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.

Brad Pitt Goes To The Stars!

I am finding Ad Astra to be a hard movie to review. The film by James Gray is gorgeous, and features a great performance from Brad Pitt, but considering Gray and Pitt have both admitted that Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey were the main influences for this movie, it shares the flaws of those two films: It is a slow internal struggle of a man set to some amazing imagery, and that is it. Ad Astra is a very hard film to engage with since it bores you and keeps you at arms length. Seemingly saying, “Look at me, but don’t get to close!” I could go on about the story, or Pitt’s acting ability, but I would just be writing in circles to fill space, and that doesn’t help anyone making a decision to see this film or not.

In the end, if you want to see Pitt at the top of his game, and Gray do his best to bring the lifeless void of space to life, give Ad Astra a shot. If you really like 2001 or Apocalypse Now and wonder why they don’t make films like that anymore, you are in luck, but for everyone else, you can probably skip it, or wait for some lazy rainy Sunday when a slow movie about a man finding himself while getting lost would go great with a warm blanket and some hot chocolate.

‘It’ Overate In Chapter 2!

It was no surprise that ‘It‘ was a hit for New Line two years ago. It was a much-needed update to a movie that was a rite of passage for kids of the 80’s. The problem is that It: Chapter 1 got to cover the more interesting child years of Stephen King’s classic, so Chapter 2 is tasked with making something out of the weirder and longer adult years. The result is predictably weirder and longer, and while not as good, still a fun popcorn horror flick.

It: Chapter 2 takes place 27 years after Chapter 1. The Losers have all grown up and moved on with their lives. They are all surprisingly successful. With one exception: Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) stayed in Derry to watch and wait to see if ‘It’ (Bill Skarsgård) was truly destroyed, and when the killer clown resurfaces, he needs to get the Losers back together to take down the clown once and for all.

It: Chapter 2 has a few problems: One, we are all wise to Pennywise’s antics; Two, there is something about adults that make their fear less relatable than children’s, and three, it is too long. That being the case, director Andy Muschietti puts together some really effective horror sequences, and the cast is great, so they sell what they are given to work with.

The casting was just about perfect for It: Chapter 2. All the older versions of the Losers look and act like their child counter parts. Bill Hader and Jessica Chastain were standouts, but the whole cast did a good job. It would be hard coming in to a movie where everyone knows they are going to be judged against the great cast from first movie, but they manage to hold their own. Obviously without Bill Skarsgård’s wonderful turn as ‘It’ the rest of the performances would have been for naught. He is otherworldly as Pennywise the clown, and an excellent counterpart to Tim Curry’s version of the sewer dweller.

It: Chapter 2 is not as good as Chapter 1, and that is a shame, but considering how bad the second part of the old ABC miniseries was, the fact ‘It’ is still so much fun is a miracle. So, while yes, It: Chapter 2 is overstuffed, and Pennywise uses the same bag of tricks, they are good tricks, and it is a lot of stuff that I liked. If you were a fan of Chapter 1, you will probably be happy with It: Chapter 2. Until next time, keep floating everyone!

Who Is The Favourite?

The Favourite a 2018 film by Yorgos Lanthimos is listed as a “black comedy”, but that doesn’t seem quite right. The film never goes out of its way to make the audience laugh. Nor does it seem concerned about ramping up the drama. It is just an odd movie about odd people during an odd time for the English Empire. The acting is wonderful and it is sumptuously shot, and that is enough for me, but others may be left cold.

The movie takes place in 1708 and Queen Anne (Olivia Colman)’s health is declining, so she is leaving the governing up to her top aid Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), Duchess of Marlborough. Things are going great for Sarah until her cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) shows up looking for a job because her father had lost the family fortune, and now Sarah will have some competition for who is the Queen’s Favourite.

The early eighteenth century is not really an important time for the Kingdom of Great Britain. It is mostly known for a pointless war and the rise of the two party system. In this case the Tories and The Wigs, but the scandal behind the throne of two women bucking for control of arguably the most powerful person in the world at the time is still a fun moment in British history, and The Favourite does its best to bring it to life. A lesser filmmaker would have made this unnecessarily dramatic and shown the fate of British Empire hanging in the balance, but ultimately it was about three women being very petty towards one another, and the odd and humorous clashes these women have. Lathinmos just lets it be odd and petty and unimportant.

Of course if a movie is mostly about three women, those women need to be able to carry a film, and Colman, Weisz, and Stone are more than up to the task. Colman so much so, that she won the Oscar for Best Actress, and she deserved it. The Favourite is mostly worth watching just for these three performances.

The other reason to watch The Favourite is that it is gorgeous. Every frame of this movie looks great. From the overly decorated palace walls to the British countryside. Not to mention all the panning and tracking shots that really do a great job capturing everything. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan was really working hard on this film, and that hard work paid off.

I thought The Favourite was great, but I hear others have had issues getting in to it. It is too odd and matter-of-fact for them, and I can see that. It definitely will not be for everyone, but if you like beautifully shot movies filled with talented actors doing petty things to one another, The Favourite is worth your time. A note for some, it does earn its ‘R’ rating for langue and nudity, so you have been warned. Emma this is not.

Woody Goes On One More Ride In Toy Story 4!

I am not sure how Pixar does it, every time I think I am done with the Toy Story franchise they bring it back and make it great. Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the Toy Story series, so I wasn’t too excited about a fourth big screen outing, but here we are, and it is great. I am not sure it is as good as 3, but it is close. Which is a minor miracle.

Woody (Tom Hanks) isn’t having the easiest time at Bonnie’s (Madeleine McGraw) house. He is just another toy to her. Things get even more complicated when she brings home a spork she made in to a toy named Forky (Tony Hale), and it is now her favorite. Woody will have to do his best to mold this spork in to the friend Bonnie needs him to be. Woody will need some help, and luckily he runs in to old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts) who is more than up to the task.

The writers found another interesting story to tell about the Toy Story crew, and that is why this movie works. From the trailers it just looked like it was a retread of movies 1 and 2, but it is its own thing. It still follows the Pixar formula: gut punch in the opening minutes, and then a journey of self discovery with an emotional conclusion, but I don’t see them ending that story loop any time soon. It is a good one, and there are a lot of tales you can hang on those bones. Pixar loves it when everyone gets a good cry in the movie theater.

There is not much left to say about the cast, it is excellent, but most of the old crew isn’t given a lot to do. It focuses a lot on Hank’s Woody, Pott’s Bo and the new characters. Which may be disappointing for some, but like always, Pixar found the best people for the job, and everyone fits in perfectly. Plus, they worked in Carol Burnett and Betty White, so listen for that!

The Toy Story films have always been a showcase for how far the visuals in computer animated films have come, and Toy Story 4 does not disappoint. They are very close to making real life quality images, without falling in to the ‘uncanny valley’. I have recently re-watched the last three Toy Story movies, and while they look good, 4 blows them out of the water. It is stunning.

I didn’t want to like Toy Story 4. It felt like they were milking something that should be left alone, but they managed to find a new worthwhile tale to tell, and look great while doing it, so I guess I will not doubt them in nine years when Toy Story 5 comes out.