual redemption. I guess?
What wants to be another No Country for Old Men turned out to be a poorly-paced thriller with very little payoff. Though Drew’s vigilante path had a promising premise, the execution felt too loose and frankly too convenient.
Nicotera and Boone are formidable in their roles, but that’s about it. Manson’s character, Pope, seems intriguing because he prowls like the shark in Jaws. It could also be argued that Pope’s a literal stand-in for Death: he’s starkly pale, dressed in black, and the only way to find him is by crossing a river after bargaining at the gate. If only his performance was as alluring. Additionally, the supporting cast leaves much to be desired.
It’s just not that good.
A small synopsis for anyone who somehow missed the 1990 miniseries or had never read the book: After the disappearance of his little brother Georgie, teenage Bill Denbrough and his group of misfit buddies (“The Loser Club”) unravel the evil lurking within the small town of Derry, Maine. This evil literally feeds on fear, thusly preying upon children at their most vulnerable, all while personified as a friendly clown named Pennywise.
Having been raised with the original, and have taken a retrospective look at it plenty of times, I can confidently say that I prefer this remake despite the iconicity of Tim Curry’s performance. (Or is it a reboot? I feel like I used to know the difference, but now I think they’re one and the same.)
Additionally I read the book years and years ago, so though I couldn’t make an accurate comparison, I am thrilled to bits that this film did NOT include one of the most pointlessly disturbing scenes in Stephen King lore.
A key difference is this story is based in the 1980s – the time in American history when every high school/college was rampant with homicidal bullies. This is a welcomed change, as modernizing provides different options for altering the fears just enough, making them more general to any audience. For instance, not every kid grew up fearing the Mummy, but I’m pretty sure every kid has seen a picture that genuinely shook them to the point of averting their eyes in the event of reoccurring glances.
Generalizing like this creates a sense of timelessness, altering how the Losers face their fears: The original relies on superstition and denial, i.e. silver and “battery acid” (aptly childish), whereas the remake has more bravery and determination, i.e. standing up and beating the ever-loving crap out of him (violent, but ultimately satisfying).
And as the Losers conquer their fears, the heaviness and permanence of the world topples with it, creating a coming-of-age/innocence lost experience with a startling degree of depth and humor, not unlike Stand By Me.
As far as scares go, It ultimately creates an atmosphere that amplifies the children’s’ fears without pandering to an adult audience. Each trauma is genuinely scary, and I appreciate that. I found Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise to be absolutely enthralling: his movements and demeanor flip from playful to utterly disturbing without missing a beat.
The physical design of the character has a more literal sense of mentioned timelessness, implying that this creature has been around for centuries, but knows to lure children all you need is a goofy outfit and a big smile. Or clowns have always been creepy no matter what the era. Especially if they drool on you.
It is a great start for this Halloween season. With any luck, I’ll be seeing mother! next.
Remember that amazing “Don’t Stop Me Now” sequence from Shaun of the Dead?
If it’s been a while, here’s a refresher:
Now if you take that and mix it with this Mint Royale video, then stretch it out for about two hours, you get Baby Driver in a nutshell.
To break it down, after a run-in with a kingpin called Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a reluctant driver for a small crime syndicate. Alas, as soon as things start going a little too well for Baby, a new player named Bats (Jamie Foxx) joins the crew, and it all descends into a high-octane venture of guts and gunplay.
From start to finish, I was completely entertained and intrigued: Baby Driver is a visual salad consisting of coordination and references (worth re-watching for), complete with a killer soundtrack to oomph every beat.
I immediately bought the soundtrack after seeing this movie, and plan on keeping it in my car for a very long time. This movie was made with such precision and love for music and tempo – I’d be amazed if this isn’t up for an Oscar for editing alone. Edgar Wright is no stranger to clever beats, but to have the characters move in time with the soundtrack – it’s just so cool.
However, there is something that bothers me a lot. Not just that Baby had both the best and worst luck at any given moment (how did Buddy not die the first time!?), nor that Debora was a casual manic-pixie-dreamgirl.
It’s just, how in the world, considering Doc’s shrewd meticulousness, would he EVER want to work with Bats again? Additionally, why wouldn’t Doc mention that they were meeting with crooked cops? Would it have been such a risk to inform them beforehand? Also, considering Baby’s literal life of crime and socio-economic status, I think it goes without saying that he got off way too easily in the end.
Albeit, this is the world of action movies, and sometimes you have to remember that some things just happen because the plot says so. Nit-picks and plot-holes aside, Baby Driver is still an incredibly entertaining, original film with its own merits.