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 PROVIDES A GREAT SERVICE TO SOCIETY

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.

* * *

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.)

Zen and The Art of Self-Defense

At the heart of The Art of Self-Defense is an old-hat plot, but the film is done in a mostly original and offbeat way, with just enough of my type of dark humor and quirky, unexpected moments to yield a solid entertainment.

A big plus for this movie is that at times it’s very insightful.  It’s central character is well thought out.  And it’s told in a smart way — an example of which follows past the spoiler alert.  The action that I am disclosing is not a critical plot point, so it’s not really much of a spoiler — but it does happen later in the film, which by itself necessitates a spoiler alert:

SPOILER ALERT!

In the concluding period of the film, Sensei is shown cleaning the dojo — scrubbing the toilet, wiping down the mat, etc – menial work that should be below him, easily delegated to an underling.  This is an intelligent thing to include on its own — many lesser filmmakers would have left it out.  But what’s even smarter is that it’s shown toward the end of the picture.  Many, again, lesser filmmakers who might include this short sequence would be apt to place it earlier, say in the middle.  When you see that sequence, placed as it is in Self-Defense, you understand that this is a storyteller who knows what he’s doing.

[END OF SPOILER]

At other times it’s not so smart, making obvious errors.  But that opening scene, in which he’s being mocked in French, establishes this movie above the fray.  7/10

Comparison Notes: Office Space, The Karate Kid, Fight Club, Sorry to Bother You, most superhero films

The Favourite movie of the year is…

…not The Favourite. However, the period aspect of it is well done, and it engages from start to finish: its greatest accomplishment.  I also very much liked the use of super-wide angle lenses.  The story stumbled in the home stretch, and the end left me dissatisfied.  In other words, there could have been more, but it wasn’t bad.  I suppose you could say that about any movie in the 3 to 8 range.

How’s that for cogent analysis.  7/10

PS To clarify, The Favourite may well be “the” favorite film this year, in the sense that it is sure to rack up many awards including very possibly the big one.  It’s just a couple pegs south of my favorite.

Comparison Notes: Dangerous Liaisons / Valmont / Cruel Intentions, Mother, Requiem for a Dream, Ridicule (1996), The Little Hours

Film Brief: The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers features a great, rich, and seemingly accurate visual representation of the burgeoning frontier west, but the language didn’t seem so authentic, oft filled with anachronisms — though I wonder if that was intentional.  A character-driven story, the plot could have been beefed up.  Still, I was entertained as I followed these rapscallions.  6/10

Comparison Notes: Dead Man, Django Unchained, all westerns

All I Asked was A Simple Favor

There’s a lot thrown into A Simple Favor, and, surprisingly, it all works.  It’s not exactly a juggling act, but lesser filmmakers have been stymied with this much story.  The filmmakers never revert to BS pseudocomplexity (yes, I just coined a new word) of garbagepieces (again) like The Girl on the Train, to which it has been compared.  Rather, the layers of A Simple Favor elevate it beyond a comparatively mono-dimensional film like Searching.

Not that this is high art.  A spirited, fun film, there are splish-splashes of hokeyness, especially at the end with a little hackneyed silliness — but then silliness is always just floating above, or below, the surface.  Makes sense given the farcical oeuvre of the director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy).  Point being, A Simple Favor did itself a favor by not taking itself so seriously — the death-blow of many films, the most prominent recent example being A Quiet Place.

Beyond all that, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are a sheer joy.  8/10

Comparison Notes: Gone Girl, The Gift, Prisoners, the aforementioned Searching, Gone (2012), A Simple Plan, Fargo

Film Brief: Thoroughbreds

Going into Thoroughbreds, I thought it would be little more than an update on Heathers, styled to the tastes of contemporary youth, and set with a bevy of up-and-coming starlets to match.  Luckily, there’s a little more to it than that.  Whenever you have good strong characters, or at least characters with attitude portrayed well, half the work is done.  Characters make up for a lot, in this case a story that is hardly original.

In other words,  Thoroughbreds is entertaining but less than great.  7/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended, and better): The Housemaid, La Cérémonie, Heathers, Fletch

Dinner and a Game Night at the movies

Lets play a game, of sorts.  A guessing game.  Why does Mark have a blog?  Roger Ebert.com, in no way speaking as Roger Ebert would have, and, further, very much sallying his name, is generally in agreement with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus:

…a raucously funny film that has a knack for going right up to the edge of nastiness.

WRONG!  I was actually enjoying Game Night, if mildly, until the latter third or so when it bounced between implausibility and trite stupidity.  Lesser critics describe it as edgy; they haven’t any idea what true edginess is.

So what started off nicely in thumbs-up territory devolved into yet another silly pseudo-crime action flick with overly contrived “plot twists” and inane action sequences involving, for instance, airplanes that never get off the ground when attempting takeoff.  The best part of the film by far: Jesse Plemons (Fargo season 2)  If there is any reason to see Game Night, it is the hilariously creepy Jesse Plemons.  5/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Due Date, Neighbors; no opinion: Date Night