The Way of the Samurai – 6: Seven Breaths

As there is a yet-to-be-disclosed “Zeroth” Way of the Samurai, it happens that the Seven Breaths elucidation is, in fact, the seventh of the series.

The idea of “no year zero,” the subject of debate around Y2K and even making the famous Seinfeld “Newmannium” / “Kramerium” episode, comes to mind. Of course there was a year zero, despite the silly contrivance of the Gregorian calendar.

On a wholly unrelated topic (or is it?)… Happy Halloween!

Who’s the Joker now?

Joker has evoked tons of media coverage and criticism, those flames fanned when Joaquin Phoenix stated that a movie is not responsible for teaching right and wrong. He’s right. A Times writer felt he needed to explain how the movie accidentally makes a big statement about being a white anti-hero vs. a black one. There’s truth in what he’s saying, but so what — you could write that about any movie with a white male lead.

So yes, it’s annoying that critics have to complain about the perceived social ills of Joker. Because it’s a good movie. And, in fact, something that it would seem only I am saying is the societal impact is exactly the opposite of its criticism. Joker does a great service by showing what a plain old revolver can inflict on the flesh and bone of a human being.  All the do-gooders out there should be more concerned about a fake war movie that shows a bazooka hitting a vehicle A-Team style, causing it to flip over but then everyone exits unscathed. Or lame superhero/Fast & Furious movies in which no one ever gets hurt.


Joker contains something much better than all the societal messages the critics wish it did: grand cinematic vision. The story is not the strongest I’ve ever seen by a long shot, so I did not love the movie. But I dug it. It’s entertaining. And just like a Lynch film, or any film, it needs to be judged by what it is, not what it is not.

And if you’re concerned about gun violence, there’s a simple solution: make guns a lot harder to obtain.

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Two big positives: Joker features a great look and setting, perhaps my favorite “Gotham City” yet.  And, best of all, a perfectly-cast Joaquin Phoenix. He delivers a spirited performance in a role he was meant to play. Joaquin Phoenix is, like Ryan Gosling, an actor who’s always fascinating to watch. There’s something always under the surface that you just can’t quite figure. A character that moves in unexpected and explosive ways. And it’s nice to see him getting paid… a stalwart indie/small film actor for years and years who finally got to see a payday.

You wouldn’t guess this is Todd Phillips, the same director as Due Date and The Hangover franchise. I don’t think the direction is utter genius, but’s it’s good and a league above The Hangover. There’s a sense throughout that we’re doing something different here. This is not just another comic book movie. Hardly.

About on par with last year’s Upgrade and a peg or two below Midsommar; on the low end of 8/10

Comparison Notes: Taxi Driver, all Batman movies, Streets of Fire, Natural Born Killers, Gorky Park, Punch-Drunk Love, The Master (which I definitely need to revisit at some point – every time I think of it my opinion rises.)

Ad Astra continues a trend

As Hustlers was like a boring Goodfellas with strippers, Ad Astra is like a boring Apocalypse Now in space.

Rotten Tomatoes and its representative critics are in their collective wheelhouse of being wrong on this one, gushing over how Ad Astra is some sort of ode to fathers and sons. Nope. The fact that the mild-mannered Kurtz-ish character of Tommy Lee Jones happens to be Brad Pitt’s father is a side note at best, and more or less inconsequential to the doubly inconsequential, ridiculous story at hand.

Not that Ad Astra was all terrible. There’s a sort of ethereal quality and flow to a number of the sequences; a decent conveyance here and there of floating around in outer space etc. Flow is important. So walking out of the theater, I was thinking thumbs-down, but a hell of a lot better than those indie sci-fi pics from earlier this year; 5/10.

But there are just as many times when the sense of space is lost, and the frequent, chunky logic holes add up to a whole lot of no-bueno. Perhaps worst of all is the sappy, hackneyed message that seems to be its ultimate goal. The ultimate result, however, is a border-line insult to the entirety of the science fiction genre.

There’s maybe more sci-fi this year than average, but so far it’s all bad. 4/10

Comparison Notes: Gravity, Passengers, Apocalypse Now, Alien franchise, Star Trek enterprises, Moon, 2001

Hustlers on the take

Hustlers is like a very boring version of Goodfellas. There are good, even great performances, but there’s little to the “true story.”  Look to Comparison Notes below to understand that despite the positives, there’s no way I could recommend Hustlers.

Those performances are among Hustlers’ redeeming attributes, but is it a good time at the movies? Not quite. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus:

Led by a career-best performance from Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers is a uniquely empowering heist drama with depth and intelligence to match its striking visual appeal.

Sometimes I wonder if the critics are watching the same movie. No, it’s not uniquely empowering, there is some depth and intelligence, but not much, and nothing at all striking visually. It’s not even a heist drama, per se. There is something to the relationship building that critics are nuts about, but it’s not enough to overcome a bland, so-what plot. And one more thing — I’ve been reflecting on this Titles MIA thing. Titles here would have told me that the filmmaker understands when her story is underway. 5/10

Comparison Notes: Goodfellas, Widows, Casino, Leaving Las Vegas, The Wrestler, Flashdance, Bound (now that’s a heist film), Donnie Brasco