Anyway, the author writes about his affairs, um, there's his wife, Selena (Juliette Binoche) an actress, there's a lot of talk about how he change scenes from his book from real life, which... I don't know. So what, if he wrote that he got the blowjob during the premiere of "The White Ribbon" instead of at "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and why one's a better choice?
Actually, the original “Men in Black” really should be put on the same pedestal as “Ghostbusters” come to think of it; they have a lot in common on top of being big-budget action comedies that somehow actually managed to be funny with both the dialogue and the special effects “Ghostbusters” somehow has much more of a devoted fanbase, and in hindsight, I’m not exactly certain why, ‘cause it really is a bit of an overrated movie. Oh, pipe down, it is.... Anyway, I certainly didn’t see the outrage or disgust at the main characters being replaced by new actors in this one that “Ghostbusters” had for its reboot, which was otherwise decent movie if it wasn’t for the goddamn post-credits scene which damn-near turned it into fanboy garbage.
Anyway, the real problem with this fourth installment in the “Men in Black” franchise, this one titled “Men in Black: International” is that they should’ve done this years ago. On the surface this isn’t a bad movie, or a bad concept, but Will Smith turned out to be the biggest moneymaking superstar Hollywood’s ever seen and only now did they finally dare to trust that the concept itself with new characters could live on it’s own. Which is particularly weird considering this franchise has a successful run, in comic book form.
Technically “Men in Black” is one of the first Marvel movies, as they bought, I believe it was Malibu Comics that owned the “Men in Black” trademark. (Somebody more knowledgeable can correct me if I’m off there, but I’m fairly certain that the movie was more tuned towards the tendencies of Smith and Jones then they were the original tone of the comics.) The point I’m making is that there was always room there, perhaps for a television series to expand on this universe, or even in earlier films, but twenty+ years in, and now I’m supposed to just blindly accept “Men in Black” again?
I feel bad for that too, ‘cause I like what we get here. We get a smart young, precocious and ambitious probationary agent, Agent M (Tessa Thompson) who managed to find her way to “Men in Black” and immediately goes on her first mission in the London Branch where she’s teamed with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) a hero agent who’s fallen onto hard times personally. He’s basically a James Bond-type, but the depressing version, not the idyllic one. They get a simple assignment to protect Vungus (Kayvan Novak) a member of intergalactic royalty who’s on Earth for a day between his travels, but things go wrong. This time, it’s found out that there’s a mole in the London branch and M is apparently the one assigned to find them, all the while fighting off a pair of Alien Twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) who come from a race that they haven’t found before, but may be apart of a Hive species of aliens that H along with his now boss Agent Hight T (Liam Neeson) fought years ago and defeated.
The Hive, are basically this universe’s version of the Borg btw and now they’re after one of the Galaxy’s most powerful weapon, which Vungus entrusted with M to keep safe. Meanwhile Riza (Rebecca Ferguson, looking like she belongs in a Katy Perry video) an alien weapons trader is also after the weapon, and she happens to be H’s ex-girlfriend. All this is technically fine, and there’s a few chuckles here and there, Kumail Nunjani gets a decent joke in as Pawny, a small pawn that becomes M’s defender after his original queen was killed by the Twins (Who btw, they’re definitely knock-offs from the Twins in “The Matrix Reloaded”, which did that much better; also that’s the best of “The Matrix” movies.)
Mostly though, I was bored. I didn’t laugh all the time, the fun is dead. The biggest thing the original “Men in Black” film had was that it was unique and fresh for it’s time. There wasn’t a lot of quick-witted comedy mixed with legit good special effects action, that was also just as comedic. There’s a bunch of movies that have basically tried to be “Men in Black” since then, most of which have not been as successful, but whereas the first “Men in Black” stood out from everything else, “Men in Black: International” might as well just be one of those “The Kingsmen” movies or something.... It’s a shame, they may not have invented this genre, but “Men in Black” I’d argue convinced the masses that they wanted more of it, and it certainly has inspired others over the years, especially in Hollywood. Everything that made “Men in Black” special, even taking out it’s stars, is just not special anymore, this movie isn’t special. It’s admittedly a fair attempt, but it’s just too late an attempt to matter now.
Last year, I put "Avengers: Infinity War" on my Worst List. I got shit for that, but I stand by it. I mentioned that despite my typical disdain and frustration over the genre's dominance in pop culture that up until then, I hadn't put a superhero film on my Worst list until then. Frankly, that's some restraint on my part, but I digress. 2019 though, offered us two interesting superhero movies to talk about because we could compare them, since they were based on the same character, Captain Marvel.
(Sigh, picks up DVD. Reads back cover, again. Stares at front cover again. Flips back and forth between front and back cover, confused. Opens up DVD box.)
What the...- there's a Special Features disc for this thing?
Okay, um, I know I'm normally out of my depths a little bit when it comes to a lot of comic book stuff; I didn't grow up with this, it's not my subgenre,... yada, yada, yada, I'm generally just not a fan, but I have never heard of "Shazam!" before now. I genuinely kinda thought, based on the box cover art, and the lack of details and the fact that "Shazam!" is just an all-around stupid-ass name for a comic book superhero, that this had to be, like a comic parody of the genre, like "Super" or "Special" were.
That this couldn't like, be a real thing, especially since I've just never heard of this guy. Apparently, he's not a new character either, his origins date back to the thirties! He had a TV Show in the seventies! And it lasted three seasons!?
Captain Marvel, also known as Shazam (//), is a fictional superhero appearing in American comics originally published by Fawcett Comics, and currently published by DC Comics. Artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker created the character in 1939. Captain Marvel first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (cover-dated Feb. 1940), published by Fawcett Comics. He is the alter ego of Billy Batson, a boy who, by speaking the magic word "SHAZAM!" (acronym of six "immortal elders": Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury), can transform himself into a costumed adult with the powers of superhuman strength, speed, flight and other abilities. The character battles an extensive rogues' gallery, primarily archenemies Doctor Sivana, Black Adam, and Mister Mind....
Captain Marvel? I thought the...- wait...? Oh Christ, I'm gonna have to look this shit up, aren't I? Goddammit, now I gotta do more comic book history research... Fuck me!
(Forty-five minutes later)
Okay, so... basically, there's multiple Captain Marvels. I'm not gonna go through the entire history of this, 'cause this is a long convoluted thing that I'm sure somebody who cares can sort through better then me. So, yeah, this is DC's variation on their original character Captain Marvel, but their Captain Marvel is now an Avengers character name, and there's also several different Captain Marvels, and...- I don't know...- Anyway, instead of Captain Marvel, we got Shazam!, for some reason.... It's not even his name, it's his, like, Go-Go Gadget phrase,...-
Whatever. So, I guess I'm not supposed to take this one as a play on a superhero film. Even if it's a little bit too weird and stupid to take seriously, I have to consider it seriously....
You know, DC, when I gave a little more slack to "Suicide Squad" then I probably should have, a lot of it had to do with the fact that, despite everything, I still found some of those villain characters fascinating; I'm not sure you can do that with a guy named after the cheesiest of all magic words that magicians wouldn't even use now if they wanted to..... Couldn't he be called "Alacazam" or "Abracadabra" at least? Was "Bippity-Boppity Boo" copywritten?
Alright, I know there's comedy superhero films in the Marvel Universe, it's logical for there to be some in the DC Universe, even if, most of the DC Universe even at it's campiest has been pretty damn serious-in-tone up 'til now,... (Although I haven't gotten to "Aquaman" yet, so maybe not. I still can't believe that's a superhero film; that used to just be a joke on "Entourage".) and I say that, as a positive, I might add. The Marvel Universe has always seemed a little too over-the-top, toy-like and campy for it's own good; I like a darker world where superheroes are more needed.
But goddamnit, this guy...? Actually that's problem A, he's not even a guy. Shazam! (Zachary Levi) is actually Billy Batson (Asher Angel) a teenage foster kid known for being a runaway. His backstory...- ugh, is pretty stupid. Look, I'm trying to give this movie a little benefit of the doubt, but like, this is a really dumb backstory, how he became a foster kid. I don't think it's completely unrealistic but, parts of this story feel like it was written in a much earlier age. Even the group home he ends up at....- He's been kicked out several homes after running away in a constant search for his birth mother (Caroline Palmer) who may or may not have abandoned him as a kid. This time around he's in Philadelphia, and after stealing a cop's Geno's, which, okay, nice touch there, he ends up at, Victor and Rosa Vasquez's (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans) home, where he's suddenly bombarded with love from several new foster siblings, most notably a crippled teenager his same age named Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) who has a superhero obsession.
Shortly thereafter, a Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) contacts Billy, and gives him superpowers because he's good-at-heart, apparently. So, he's a chosen one, superhero and he now has to defeat Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong) a man who became a supervillain after he gained control of the Seven Deadly Sins, which in this world are some kind of gargoyle-like ghost monsters that live in his eye.
There's a few problems here. I did say that him being a kid is a problem. That's not a dealbreaker for me really, "Kick-Ass" worked for me, for instance, despite some flaws in that movie too, so kid superheroes can work in the right context, but this kid and this story does not. For one thing, this feels much older then a movie like this should be. I'm not surprised this film had a long and difficult pre-production; apparently this movie was being conceived for so long, William Goldman once wrote an early draft of this. This thing was bouncing around since the early 2000s, but this backstory feels like it came from an old "Three Stooges" short to me.
That's another big issue with this movie for me, Shazam's whole narrative, is that, he's a foster child, who's searching for his family, and that eventually he realizes that his family is there all along, and I guess, him becoming a literal superhero is part of that transition too, but we don't actually get to know much about this foster family of his. I mean, I get why he's reluctant to embrace them as a family, the guy's been through several foster families for like almost a decade or so, through six counties, and sure, not all foster families are good, but they couldn't have all been terrible. Even still though, we don't really learn enough about this group to really be enticed to care about them. We learn about Freddy, and frankly he seems obnoxious. We learn like one or two things about everyone else, and they're all nice and friendly and all, but we don't enough about them to care, and it's kinda hard to believe that Billy does suddenly care so much, especially after being such a lone wolf for so long.
I guess, I could've given the movie a little slack, and then the movie really fucked up and gave me, not one, but two post-credits scenes, so whatever sympathy I had for some of the comedy and some of the undermining of the superhero tropes was getting really soured by the end. I also, wasn't entirely, no pun intended, "Big", on the conceit of the teenager turning into an adult version of himself when he turns into the superhero. I mean, that's some really goofy, like kid's TV shows goofy shit. Like, literally, I'm fairly certain the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers tried that and even it's biggest fans turned on the series after that.
However, he spent much of the next decade turning into a punchline. Basically, he loved using the twist ending plot device in his films, and eventually it kinda stopped being good when he used it, and by eventually, I mean, “The Village”, and pretty much most everything else he did afterwards. Now, I never thought that diminished his original three's, eh,
Now, during that same time period, was the rise of our modern, big-budget Hollywood superhero genre that we all have been suffering through ever since, and in that light, “Unbreakable” had periodically become more and more popular among certain kinds of film nerd. If you’re somebody who may have listed “Unbreakable” on a Top Ten List of Best Superhero movies, possibly just to be snarky, you might be apart of this crowd. Admittedly, I probably would’ve been, although I’m not certain I would’ve always thought about “Unbreakable” as a superhero movie, so, maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t; that would’ve depended on the time period and how much time and focus I would’ve decided to give that question, which most of the time would’ve been, not much.
So, now we get, “Glass”, the third in this series, and now the first movie that we know is absolutely apart of this, franchise. Let’s review, the titular Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) was arrested and under psychiatric care for a home for the criminally insane by David Dunn (Bruce Willis). Dunn, now known as either, The Green Ghost or The Overseer, has become something of a vigilante as it’s now become clear that while Glass will continue to experience a lifetime of pain from his condition that makes his bones extremely fragile, Dunn, is damn-near invincible as a Philadelphia security expert who protects the city from the scum of the street, using his extra-sensory skillset. We find out here, that he used this most recently to capture, The Horde (McAvoy) a zoo worker who suffers from Disassociative Identity Disorder and has used those several identities to injure, capture and kill, mostly young high school women. Although one girl, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) who was able to ward him off through her power, um, extreme love and empathy…- I’m not exactly sure what her power-, like it’s somewhere between being a teenage Wonder Woman and Fay Wray; I think? Whatever she is, she the diametric opposite of Horde and all his personalities; I’m not going into all of them.
Anyway, all these characters end up at the criminally insane hospital under the care of a Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulsen) who is convinced that believing one is a superhero, is a particular kind of delusion and psychosis and decides to study it using these subjects, all of whom, to one degree believe are superheroes, or supervillains, respectively, although that term is never used. Humans with superpowers, I should say, although she strives to convince them that their strengths are just a manifestation of their own desires as well as an accentuated frontal-lobe activity.
“Glass” isn’t a movie that takes the motifs and storytelling devices of comic books to reimagine or reinterpret them in a new or different way like “Unbreakable” did, it’s just a comic book superhero movie, and another one where there’s a bunch of superheroes and supervillains in the same world again. I didn’t like that with any of the “Avengers” movies, and I don’t like it here, but worst than that, I’m disappointed in “Glass”. At least I expected it to some degree that those real comic book movies; they follow comic book logic and rules and that includes their natural storytelling weaknesses as well as their strengths; “Glass” had much more promise to circumvent those weaknesses. Say whatever else you want, there’s a reason why “Unbreakable” as a favorite comic book movie answer was a snarky answer, it was different from everything else in the genre and that’s why it’s held up and remains fondly recalled. Parts of this movie seem to even be going in that direction as you wonder exactly where all this is going, but when you find that you’re just reading another comic book, limited edition or origin story, that disappointment is far worst.
Superheroes are indeed gods in a world full of humans, that’s why they’re so fascinating, but when it’s just superheroes in a superheroes world, then it’s just gods fighting other gods, and there’s nothing good storytelling-wise in that; that’s just watching those who can’t be destroyed, trying to destroy each other.
Dammit, Shaymalan! Why be like those other movies when you can be so good not being those?!
What the hell is the point of this? No, I know, to make money; I get this post-Renaissance Disney, turn every animated project into a live-action remake thing, but what the hell is the point of this?! Like, it's-, it's not even live-action! It's basically just...-, okay, you know how much shit we've given Gus Van Sant over the years for that time he did a shot-by-shot remake of "Psycho"? And deservedly so, what the hell was the point of that, Gus? Like, I've-, I've never really spoken much on...- look, I don't think, about Disney's recent trends, 'cause, while I think most of them mediocre-to-bad, to me, they're not distinctive enough to standout. They kinda just blur into all the other remakes and reboots of things I don't want remade or rebooted that Hollywood keeps inundating me with, and with Disney, I mean, at least most of the time, they're remaking decent movies to begin with..., usually.... However, like, this is just damn close to just doing to remaking the same movie shot-by-shot. I mean, I can play nitpicker here and compare-and-contrast the few differences, but..., why?! Why is this?!
Seriously, why is this?! It's an animated movie with no human characters to begin with, so a live-action movie, is just,- okay, I'm told there is actually one shot that wasn't composed in front of- I guess it's a greenscreen, but like-, this wasn't even like rotoscoping actors or CGI-ing performances a la, Andy Serkis's career..., or like Spielberg's severely underrated "The Adventures of Tintin"; this is just an animated, Gus Van Sant's "Psycho". What...- what am I supposed to do with this? Like, I don't love any of the other Disney live-action films, but the fact that they actually were live-action is something, and there is a beloved live-action version of "The Lion King", it's Julie Taymor's Broadway production, which-, I mean, they have "Hamilton" so-eh, do they have "The Lion King on Broadway" on Disney+?
No. Do they have anything else on Broadway; Disney's had a lot of Broadway productions dating back to the early '90s they must've recorded one of them right?
Tsk, "Newsies"; they have "Newsies".
Well, that's a level of disappointment I didn't realize was possible....
Okay, so, to be fair, this isn't a direct remake of the original film. There's some added jokes and some scenes are cut or shortened, "Be Prepared" got paired down. They make a point to show how and why Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is such a bad King and also why Sarabi (Alfre Woodard) doesn't lead a revolt against Scar, which...- actually if I think about that for half-a-second, it makes her look like a complete idiot. They also show Timon & Pumbaa (Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner) are indeed not alone in their little slice of utopia and have several other animals that they live with, and many of which Simba (JD McCrary when Young, and Donald Glover when grown up) gets into some more complicated tentative friendships with as several of them are still afraid he'll eat him, despite him having become a full-fledge entomophagist. They also are more direct about Timon & Pumbaa's more nihilistic world perspective; I don't know why they wanted to be specific about that.
Some of these choices are weird. Like, why not do something like combine Zazu (John Oliver) and Rafiki (John Kani) into one character? Come up with a change that could be minor but make the story more succinct? Or, maybe have Simba come to the realization that Scar killed his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his role) on his own, and before the main fight scene at the end?
Eh, maybe I'm just spitballing here because, and perhaps, and this is just me, but-, well, I'll be blunt; I've never really gotten why "The Lion King" is as popular and beloved as it is. I remember getting into a discussion with some friends some of the guys over at Geekcastradio.com about that, and I was amazed so many "The Lion King" characters were particularly beloved by them. I do like the original a lot, but I'm still pretty reluctant in putting it in the "great" category when it comes to Disney. To me, among Disney Renaissance films, it's a distant third behind "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast". I will say this, the animation, or the photorealistic computer animated, it does look amazing, especially the more serious aspects of the fight sequences at the end, where it's not just Scar vs. Simba but the whole team.
However it's also too good. Honestly, I hate the effect. I didn't love it with "The Jungle Book" either, but that had a human character to compare and contrast with, so I gave it a pass, but here, the animals are too realistic with no human character to play off of. I don't usually have a so-called "uncanny valley" meter like some do, I generally don't think animation that's good, even if it's disturbing or creepy will never bother me with the story but, I already know this story; I've seen this story! And when the animals are this realistic, why even bother with, animated voices?
Like, this whole movie, could be a silent film, and it would've been a lot better. Or, if you're gonna have animated voices, like, why not have it all seem like inner monologue and don't exaggerate the animals' behavior. It's funny to hear Timon & Pumbaa have an out-of-nowhere "Beauty and the Beast" reference, but don't have them talking, like have them, communicating it non-verbally, like it's a "Homeward Bound" movie? You accept this in hand-drawn, because talking anthropomorphic hand-drawn animated characters has long-been accepted and the unreality of them makes them more compelling. We're in their world usually, but here, they're in ours, and it just doesn't work.
I don't even know what rating to give this, it's probably the most impressive technically impressive of these Disney live-action reboots phase, but it's probably their most offensive one compared to the original. They've all been pointless and useless cashgrabs, with only "Maleficent..." doing something that's at least really different with their movie(s), but the main difference to them was that they were, "Live-Action"! This is an animated remake of an animated film?!
I mean, sure, if you want to be technical, that's not even a new thing, but this so far is the movie where I think the remake excuse and reasonings for these films existing rings the most hollow. (At least among the ones I've seen.... I'm missing a few.) I'll credit the movie for having story adjustments that I mostly liked compared to ones I didn't, and the technical achievement the film is, is quite amazing and something to behold, but I really wish this was done with a movie worth watching instead of doing it with this.
Yeah, this "The Lion King" is just, so unwatchable. It's in that weird category where you have to admire the craft, but the movie's existence is just purely meaningless and the movie is just an experiment on how to make the same movie again, without really enough differences to make a difference, because whatever else you think of the other Disney remakes, there is something to seeing animated stories and characters, in a live-action world and those aesthetic and stylistic choices can be compelling and different, whether they're good or bad different is subjective, but there is something to be said about that, and there's nothing to be added or said. Yes, it's a different kind of animation and that effects things, I would argue it's mostly negative but really does it change things enough. It's just a higher budget version of a fan-made remake to me. And Jon Favreau, is a talented guy and especially from a directing perspective, he's had the most interesting and erratic careers I've ever seen. There seems to be no average in this guy's choices and work, he's either making something really good or really bad, and this isn't the first time he's been on this Worst list of mine, and it's actually difficult to tell what he's doing wrong in his worst films compared to what he does well in his best films. His best films, he's often writing his own work, but you know he made the two best "Iron Man" films too. The guy's skill level is always there, always present, but I think he just picks some bad projects sometimes and this was one of them. Maybe nobody could've made this good, um, or maybe it's like when Gus Van Sant picks his bad projects, because he wants to experiment; I don't know. This is a good filmmaker, but this is just a bad project.
4. Ad Astra
"Ad Astra" is another technically special and even amazing film that just ran head-first into one of my writing pet peeves, and when it should've backed away, the movie hit the gas head on. "Relative Overwriting" (Patent Pending) at it's most quintessentially awful.
My original review:
This is one of those pet peeves of mine, I'm gonna call it "Relative Overwriting". This is when, characters/plots/narratives are given unnecessary extra conflict by having a main character be related to someone famous-in-the-world and/or another character important to the story. Yes, following in a successful parent's footsteps is a difficult mental and physical challenge, it does add to the "Oh shit" and supposedly makes the emotional climax, more climatic. It's actually a note I find on a lot of screenplays, to make characters more connected. I've gotten it for some of my work, I've given that same note for others scripts. There are times when this is a decent idea, and it's more beneficial to the narrative. However, if I'm being honest here, I often, often, two oftens, feel like this is something that is added arbitrarily to a lot of scripts that frankly do not need it, and boy, do we not need it here. You see, this is the kind of thing that can go bad one of two ways. Either it goes bad because it's underdone, like it's mentioned in the beginning a character's relative issue and then it never really gets added on or mentioned with any real significance again. When this happens, it's at minimum, minor character building, and at worst it fails at that. The other way is that it make the fact that the character is related to another character, too much apart of the story and that is way worst when it's not necessary, and boy oh boy, it is annoyingly not necessary here, 'cause "Ad Astra" just beats us over the head with this.
Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is the son of a legendary decorated astronaut, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) and he's followed in his father's footsteps. After an amazing sequence where an electric storm of unknown origin causes him to fall to the earth after an explosion at a space station, he then has to travel to Mars to contact his father, who disappeared over a decade ago around Neptune, as they believe that either he, or the remnants of what's left of his mission, called The Lima Project, might be the cause of these electrical storms that are causing death, chaos and disaster throughout the universe. Okay, on the surface, this is fine, and this is entertaining even. Lots of sci-fi world-building, but every other minute, not even, quicker then that, there's something brought up about his fucking dad, either by somebody else, or by him, himself, because it's all he ever fucking voice over's about.
See, this is also one of those movies where there's so little happening on screen, that we need a character's voice over to have him go over and explain his emotions to us. Sometimes he talks to a machine that's constantly testing whether or not he's sane enough to go through the shit he has to go through, but, Jesus Christ! It's all this movie seems to care about, that this is the son of this man, like it's a goddamn episode of "Bonanza"!
Now I can see some people making the argument that this is not the case, and that this is a story where it's relevant. It is intertwined heavily with the narrative, but it's not relevant. In fact, it's an annoyance, because this isn't a sci-fi story about parents, it's a long, meandering wallowing about a father, disguise as a sci-fi adventure. I mean, the story itself, isn't new, it's "Apocalypse Now". Roy goes through just as much random BS as Willard does searching for Kurtz, and that movie sure didn't need a father/son narrative on top of everything else, it wasn't necessary. And if you're thinking about sci-fi films about people lost/stuck in space who are overly concerned and reflective about their loved ones that are far away from them, and the idea of being stuck in the darkness and loneliness of outer space, well, we have Tarkovsky's "Solaris" for that. (For that matter, we also have Soderbergh's remake of "Solaris" too and plenty of others too, Duncan Jones's "Moon" feels like a more thought out version of this too, and that only has one actor in it.) We're talking about a narrative in which thousands of people are getting killed, and the main character has to go on a styx-like journey to the other side of the Cosmos in order to try and stop it, before the Solar System is inevitably destroyed?!?! Jesus Christ, and that's what you want to use for a story about a fractured family and this man's emotional turmoil on!
Yeah, I don't buy that. This movie started with, them trying to tell a metaphorical tale about a son who lost his father and having to rediscover him, and have his psyche go through emotional hell, and then they made it a sci-fi futuristic tale. And this just, completely took me out of the movie every chance it gets. Maybe if the voice over wasn't there, and yeah, the voice over is another addition that needed to be gone. (Like, I know why it's there, but it doesn't work here, movie would've been hugely improved without it.)
And for the symbolistic value of the narrative, it wouldn't be so much, if the journey was good and frankly, it isn't. I mean, it tries to have some strange randomness, including a ship answering a meyday call with a science ship between Earth and Mars that is frickin' insane on so many levels that I'm not even gonna try to explain it. But mostly, every other character is just infatuated with Roy's father, whether it's because of what he may or may not be doing now, or whether it's because of what he did do, or because like one of Roy's temporary escorts Thomas (Donald Sutherland in a wasted cameo) because he was friends with him. There's one slight character that's interesting, and that's Ruth Negga's character who's literally lived on the Mars station for the majority of her life and her motives are compelling, There's a lot of good actors in this thing at the edges of the screen and most of them are just completely wasted. Like, blink and you'll totally miss Natasha Lyonne's one pointless scene. Kimberly Elise, Lisa Gay Hamilton and Liv Tyler don't have much to do either. Liv Tyler in particular is just Roy's wife who he's divorced, I don't think she's given a line in the movie, except for a scene where she's on a Skype call.
This movie was terrible from concept. The film was co-written and directed by James Gray a director that I have been mixed about for years now. I didn't care for his breakout "Two Lovers" awhile ago, but I know a lot of people who do like it, and I thought his recent works, "The Immigrant" and "The Lost City of Z" were really strong period pieces that both took this idea of long journey and adventures and gave his main characters some satisfying emotional depth to them. They were also period pieces and history and the past has a lot of importance in his films in some way. He's always had characters that are either held back on by their past or are creating a history for others, or both, and in those genres, I think that approach stands out and works better. For this sci-fi world however, I felt nothing. It didn't seem like a struggle to reach out to the heavens to find the voice of God, it felt like an excruciatingly long protracted fart. Rage and fury signifying abandoned parent issues.
Oh, Jesus Christ, do I really have to fucking review this? Goddammit, Academy, you couldn't find a fifth Song from a decent movie to nominate? Or even a really shitty movie, anything other then a Faith-based Christian film!?!?!?!?
"Maybe it won't be so bad." That's what I said before I heard this exchange in the movie.
"Why are you so hard on him?" a fellow Ministry member asks to Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) after she got into an argument with her ministry's new, young looking Pastor Jason Noble (Topher Grace).
"Well, that haircut for one?" she responds.
Look, I'm not exactly one to talk about hairstyles, but lady, it's 2015 (in the movie), and you still wear your hair like Marlo Thomas in "That Girl"!
Ugh, this one's gonna be torture. Yes, I've been dreading this one, it's the latest entry in the, "Some Christian movie got an Oscar nomination for Best Song, so I have to fucking watch it," category. Ugh! God, I almost wish Transformers movies were getting nominated again...- nevermind, no I don't, but this is still-, ugh. I've ranted about faith-based movies before, and they actually are a big enough segment of the Hollywood market to attract relatively big name, decent actors sometimes, but God, literally, whenever these things unexpectedly enter the world of legit artistic cinema, it is never a smooth fit. That's not to say "faith-based" or Christian movies can't be good, at times, but man, does it usually just not frickin' happen.
I don't even know what to say about this one. Apparently it's based on a true story from a book by Joyce Smith, who doesn't look like she has "That Girl" hair in real life, about her adopted son falling under a frozen pond and surviving despite being trapped under ice for fifteen minutes. The kid, John (Marcel Ruiz) is in a coma for almost a week, naturally and yeah, the fact that he did in fact survive this is actually an inspiring story. Or at least it would be if the family wasn't so goddamn religious and everything was based around how, "Prayer" seemed to be what "healed" him. Along with the prayers and love and wishes of, the whole town. And OMG,- why do these stories all have some kind of local news reporter every night reporting on things that they almost certainly would almost certainly not be reporting on!
Like, seriously, how are there always reporters with these stories? Do reporters in these movies just hang out outside hospitals for stuff like this? Or do religious filmmakers just think they do? Like, even in supposed "small towns" I don't think this happens much. Like, I've known people who were injured and died from severe automobile accidents, and their stories like, never even made the local news here!
Anyway, rant about stupid trope aside, I'll say this, Topher Grace, is really great as this annoyingly young and obnoxious pastor who somehow manages to preach about "The Bachelor" in connection with God. He's the pastor with the purportedly questionable haircut who stands as Joyce waits in the hospital room. The acting is generally okay here, but it is every awful idiotic trope of these movies. The black acquaintance, in this case the fireman who apparently heard a mysterious voice to turn around and find John behind him, that didn't actually happen and yet it's treated with this great gravitas and he's suddenly believing in, I don't know, some otherworldly thing.... The mother constantly talking about how important it is that John's brought on this earth, which seems really contradictory since it seems like God's spent a good deal of time trying to kill the kid off. (Or if not contradictory, then selfish....) I mean there's a way to tell this story and still have it be amazing, but it's so overwrought that you just don't care.
Even the parts that are supposed to kinda gain sympathy, just-, like there's a scene in the beginning where John has to give some oral report about,- um, I don't know, who he is, or something, and he tells this story about his life and how he was born in Central America and was abandoned and now he's here, and that's like, it. Like, there's nothing more then that, he tells this pretty basically, with notes from a crumbled single sheet of paper, and I'm thinking like, "I don't know, C, C+ for effort if I'm being generous?" It's like character development of any kind other then, they're nice and go to church, they just don't have any concept of. Okay, the father, Brian (Josh Lucas) talks with his son about basketball sometimes. (Sigh) Nothing here makes you care about these characters, except for the Pastor, who's at least different and interesting and I kinda am interested in him. And even he seems to be second-tier compared to his family that we barely see, but seems to outsmart him while trying to use his pastor-like antics at the dinner table. (Sometimes metaphors aren't the best way to explain some things.)
I don't know what to say here. Chrissy Metz, sings a song that was connected to the movie, not in the movie, she sings it fine; I forgot what the song is though, 'cause who cares. This isn't anything different or special from most similar films, the only real difference is the quality of the actors and the potential this one kinda had to be good if it had some other perspective, but it's ultimately really shallow in all it's thoughts on god and whatnot. It was well-made enough though, it was the feature debut by Roxann Dawson who's got a shitload of TV credits lasting decades, and took me twenty minutes of staring at her name before I remembered she played B'Elanna on "Star Trek: Voyager". Anyway, she's competent here; most of the problems with this film are on a script level.
Maybe if this was John's perspective I might've found this interesting, instead of the mother's, I mean, he was the one that survived? Maybe? (Shrugs)
That's the one word I kept coming to as I struggled to power my way through Todd Phillips's "Joker". Did we need this? Did we need a Joker origin story? If so, why this story? I mean, it's somewhat impressive in its utter pointlessness, but why?
The last I remember a movie that got this much commercial appeal and critical acclaim where I kept wondering, "Why" at the movie the whole time, was Bradley Cooper's remake of "A Star is Born", but that was, well, better, first of all, and second, based on several movies that we all already knew were pretty good, and third, even more then that, the question of "Why," with that movie, was an intriguing one. To me, it made little sense why Cooper was so deeply effected by the story of "A Star is Born", at least on the surface, but clearly he took such care and conciseness with his debut feature film project that is clearly meant a lot to him, and mystery of why it appealed to him and effected him so, was captivating. I know I was speculating as I sorted through the mental rolodex of celebrity gossip and rumors I'd heard about him for years and even if that wasn't the inspiration, it was still mysterious in a good way.
"Joker", however.... (Sigh)-, okay let's try to piece this together, 'cause clearly, this mattered and meant a lot to somebody; so let's start with that somebody. Todd Phillips is/was a comedic director, mostly know for "The Hangover" films, but one who's been recently trying to transition to projects with much more fulfilling narratives and commentaries on the events of the day, much in the same way that Adam McKay had done this with "The Big Short" and "Vice" or Jay Roach has done with "Bombshell" or his many HBO TV movies projects like "Recount" or "Game Change". Now Phillips started his transition with a film called "War Dogs", which I thought was okay. It was about two gun smugglers who sold weapons to the U.S. Government while they were engaging with Afghanistan and Iraq. Some people liked it more then me, but I thought it was decent, but forgettable. Still, it was an transition piece though and that it worked; it was still a movie with a comedic tone and through line but with a serious story and situation in the middle of it.
Here's the thing though, unlike McKay, or to some degree Jay Roach, Phillips was never great at the comedies he made. Ever. I thought there was one funny thing about "Old School" and that was Will Ferrell, and everything else in that movie, which I know a lot of people loved at the time, I couldn't really understand the appeal. "Road Trip" involved at least what should've been Tom Green at his most disgusting so I skipped that one as a teenager, 'cause yes, even at the time, I never got Tom Green's humor. "Starsky & Hutch" was okay, but who the hell has ever thought about that movie since? And, I'll just be blunt here, I thought "The Hangover" was overrated. Even the first one at the time; I thought the joke wore thin. I thought the premise was strong, and strong enough for several movies if they had the inventiveness to go more and more over-the-top as they went along, but then they mostly just cut-and-pasted the first movie. I didn't love how the original "The Hangover" was structured in such a way where literally anything could happen, which, to me, meant that it was always gonna undersell any expectations or ideas I could've come up with, that's the problem with a narrative where so much and anything is possible, you start to fill in the anythings and they'll always be more then what's there on the screen, but the fact that the sequel failed so badly on those expectations was to me even more of a red flag that Phillips's comedic greatness was skeptical at best. I mean, if there was ever a movie comedy sequel, no-, movie comedy, period, where you could go all out, do anything, and have as little connection as possible to the previous film and be funny, it should've been "The Hangover Part II"! (I haven't seen the third one yet, or some of the movies of his that I haven't listed, but I can't say I hear too many people telling me that "Due Date" and "School for Scoundrels" are must-see comedic gems.) And that movie's complete and utter failure is a very underrated disaster and just outright sin to the movie industry, an homage to a lack of ambition and creativity that's so bad, I feel like throwing up every time I look down and think about how low that movie is.
He's always been a hack; I hate to be blunt, but he has, and when I started reading about him wanting to make "Joker" and stray away from comedy not because he wants to take those comedic narratives and storytelling techniques and tranfer them to drama, but because of "woke culture" which he claims means that he can't do comedy anymore, 'cause all his jokes were ruined, and I just roll my eyes more then I normally would at him, 'cause, as I suspect, most of the time, I think the true secret behind the [finger quotes] "comics" who complain about the culture ruining what's funny, is that, they were just never funny to begin with, and yeah, he was never funny to begin with in my view. (Also, more to the point, McKay and Roach, wanted to expand their range and tell deeper stories that they felt were important and meant something for them to be told, not just because of the PC/Woke culture that was spreading around.)
However, as the Joker, Arthur Fleck, (Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix) remarks, that "Comedy is subjective," says the guy who laughs so much, he's got to hand people a card to ensure them that his constant laughter is a medical condition.... but still, he's not wrong there. I've also heard some comics who I do think are funny complain about the new condition of PC or Woke culture being a hinderance on their comedy, especially stand-ups who complain about this problem on college campuses more and more often, and I think there in this debate is a real actual conflict, in that perhaps colleges, in an effort to be too protective of the students and the campus, which they are legally allowed to do by law in many cases, 'cause they have too much leeway to protect the safety of the student body, go over-the-line in censoring performances and stand-up, and that's actually one of the few complex sides of this debate that's worth analyzing.... And there's several other points in this debate as well that aren't clear cut and shows that both sides have a legitimate complaint, but instead of maybe coming up with a narrative that explores that, we get, this supervillian origin story. One that, I didn't ask for and am not sure why we have it.
Well, I know why we have it. The Joker is the most famous and best comic book villain of all-time, I won't dispute that. He's had several beloved interpretations on the big and small screen, and he is by far the most fascinating of comic book villains, and arguably one of the greatest villain characters in all of literature. So, an origin movie on him, is not necessarily the most out-there idea, but I do feel like Phillips is coming at this from a strange place.
Phillips and Phoenix as well, I might add. Fleck is, well, his own origins are a bit of a mystery to him, but he's a struggling clown who suffers from several mental disorders, including the aforementioned uncontrollable laughing one. (That's a real condition btw, although it's vague in the film whether Fleck actually suffers from it.) He's had several issues at work, most of which are, legitimately not necessarily his fault and are portrayed as a system that doesn't understand him, including a-, no pun intended, two-faced employee named Randall (Glenn Fleshler) who gives Arthur a gun for protection after he was mugged while performing on the street; a gun that inevitably leads to Arthur getting fired.
I should also point out that this movie, for some reason takes place in 1981, which, to me makes no sense; I think it's supposed to be because Phillips is inspired by movies from that time, most notably Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and especially "The King of Comedy", he even uses an older Warner Brother logo in the opening, although I suspect that this is mostly Phillips hoping for a time period that he believes was more conducive and accepting of his kind of humor, one that's pre-PC and "woke culture." (Jack off hand signal) However, wouldn't this make more sense if it took place today? Why make a movie that challenges our current culture on comedic censorship and have it take place in the past? There's no reason to; Joker is a character with tons of adaptability to the time period he's in, in both dramatic and comedic contexts; this film could've easily been set today.
Anyway, Arthur's mother Penny (Francis Conroy) is his only real relative, and after the state shuts down the medical program that helps him provide his medications, something that is a genuine issue with the country today so I'll give him that, he starts heading down a downward spiral as he struggles to push his way into standup comedy, as well as, basically, society in general and his own world comes crashing down and the ones he tries to infiltrate on his own, seems to have the most closed doors for him to walk right into. He does try to have a relationship with Sophie (Zazie Beets) a single mother in his apartment complex, but that stumbles after he invites her to a standup performance that's so bad, it gets mocked by the movie's bizarre choice for an antagonist, Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, speaking of "The King of Comedy" and "Taxi Driver"), a Johnny Carson-esque television host who both Arthur and his mother are fans of. It's bizarre, I wouldn't think of Joker enemy and go, TV host. I mean, it's a better choice then the Wayne family, who do play a part in this movie, including a fairly cynical depiction of Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) as a billionaire autocrat who's very dismissive of the lower class and after a triple homicide on the subway, he announces a run for Mayor under what's essentially a Law & Order platform. (At least, I'm assuming that's his platform considering the time period) I mean, that's not an out-of-nowhere depiction of the Waynes; especially in our political climate right now where any idiot with a billion dollars can just push his way into office, but I'm not entirely sure it works here. Nor, do I like the ways in which they manipulate Arthur and the Waynes's pasts to where they're interconnected in a way that...- ehhhh.... I won't get into it, but no matter how I parse which side I believe and which is lying, or if there's shades of gray between both of them, there's still too many stupid elements to it. Like, why not just tell Arthur nicely what happened, or just show him the evidence instead of him having to steal it, or instead, why hide this from him?
Can we go back to Scorsese's antiheroes for a second? The thing with Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin is not that they were batted down by society at large, it's that they were totally isolated in their own worlds. That's different then being rejected by society, overall in both "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy" Bickle and Pupkin, are relatively accepted by the societal world they exist in, and even encourage to participate in them, they just don't quite fit in, and to some extent, it was they who rejected the norms in which those societies runs in, or at least wanted to, or in Pupkin's case, find a shortcut to skirt those aspects of; in his case society was the equivalent to fame. Still, that's a big difference than society itself going against you. They didn't really have much more to them, then simply whatever distressing or disturbing ideas came across their mind. They lived in their rooms not out of rejection from the world, but they're own rejection to the world. In fact, a big theme in "The King of Comedy" is how Pupkin succeeds, despite constant rejection, even though, he's trying desperately to simply find a shortcut to fame.
There's a little bit of the isolation from the world in Phoenix's performance and character, sure, but mostly, his problem is that the world is actively rejecting him, which honestly doesn't work, both in concept, and the fact that the world in the movie isn't rejecting him. Not even in just the celebration of whatever the Gothamites stand for, as they take the clown image as a symbol for the angry and disenfranchised anti-capitalist movements like he's the new Mohamed Bouazizi.
I guess you could argue that this is, part of Phillips's story that, yes, Joker is an unremarkably bad clown who turns into an evil clown, but then, if that's the case, then why this backstory of him, possibly literally being mentally ill?! I mean, not only does it take away the Joker's power, who's greatest appeal is that, yes, he's a sociopath who will go to extreme lengths to reveal the true ills of society, and laugh at our feeblish attempts to try to propagate it, but he was also smart and manipulative about it; he wasn't just simply a guy who starts killing whoever's around him with the nearest weapon, or flukes his way onto taking over the local TV station; every other version of the Joker I can think of has always been calculative in his insanity, which is precisely what made him such a great contrast to Batman. And going back to Phillips's inspiration of the movie being a response to woke culture killing standup, why is he such a bad comic? Can he at least be a good hack of a comic? (Although I did laugh at the one knock-knock joke nobody else thought was funny.)
That's kinda how this works though, in order to present/reveal Joker to be a true misunderstood and overlooked genius to the world, one has to actually be an overlooked, misunderstood genius to the world. And he's just not. Is that the joke, that he's trying to tell, that relates so much to this Joker, because Phillips is likewise, not particularly great or special as a comic, so "Joker" isn't either??
And even if I didn't know that was the inspiration, I would've guessed it because it's interwoven into the narrative; "why is this guy who's successful allowed to simply make fun of me, but I'm not allowed to make fun of him?"
That's the basic mantra of every bad comic who complains about PC culture ruining their act, and I can think of dozens of rebuttals to it but all I basically hear when I see that complaint is , "Why does is have to be harder to write jokes now?"
Look, it's not that this is all bad, there's is some good here. The cinematography, the production design, the score, there's clearly some talented people here. Joaquin Phoenix won an Academy Award for this performance, and, I'll concede that it's a difficult character to play, but I also think it was a badly-written and conceived character in a movie that comes from a place of bad faith. It's Phillips trying to force a narrative into a superhero world that frankly doesn't need it, and he does it mainly because he knows that superheroes would be popular. I don't even honestly know what to make of Phoenix's performance...; I find that I'm usually the last one to admire Phoenix's more eccentric performances, but I certainly can't say he's not trying and not going all out; he's going all out and as far as he can. Still, I couldn't help but to think of others, perhaps Nicholas Cage, would've made this character so much more compelling and perhaps make us really dive into the confusion and frustration that truly would let us sympathize, if not, empathize with Arthur Fleck..., but maybe we're not supposed to empathize or admire this guy?
The key to good antihero narratives is that while they are truly evil, their motives still have to be justifiable. To use the morbid lingo of stand-up comedy, if we can get on board with what the comedian is talking about, he can get us laughing, and in turn, he's killing out there with us, the audience. If he can't get us to laugh, get us to care, to empathize with his troubles and situation, well, then, that "Joker" is just standing up there, dying.
Unfortunately, these ten weren't the only bad films from this year though, I'll leave you all with some other dishonorable mentions to avoid.