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.
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.
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.
Literally working oneself to death is far from a new concept – in fact, Japan even has a word for it: karōshi. With the ever-daunting stress of the working world, it’s no wonder that those privileged enough would seek whatever means necessary to find a sense of ease, namely in the form of “wellness retreats.”
When the CEO of a million-dollar-bigwig-somethingorother, finds himself lost in the wiles of the Volmer Institute, the company sends their youngest board member, Lockhart (Dan DeHaan) to fetch him back.
Tucked away in the Swiss Alps, the Volmer Institute is a private establishment that prides itself in the finest in quality care, taking advantage of all the environment has to offer – namely the water source.
Once Lockhart finds getting his boss out is more difficult than imagined, it becomes far more clear that these doctors are up to a much more sinister agenda.
As much as I hate to say it, I think there’s such a thing as atmospheric over-saturation. If you want a movie that looks like a beautiful screensaver, you got it. Well, if you like eels, that is.
Initially, I was intrigued. The trailer did it’s job. That and I’m a sucker for institutional psychological thrillers. As the story progressed, I was drawn in even more. However, there was a noticeable drag. In fact, there’s really no reason for this film to be 2.5hrs long – we could have easily lost an accumulative hour of atmospheric shots and Mia Goth being ogled.
Admittedly, it was the story that kept me interested, as opposed to actual character development – which is to say there was none. The protagonist remains static, the obviously evil doctor is evil, and the doe-eyed damsel is the personification of the virgin-whore complex.
Hannah’s character is innocent while curiously alluring – locked in an ivory tower like a depressive pixie dream girl, wistfully humming and wandering barefoot.
And on the note of women in this film, I’m pretty sure Gore Verbinski doesn’t know how periods work. (I’m just saying, there was a concerning amount of blood…but I guess it is a horror movie…)
Snark aside, A Cure for Wellness is a gorgeous movie. It does its best to channel new-Hollywood atmospheric horror while playing up visceral scares for maximum discomfort (albeit, the CGI was not good). Though it has the makings of a successful horror story, the results leave this story rather underwhelming.
As a Mighty Boosh fan, this was running through my head throughout the film – enjoy.
Aliens have finally made contact, and the first thing we need to know is, “Why are they here?” In order to find out, the military commissions linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to head a team to break the enigmatic creatures’ code. As Louise draws closer, the rest of the world grows weary, edging on the brink of an intergalactic war.
Arrival is an incredibly refreshing take on the alien genre. Rather than focusing on the fear, the overall narrative is based knowledge through communication. Usually the rule for filmmaking is “show, not tell,” so to have a story based around speaking, this grand undertaking is anything but boring.
Of course, fear comes into play – and when it does, it’s absolutely infuriating. In fact, I think it was wrong to demonize the military/government as this film did; yes, they couldn’t inform the public of anything in the event that they were terribly wrong, but – as we’ve established with the power of communication – words are better than silence, but it takes time to produce the right words.
Additionally, I feel that a lot of subtlety was lost in this story – and frankly, I’m not sure how to feel about it: Between the circular nature of their language/time, to crossing literal barriers, it’s that fine line between clever and overdone.
Many folks claim that this is a film that will restore your faith in humanity. I say that’s a stretch, but it’s certainly a story we could use right now. In all, Arrival is an unexpectedly lovely film worth the watch.
…This has been stuck in my head ever since.
Just look at this trailer.
At first glance, I fell in love: the stop-motion mixed with a gorgeous cover of one of my favorite songs made my heart and imagination soar. Not to mention the hype in more recent ads, commending the film’s beauty and depth – I was stoked, to say the least. Alas, I left my seat feeling …well, underwhelmed.
It’s strange to have a Japanese story with a predominately white cast – well, maybe not strange, after all, this has been happening for decades, why stop now? (Despite his appearance in the trailer, George Takei had maybe five lines.)
Though I do have to say that the film is objectively lovely – an absolute spectacle, but suffers under the weight of its own mythos; I found myself begging for more mysticism and lore, but I was only met with the same run-of-the-mill lessons of the importance of story-telling and familial commemoration. Not that these things aren’t important, but maybe I was expecting more depth or at least some deviation of some sort – or hey, maybe some sort of recognition of the shamisen’s significance and history?
Speaking of the shamisen, the score and tonality was gorgeous. I’m not sure if it was an issue of time or studio restrictions, but I would have appreciated this film a lot more if it revolved around more myth and magic – I want to know how Kubo learned about his gifts and if and how he was taught these abilities.
And as I mentioned, this is a spectacle – especially in 3D. Director Travis Knight and Laika are no strangers to the third dimension, and they work to capture the potential of this extra space. After all, this is a physical, hand-crafted medium, and I think that deserves some extra respect.
I felt pretty divided at the end of this one. It was lovely, but needed a lot more oomf. There’s a lot of heart to be had, but stops short of definition.
I am kicking myself for not seeing this movie sooner. As a self-proclaimed kitsch enthusiast, I’ve always been familiar with the works of Margaret Keane – I even knew that for a time that her husband, Walter, claimed to have painted some of her works. To learn the scope and impact of this pop art movement, however, was beyond my belief. I think that it is important that this story is told, and the execution of said story could not be more apt than through the lens of Tim Burton.
Big Eyes steps back from the spectacle and leans on solely on story through character; Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz play off of each other seamlessly. Adams’ portrayal of a tortured artist is empathetic and powerful.
When Waltz as Walter Keane starts twisting that knife, you feel it. Each turn makes you sick to your stomach, which makes Margaret’s victory all the more satisfying. And it’s not like he’s a villain from the get-go; you can see these people fall in love, and it makes you wonder if he was truly intending on using her from the beginning, or if inspiration struck and things snowballed from there. (Though, I’m thinking a combination for two.)
Even if you can’t stand her artwork, Big Eyes is an important film. This a story of a woman who struggles in a time where men were meant to be relied upon – a woman who lacks confidence, who is told to not even try because “people don’t like girl art” anyway. To see her rise and fall and finally stand up for her self, it just makes you feel good, you know?
Frankly, this is a story that needs to be seen – it’s just a shame that it received such little lift. Though the focused artwork of the film may be dated, the theme could not be more relevant today.
After being banished by the church, William (Ralph Ineson) and his family of Puritans are forced to begin a new life on the cusp of the unknown – in this case, a small plot of land by a spooky thicket of woods. After their newborn goes missing, the family slowly turns on eachother with the eldest, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), at the brunt of the misery.
Rather than focusing on romance and mysticism, this film relies on a slow-building dread and paranoia that is prevalent in New England folklore. Admittedly, I personally found it difficult to empathize with Thomasin’s plight – I mean, it’s the 1600’s and everything’s terrible (plus I don’t think they actually spoke like that). It’s amazing anyone survived, really – but I digress. However, this sort of thing this does not distract from the viewing experience.
The Witch is beautifully atmospheric; the isolation, terror and desperation is palpable, and the fact that the scares rely more on practical effects makes the feature all the more admirable.
No spoilers here, but I just wanted to note that I enjoyed the twist enough, but I feel that Caleb’s big scene really drove this film home.
Apologies for being so brief, but admittedly, it’s difficult to talk about a movie like this without major spoilers. I will say, if you dig older horror, this is right up your alley: no jumpscares or torture porn, just natural discomfort. Conversely, I felt a little “meh” by the end of it. I mean, I’m glad there wasn’t an anti-ending, but I think I wanted more of a bang.
Perhaps I’m just spoiled.