Joker (2019, Directed by Todd Phillips) English 7

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron, Brett Cullen, Frances Conroy

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(7-Very Good Film)

Memorable. Gripping. Derivative.

The world can seem pretty dark when you’re depressed. No film off the top of my head paints a more vivid picture of this than DC’s newest flick, Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, perhaps a surprising choice after a couple decades worth of comedies (The Hangover trilogy, Old School, Starsky and Hutch), and starring Joaquin Phoenix, following in the footsteps of a couple iconic film Jokers (Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger) and one lousy one (Jared Leto). This Joker is a film in close-up. Even when the camera pulls back, the focus remains, the cast, the plot, the tone all revolve around its titular “hero,” here named Arthur Fleck. It’s his world. That may seem like an odd thing to say about a character struggling as profoundly as Fleck is over the course of this movie, but we see Gotham as he sees it. He’s an unreliable narrator. The extent of how much of what we’re seeing is influenced by Fleck’s mental state is, I believe, debatable, but, in any case, the Gotham we see is a hellish landscape populated by powerful bullies and hostile bottom-feeders. Fleck just wants to bring laughter into the world.

The movie kicks off: 1981, Gotham City. Living with his mother and struggling through a dead-end job as some sort of clown-for-hire, Fleck kills a group of yuppie jerks on the subway one evening. It’s a downward spiral from there with fate offering one blow after another to make Fleck break down. The list of his life struggles throughout the film would seem over-the-top, maybe melodramatic if the tone wasn’t so consistently grim. He loses his job, has the funding for his medical treatment cut, gets beat up a couple of times, etc. The most interesting part of Joker is its take on Gotham. It’s a city cut-off from the rest of the world. I don’t recall any mention of life beyond its city limits. Where did everyone else go? It’s like the setting of This is the End, where most people have gone off and those left are expected to rot. It’s also a world without superheroes. There’s no Batman, no Superman, nor anyone else from DC’s roster of supers. There don’t seem to be any blue-collar heroes either or average men looking out for their peers. Thomas Wayne, usually portrayed as a champion of lost causes, is played here by Brett Cullen as another big-money politician. Fleck idolizes late-night host Murray Franklin (De Niro) but that plays out in predictable yet satisfying fashion. Ultimately, Fleck’s gradually building Joker persona makes sense (perhaps this is what some object to) and he becomes a wake-up call to a large portion of Gotham’s citizens (reminding me of the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore scene in Network).

Films like these, where the protagonist descends into madness are rarely made and difficult to watch. If done right, they can be fascinating but can hardly be considered fun experiences. I would argue that Joker is done right (Phoenix is mesmerizing in the role), though it’s not easy to remember a mainstream movie this polarizing in recent years. Is it irresponsible? Is it validating angry loners? I don’t buy those indictments in general. I don’t believe films are responsible for social ills the way that some do, so I feel no need to defend Joker on that level. It’s a good film, a very good film, not a great film. It has too many endings for one thing (I prefer a strong abrupt finish to letting a film like this peter out with several long sequences). It’s also too reminiscent of Scorsese’s classics Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy without deriving any value from those influences. Some argue that it’s a breakthrough comic book film. I don’t give it that much credit. Did it change the rules of comic book adaptations or surprise us with the direction it went in? No. Spiderman 2, The Dark Night Trilogy, Unbreakable. Those were the game-changers.  Joker’s simply better than your average.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(755)

 

 

Deadpool (2016, Directed by Tim Miller) English 6

Starring Ryan Reynolds, T.J Miller, Ed Skrein,  Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand

(6- Good Film)

Memorable. Funny. Fresh.

A mercenary diagnosed with cancer tries to cheat death by undergoing a sketchy black market operation. The outcome is that he beats cancer, but becomes a hideous mutant in the process. Now he is out for revenge. The bloated pool of superhero pictures is given a much-needed refreshment in the form of the fourth wall breaking, subversive Wade Wilson. Although the overall plot is rather bare, the film makes up for it with a unique structure (nonlinear) and some clever humor. Most importantly, it finds its tone and sticks to it all the way through.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(732)

Spiderman: Far From Home (2019, Directed by Jon Watts) English 6

Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, J.B Smoove, Martin Starr, Cobie Smoulders, Jacob Batalon

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(6-Good Film)

Likable. Breezy. Modest.

Long gone is the epic, operatic world of Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman. Tom Holland’s Spiderman is breezy, lightweight entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that. Holland is an excellent Peter Parker and Spiderman: Far From Home is enjoyable. This time around, following the events of Avengers: End Game, Peter and the rest of the people who were wiped out by Thanos have returned, calling that five-year absence “the blip.” Slowly returning to normal, Peter, along with his classmates, prepare for a class trip over the summer to Europe, where Peter hopes to unwind and tell M.J (Zendaya) how he feels about her. Once overseas, however, Nick Fury arrives, revealing that the class trip was a ruse to get Peter to Europe to help fight a group of monsters known as Elementals, alongside Mysterio (Gyllenhaal), a hero from a different Earth. Spiderman: Far From Home is entertaining. The change of scenery keeps things fresh. Peter and M.J’s moments are nice. The villain is compelling enough. I’ve never liked the idea of Spiderman being the bottom option for saving the world. The film has to jump through hoops to prove that it has to be Spiderman that saves Europe. Where are the other Avengers? All of them are occupied? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(633)

The Incredibles (2004, Directed by Brad Bird) English 10

Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Wallace Shawn, Jason Lee, Brad Bird

(10-Masterpiece)

Clever. Exciting. Funny.

In an alternate reality where superheroes exist but are forced to remain dormant by law, Bob Parr (A.K.A Mr. Incredible), along with his wife and three kids, struggle with obscurity, unfulfilled potential, and the malaise of everyday life. Then comes along a mysterious woman with a cash offer and the promise of excitement. A fantastic take on the superhero genre, blending it in with the problems of a suburban sitcom family, executed splendidly with several priceless moments and an unforgettable scene stealer in Edna Mode (voiced by the director, Brad Bird).

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(617)

Batman and Robin: So Terrible, it’s Amazing (1998, Directed by Joel Schumaker) English 3

Starring George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle

Image result for batman and robin

(3-Horrible Film)

Campy. Goofy. Idiotic.

1998’s Batman and Robin is, simply put, a joke. They notoriously gave Bruce Wayne’s suit nipples, they chose for their lead villain, Mr. Freeze, played by a blue painted Arnold Schwarzenegger, spouting one bad ice-related pun after another (“let’s kick some ice”), and made Poison Ivy look like Divine from a John Waters movie (google it). I’d like to catalog for you, the film’s many shortcomings and harebrained moments, though it’s a Herculean task to try and catch all of them, but it’s also important to note and preface this with the truth, which is that I love this film. Definitely falls within the “so bad, it’s good” variety. I think it’s hilarious. I laughed out loud on more occasions during the length of this superhero flick than, let’s say, 95% of the straight-up comedies I’ve seen.

Technically the fourth entry in the pre-Christopher Nolan series of Batman films. It’s amazing how silly all of the Batman movies before Bale and Nolan seem now that I’ve seen their grittier, more realistic take on the material. Batman and Robin stars George Clooney as the billionaire playboy slash caped crusader. It’s incredible, and not enough is said about how Clooney was able to have a career after this film, let alone the Oscar-winning, lifetime achievement award receiving career he has had. Bat nipples should have been career ending. I will say that among the cast, who should all feel embarrassed, Clooney comes off the least foolish. He gives the role some gravitas, granted, masked behind layers of inanity, bad dialogue, and bat nipples (I’m going to keep coming back to bat nipples; they color the entire film). I would even go as far as saying that Clooney could make a great Bruce Wayne in a much better, more competent picture. Now, if you think I’m being over dramatic about bat nipples being potentially career-ending, take a look at the rest of the cast of then-stars. Chris O’Donnell returns as  Batman’s close ally, Robin. O’Donnell, who’d given a very strong performance six years earlier in Scent of a Woman (1992) with Al Pacino, never recovered from this dud. Neither did Alicia Silverstone, at the time of the film’s release, still riding the waves off of her early success in Clueless (1995). Here, she plays Barbara Wilson, grand-niece of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred. She appears to be a nice, wholesome girl, but is later revealed to be a hardcore, action adventure heroine, and dons the ready-made Batgirl suit Alfred leaves her. Together, Batman (having trouble trusting his young sidekicks), Batgirl, and Robin take on Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane (3 on 3) who team up, rather improbably, to take over the world (or at least Gotham) with a telescope Mr. Freeze turned into a freeze gun. The villains are where the film really reveals its suckage. I’m going to address them one by one.

I’ve already referenced Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, and you probably got the point, but not enough can be said about his puns:

Cop #1: Please show some mercy!

Mr. Freeze: Mercy? I’m afraid my condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy.

See too, a scene where he sings along to the snow miser song from A Year Without Santa Claus (1974), while his henchman, who dress in fur coats and talk like they’re from the Bronx, provide backing vocals. Where does he get these guys? Honestly? He goes to New York and posts hiring notices? It’s insane. And they help him, why? Then again, Ted Bundy had followers. Perhaps, it’s one of those things that defy explanation. Like when Mr. Freeze zaps Robin with his freeze gun, and Robin’s cemented in a block of ice. The solution: Batman picks Robin up and puts him in hot water, and Robin’s perfectly fine. Science! What’s the point of Mr. Freeze’s gun if it doesn’t even kill anybody? It looks cool on an action figure?

Poison Ivy, as portrayed by Uma Thurman, is, against all odds, even worse. She escaped this travesty thanks to Tarantino casting her in his Kill Bill saga, otherwise, I’m certain this would have been career curtains. Let’s start with her “origin story.” The origin stories in the old Batman movies were the worst/most hilarious parts. She’s working in some kind of lab, minding her own business one minute. She opens a door, and all of a sudden, she’s in some weird underground cult room, complete with evil experiments. That’s it. All she did was open a door. The mad scientist in this new room goes, “how did you get in here? Now, I’ll have to kill you. You know too much.” What do you mean, “how did you get in here?” You didn’t even lock the door. His attempt to kill her somehow imbues her with the power to manipulate plants and toxins, and the sexy ability to kill men with a kiss. Almost lost amid Mr. Freeze’s bad puns are Poison Ivy’s equally lame lines: “They replaced my blood with aloe.” “Animal protectors of the status quo.” Worst of all: “My garden needs tending.” Smh. Uma’s performance is bad too. The dialogue is horrible and does her no favors, but her delivery only compounds the terribleness. She talks like a bad theater actress. And then there’s the striptease she does while wearing a gorilla costume. Has to be seen, to be believed. Yes, someone thought that was a good idea.

Bane, while equaling his compadres in stupidity, has far less screentime, thus leaves far less of an impression. Still, in his rare moments to shine, the filmmakers turn him into a Frankenstein figure; like a campy Frankenstein figure. He starts off as a scrawny child molester or something and is then given serum that makes him jacked. How to defeat him? Robin simply pulls the rather large tube from the back of Bane’s head and he disintegrates. So, so bad.

There isn’t much logic to Batman and Robin. Instead, there are pointless cameos from Elle MacPherson and Coolio. I’m sure the filmmakers were convinced their target audience wouldn’t notice (their target audience being 8 year-olds), and they were right. There was a solid 3 year period when I legitimately thought it was the greatest film ever made. Now, I see clearly. It’s in my exclusive top ten worst movies ever made list. So many poor choices, lapses of logic, head shaking moments, and bat nipples. Never forget bat nipples.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(604)

The Incredibles 2 (2018, Directed by Brad Bird) English 7

Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Vowell, John Ratzenberger, Jonathan Banks

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Dazzling. Lesser.

The Parr family, alias The Incredibles, are back. Fourteen years, four pretty undistinguished Pixar sequels later, and we finally get The Incredibles 2. There’s the father, Bob or Mr. Incredible(voiced by Nelson), with super strength, the mother, Helen or Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), who can stretch to insane lengths, oldest child, Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) who can turn invisible and create force fields, son, Dash (now voiced by Huck Milner), who has extraordinary speed, and the infant, Jack-Jack, whose powers were only hinted at in the first film. The good thing about animation is that all that lapsed time isn’t a problem. Writer and director Brad Bird can pick up right where he left off, unburdened by the effects of time on his actors, able to capably portray the Parr family just as we remember them from the first film.

So that’s what Bird does. The Incredibles 2 starts where the first film ends. Dash finished his race, Violet asked out a boy, and a new super villain, calling himself the Underminer, showed up to spring the heroic family back into action. This ending seemed like a perfect setup for another installment, but as The Incredibles 2 plays out, the Underminer proves to be only a small part of the whole. The important part of the scene is that The Underminer gets away, the Parr family cause a lot of damage protecting people, and the mandate outlawing superheroes sees the protagonists relocated once again, this time to a shabby motel where Bob contemplates returning to his soul-deadening insurance job. Fortunately, their good deed in fighting The Underminer was not completely in vain as it caught the eye of billionaire, Winston Deaver (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), who has very personal reasons for wanting to bring superheroes back. He believes the Parr family are the key. The only thing is, he thinks Elastigirl is the better choice as the face of his plan, throwing Bob for a loop. This go-around, Helen is out fighting crime while Bob stays home with the kids, dealing with Violet’s lovesick teen angst, Dash’s complicated homework, and Jack-Jack’s ever-growing list of abilities, while a larger plot begins to form slowly involving a masked figure known as The Screenslaver.

The over-arching plot, due to the supervillain of the piece, is good, not great. It’s the one thing holding the film back from being in line with its predecessor. The villain’s secret identity with all of the red herrings has been done before, to the point that we can see the film’s third act coming a mile away. This ends up not being a major detractor since Incredibles was always best as family commentary, genre satire, and situational comedy. All of this remains intact. Jack-Jack steals the show with one of the film’s chief pleasures being his expansive roster of powers slowly being revealed throughout the movie. I won’t spoil them here. The great scene-stealer from the first Incredibles, Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself) returns and has a wonderful scene with the infant Parr.

The action sequences in The Incredibles 2 are stunning. We’re reminded that the possibilities in animation are endless, and Brad Bird pushes the envelope with every new film. Stunning is how I’d describe the animation and design of the film as well. Even without living up to the ridiculous heights of the first movie, The Incredibles 2 is a fantastic superhero film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(599)

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Directed by Zack Snyder) English 5

Starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter

(5-Okay Film)

Joyless. Dull. Bloated.

Bitter towards Superman after the events of Man of Steel, Batman decides to take him out. To be fair, I haven’t seen Man of Steel, and so, much of Superman’s narrative felt underwhelming, but I don’t think that installment’s backstory could make up for the second class treatment Clark Kent receives in this film. We all know Batman has been cooler than Superman for a long time now in film, but how was giving Superman an arc that would better serve a monster movie supposed to work. There are some grand moments in the picture. It’s not a complete mess like Suicide Squad, but they didn’t get the characters right. Both heroes just seem like tools, and Eisenberg was not a good choice for a supervillain. He can’t conjure up any real sense of menace, and so he hams it up. Jeremy Irons, though also far afield of your ideal Alfred, is a scene-stealer.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(592)