The Joker Ain’t Funny

There have been as many takes on the Joker as there has been on Batman. From petty criminal that leaves practice jokes to psychopath that cuts smiles in to the faces of his random victims, but Todd Phillips’ version is unique even among those. He doesn’t fight Batman, Batman doesn’t even exist, instead he is a dark meditation on poverty, mental health and gun violence.

Joker is a hard movie to do a synopsis for. It is best not knowing anything about it going in to it, but it will be shock to those looking for Batman movie. This is a DC Comics movie almost in name only. They do add some connections to the Batverse, but they are the exception not the rule. Just know that Arthur Fleck’s (Joaquin Phoenix) life is a brutal and sad one.

Todd Phillips and the rest of the writers really took a swing for something with Joker. It is clear they wanted to make a riff on the 19070’s/80’s Martin Scorsese films. It would fit comfortably with Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy. In fact, Scorsese was attached to produce for a while until breaking off to do The Irishman for Netflix. Still, it is a pretty convincing imitation. You could have told me this was a Scorsese movie, and I would have believed you.

What really makes Joker work is Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role. He is mesmerizing, and keeps the audience rooting for Arthur for longer than they should. The rest of the cast is talented, but this mostly a one man show, and I think whether or not you like this movie will depend on how you feel about Phoenix’s performance.

Joker is not a movie for those looking for the next popcorn comic book movie. It is for people who want to see a dark tale about mental illness in America, but since this is 2019, your movie has to be based on some IP (intellectual property) or part of some ‘verse to get movie executives’ attention, and the fact Todd Phillips used Batman’s greatest villain to get his movie made, might be Joker’s best gag.

P.S. This movie is a hard ‘R’. Please don’t take your kids to see it.

This Patrol Is Anything But Doomed!

I tell you what, my DC Universe subscription is really paying off. Titans had a slow start, but then found its footing. However, Doom Patrol started off good then got even better. When the show was backdoor piloted in to Titans people got a little worried. It looked campy and Titans hadn’t yet found its stride. It turns out all that worry was for not. Doom Patrol might me be my favorite thing on ‘TV’.

Doom Patrol is about an eclectic group of meta-humans and cyborgs that just want to find their kidnaped leader, The Captain (Timothy Dalton). Unlike most ‘superheroes’, whos powers are things most anyone would want, the Doom Patrol’s powers come from disabilities or trauma, and they aren’t so much a team as a group of people who endure each other’s company.

What I loved about Doom Patrol is how well written the characters are. The entire show is a long character drama, but with the weirdest and wildest and most comic-book-y-est things ever committed to screen. Nothing is too strange or off-putting for this show. Butts with legs and sharp teeth that eat people? Check. Rats that have the same backstory as Batman, but then follow a darker path? Absolutely. A slightly overweight Brendan Fraser saying the ‘F’ word a lot? The Doom Patrol has got it covered.

Speaking of Brendan Fraser, this cast is fantastic. Timothy Dalton, Brendan Fraser, Alan Tudyk, Matt Bomer, Diane Guerrero, Joivan Wade and April Bowlby make up just the main cast. Plus, there are tons of talented extras that come and go as well. Though you can tell that they tried to save money by keeping the team separated for a few episodes, Dalton is usually out of the picture because he has been kidnapped, and Bomer and Fraser usually are just needed for voice work since their characters’ faces are covered or made of metal. Still, they do not waste the talent they signed on for this show.

Listen, we are living in not just the golden age of television, but also the golden age of comic book media, so there are a lot of things to watch to get that superhero fix. However, you should still give Doom Patrol a chance. I am guessing there will not be a lot of shows like this ever made, and I am hoping they bring it back for season two because season one as fantastic. It is streaming right now on DC Universe in the USA and in some other countries on Netflix, so give it a watch.

Shmee Survived The Endgame!

Avengers: Endgame feels like an impossible movie to review. Either you have spent the last decade at least partially keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or you have not. If you have, Endgame is a great way to put a bow on the last eleven years of films and clear the slate for the next eleven. If you have not, it is all noise and references to things that don’t make any sense. Which makes it a unique piece of media.

Avengers: Endgame picks up right after Avengers: Infinity War. Our heroes have failed, and they are struggling with their failure. Though they wouldn’t be the Avengers if they didn’t Avenge something from time to time, so they assemble to save the universe one more time.

I am not going to lie, while I found a lot of moments in this picture really moving, the character work is really great, I have a lot of problems with the plot. Problems I cannot get in to without spoiling the movie. Just know that while you are watching it everything seems to hold together, but afterwards don’t think about anything too hard, or it all turns in to mush.

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War it was no accident that the original Avengers were the ones that survived. Because Endgame is about those heroes’ journey to where they are now, and how they have grown and changed. The new class will get their movies, this was one more trip with Cap, Tony and the gang. Plus, Rocket and Nebula. So, it is not surprising that the best parts of this movie are those characters interacting with one another. Everything that is not that those interactions is a little sketchy.

Endgame had me laughing, cheering, and crying, so in that regard it was a success, and it is a must watch for anyone with even a passing interest in Marvel’s films. What the Russo brothers did to tie up all these plot threads in the last two movies is astounding. It is an incredible achievement for them and Marvel’s producing team, but not quite all those pieces fit together as nicely as they want us to think they did. Though I am still quite excited to see what Marvel brings us next!

Shazam! Teaches DC The Importance Of Fun And Family!

Somehow here in the year 2019 DC has released a “Shazam!” movie. With this film, DC and Warner Bros are really testing if audiences are willing to see minor heroes make their way to the silver screen. Now to be fair, Shazam was in theaters before. Albeit he was then known as Captain Marvel (no, not that Captain Marvel), and that was nearly 80 years ago, so your grandparents may remember him if you alert them to the name change. Despite all that, Captain Marvel “Shazam!” is the best movie beginning to end so far of the new DCEU.

“Shazam!” like most superhero movies is about an orphan, but what makes this movie different is that he is still fourteen. You see an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou in his second Captain Marvel movie of the year) needs a champion to protect the world from the Seven Deadly Sins, but when things go south, he needs to settle on a troubled foster kid name Billy Batson (Asher Angel). When Billy says the wizard’s name, Shazam, he is transformed in to the perfect man. Who in this case is Zachary Levi.

If this makes you think the movie is a little like Big, but with superheroes, you would be right. Though, that would be unfair to “Shazam!” because it makes the most of its premise. Because while the trailers show that this film is funny, they don’t show all the heart, and its focus on the importance of family. Whatever that looks like. In this case a group home that Billy is placed in, and the movie is at its best when Billy/Shazam is with his foster brother Freddy Freeman played by Jack Dylan Grazer. The three leads have great chemistry. The rest of the family is very good too, but they are there mostly filler.

The villains on the other hand are not as good. Mark Strong’s Doctor Sivana is not given anybody to really play off for his scenes, so he falls a little flat, though I think his story pays off really well at the end. Also, the Sins are CGI characters that push the budget for this movie a little too much, so they stand out in a bad way, and they make the movie too creepy for younger children. Otherwise, this probably could have been a PG movie, but these are minor flaws in a great movie.

Wonder Woman would have been perfect if it had found a way to have a third act without a big grey thing to fight, and “Shazam!”‘s third act pays off the movie’s themes in a creative way, so while Wonder Woman is a better movie in parts, “Shazam!” is better as a whole. What I am saying is, “Shazam!” is probably the best movie in the DCEU and you should see it. Maybe take your grandparents, it might bring back some memories.

Shmee Takes A Ride With Bumblebee!

The Transformers movies have a record that could be kindly described as ‘spotty’. Most would probably just say terrible. Finally sensing audience dissatisfaction, Paramount and the multitude of production companies providing financial input in to the franchise decided to do a soft reboot of the property focusing on one Transformer’s origin, Bumblebee. It turns out this was a good decision. Bumblebee is easily the best live action Transformers movie.

Bumblebee starts out on Cybertron. Showing the vicious war that causes the Autobots to flee their home world. Things do not go well for Bumblebee (Dylan O’Brien) when he lands on Earth. He is almost instantly hunted by Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena), so he goes in to hiding as a VW Bug, and ends up the car of a teenage girl, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). You can guess where things go from there.

While this movie shares a lot in common with the first Transformers film, it never feels like a retread. The core relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee is sweet, and you get the feeling that they both really need each other. It also manages to make a lot of 80’s adventure movie callouts without feeling stale or cheap. It is Spielbergian without feeling like a knockoff.

I would like to applaud two people behind the cameras for Bumblebee: First, Travis Knight. Bumblebee is his first live action directing gig, and only his second turn as a director. With the first being Kubo and the Two Strings (he is usually a producer for stop motion). His attention to detail that he must have developed for stop motion really paid off with Bumblebee. The story and the special effects really came together well, and that only works if you know how they will all fit together in post-production. Second, Christina Hodson. This is her first major screenplay, and she got a solo writing credit, which is almost unheard of in these days of large writing rooms. Given all that, it was a great script, and I expect big things from her. I hope her next screenplay, DC’s Birds of Prey, is equally entertaining.

Of course, all that good work behind the scenes would have been for not if Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena didn’t pull off their roles, but thankfully they were great. Steinfeld is a believable as a mourning teenager, and she and Bumblebee are cute (not a word I ever thought I would use in a modern Transformers movie review) in their scenes together. John Cena was given the job to be an over the top 80’s villain, and he rolled around in it like catnip. He was clearly having fun. Obviously, the special effects team that brought Bumblebee to life deserves a ton of credit as well because he was the most lifelike Robot in Disguise yet and displayed a lot of emotion considering he can’t talk for most of the movie.

Bumblebee is not a life changing movie. It is simply a fun popcorn movie made in the style of an 80’s Spielberg film, and that is more than enough to recommend this movie. It is almost worth a watch to prove that Transformers movies don’t need to be three hours of teenager ogling and explosions. They can be just as good as any other movie out there. By now you must know that I liked this movie, and that I think you will like it too. I am eagerly awaiting its follow-up, Prime.