Anime, Movies

Spirited Away

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away at the cinema, its not my favourite Miyazaki (or Studio Ghibli) movie, that goes to Princess Mononoke, but its not often that many of us get to see these films on the big screen, especially somewhere like Bedford (there’s a showing of Princess Mononoke at the end of the month that I’m also hoping to attend).

It’s a film I’ve seen many, many times before. I bought it when it first came to the UK on DVD, and over the years its a film my partner and I have loved and shared with our children. This time round I happened to see it with the group of friends I’ve made through the book club I attend and it was awesome to see that there wasn’t an empty seat in the whole screening, (well, there was one, for a while, right next to me, then a weird guy came in half way through the film, asked me what it was called and what the time was, kept his coat on, then as the credits began to roll informed me that it was a “bit of a head fuck”).

Seeing it on the big screen was a real treat though, I’ve never had any trouble following it, but with the screen and sound system dominating your senses Miyazaki’s beautifully crafted, spiritual world is brought to life.

In this environment you really feel the pace of the film as it flies through some sections, throws gags at you and then takes some important moments to drop everything and just let you breath in this world, you really appreciate the craft thats gone into every single scene, especially during the quiet moments that are full of reflection that come at just the right moment to move onto the next act.

However, whilst most of Spirited Away is hand-drawn, there are moments of the film that have been created via computer. The most noticeable of these are when Chihiro is following Haku through the fields of flowers to get to the pig pens to see her parents. Now this might have been done on purpose, it could be to amplify the contrast in locations to the bathhouse where we’ve spent most of the film up to this point, it could be to help us appreciate the confusion and feeling of being rushed off her feet that Chihiro is no doubt going through, but the visual impact is very noticeable. Especially when blown up onto a cinema screen. Thats not to say it detracts from the film overall, its just very noticeable.

The music really has an impact here too. Maybe I’ve watched it too many times with the kids or other distractions, but I’d forgotten some moments of the music. There’s obviously the soaring moments such as when Chihiro is riding upon Haku’s back, but theres other moments such as on the bridge outside the bathhouse when we are first introduced to No-Face. There’s a few quiet notes playing, but then some really awkward sounding strings come in and the jankiness (for want of a better, maybe real, word) really sets the tone that even within this completely alien world where Chihiro is at odds with everything, theres are encounters that are stranger than others.

One last thing, I’ve been reading The Handmaids Tale for book club (more on that on Wednesday), and theres a bit of a cross over in themes between the two that I didn’t expect at all. There’s a strong conversation about the strength in ones name. In both of these stories the lead characters name is used to opress them and place them in servitude and both have their names replaced. Chihiro becomes Sen and its only through keeping the memory of her name alive, and also discovering/remembering Haku’s real name, that she is able to break out of Yubaba’s contract and leave the spirit world. In The Handmaids Tale, the protagonist also has her name taken from her, we’re never told what it is, it is forbidden for her to ever use it, but she remembers and its her name that helps her keep her memories of the world as it was before she begun telling the reader her story, but in both cases, they are given a new name, and in this case its also the narrators title Offred (Of Fred, Fred being her commander).

Both offer a commenatary on the power of words and how they can be used to control individuals and ultimately a group of people. There’s probably a lot more there to be discussed by somebody with far more intelligence than I have.

Again, I’m extremely happy that I had the opportunity to see this in a community setting, where people laughed at the funny moments and were swept along by Miyazaki’s story telling, all played out on a huge screen, and it’s thanks to the services of Our Screen that I was able to do so.

Movies

“It is what it is” – The Irishman

This week I finally got around to watching Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”, I’d be putting it off until after the school holidays had ended, purely because at three and a half hours long it wasn’t a film I’d want to watch once they’d gone to bed and I’m certainly not going to watch it whilst they were around.

For this Scorsese has dragged his old pal Robert De Niro back into the fold after spending the past decade or so working with Leonardo Di Caprio, he’s also got Al Pacino in there, Harvey Keitel and has managed to persuade Joe Pesci out of retirement, its no surprise then that this is a gangster movie that uses every single trope that you’d expect.

For his latest Mafia tale, Scorsese has taken a book entitled “I heard you paint houses” by Charles Brandt, telling the tale of truck driver turned Mob hitman Frank Sheeran and his relationships within the mafia but also with those who deal with them, especially labour union leader Frank Hoffa. The Irishman (and the book it’s based on) uses real people and real events, though it uses the theories and allegations aimed at Sheeran in the years since Hoffa’s death (his body has never been found).

We’re told the story in a rather reflective manner. Our first introduction to De Niro’s Sheeran and Pesci’s Russel Bufalino is when they’re much older, they’re driving to a wedding that is also acting as a peace treaty with Al Pacino’s Hoffa. As they make their journey we’re taking back to key events that eventually build-up to the relationship between the labour unionist and his “friends” in the mafia souring, though I don’t really want to say any more than I already have done on the plot.

It’s a lovingly created piece of art, every single scene is given time to breathe, the characters are well fleshed out and it feels very, very intimate at times. Performances are mostly high, De Niro is the best we’ve seen him for a long time and Pacino is allowed to chew up every scene he’s in and be a crazy, unhinged tour de force. Though really, this is what these two actors have spent their careers doing, it’s still great to see them perform at this level as we’ve had quite a few years of them being in rather below par movies. Keitel knocks it out of the park when he’s on-screen too, though he’s not in this quite as much as you’d expect. Stephen Graham, as antagonist Tony Pro is also very, very good. However, it’s Joe Pesci that absolutely steals the show.

Now, that’s not really much of a surprise. I’ve always felt he’s been the lesser appreciated of these actors, he got very easily typecast as the fast-talking, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed bloke with the little guy complex. He does this to great effect in Goodfella’s, My Cousin Vinny and Home Alone, probably his three most famous roles (especially that first one), though nobody came out of the god-awful Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 particularly rosie.

Here, though, he’s different. Here he literally steals every single scene he’s in, even opposite the excellent Pacino. I’ll admit though, I was waiting for him to blow up, start flipping tables, spitting obscenities in peoples faces, but it never came, and I’m really glad it didn’t. Instead, Scorsese seems to play with that typecast, the viewer is waiting for it to happen but he keeps Pesci on a short leash, giving him just enough spit and venom behind his tinted glasses for him to be really menacing. Every word he utters is either a disguised instruction, left for the recipient (and viewer) to interpret themselves, or is on the very cusp of telling whomever that he is not to be fucked with, that he’s the one in control here, and its totally believable.

This is Pesci’s movie.

The subtlety applied to Pesci’s character doesn’t stop there though, the script is littered with this stuff, no one says exactly what it is they’re after. There’s the idea or implication that they know they’re all being watched or that the authorities are trying to infiltrate their ranks, so any discussion, be it crime-related or otherwise, is disguised. Whoever may be listening in may know what they mean, but if any recordings of those conversations made it into court, then well, it could be anything. It is what it is as Russ tells Frank to tell Hoffa.

That’s not to say that its always that way. There’s one interaction, maybe halfway through the film? Hoffa and Pacino have gone to LA to meet with Graham’s Tony Pro, Hoffa and Pro had been in prison at the same time and had gotten into a fight over the latter’s union pension. Anyway, plot details again, Tony Pro (or The Little Guy as they all call him behind his back) is 15 minutes late, Hoffa doesn’t like people being late and wants an apology from Tony, Tony wants an apology for their fight in prison. Frank is looking on, trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of things but also trying to find a way to calm things down, and well, it is what it is, its quite a funny scene (funny how?), it was played really straight, but it genuinely felt like everyone involved knew the interaction was funny and kept on with the ridiculousness of it, especially De Niro trying to be the sensible guy “12 and a half” indeed!

It’s not perfect though is it? It’s not Scorsese’s best work either, though I don’t think its faults are especially down to him. Due to the age of the cast and the way we keep switching through time as we are told this story, Scorsese opted to use de-ageing technology. I’ve read he didn’t want to use the same method as Marvel use, where they stick balls to the actor’s faces for computers to track. Instead, ILM had to come back with a different tech, which they did and it was used here. Thing is, they all still look really old throughout and the only way I could genuinely tell what time period we were supposed to be in (and thus at what stage of the characters lives) is by using a combination of their wardrobes (though they’re nearly always in suits), the set dressing and the cars they’re using.

De Niro, who the film focuses on the most (and is the titular Irishman), is the biggest issue here, even ignoring the de-ageing tech on his face, he just cannot convincingly perform like a man that is around 30-40 years younger than he actually is, he moves like a man in his 70’s and this is the most obvious in one particular scene where he beats up a shopkeeper. It doesn’t stop the film being enjoyable, and I respect Scorsese’s decision to stick with this cast of actors rather than split things and have a young Frank, Russ etc played by younger actors then the periods where the characters are much older have them be played by Pesci, De Niro and co. Especially as if he had taken that route, we wouldn’t have had this performance from Pesci and if you only watch this film for that, then you’re in for an amazing treat.

People will be put off by that run-time though, but you have to remember, big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Avengers Endgame have a run time that’s fairly similar, and in all honesty I find that film to be exhausting as it doesn’t let itself breath let alone the audience. The Irishman is totally different, it wants you to be a part of this world, it wants you to be one of the lower-ranked guys looking on as the big guys play their poker game. It reminds me of the scenes in The Soprano’s where Tony, Paulie and Silvio would say around outside a cafe, bitching about everybody else, gossiping and plotting, which is no bad thing, it might have been provoked by me having a pizza whilst watching it (only a Domino’s, I should have bought a frozen Goodfella’s!).

I genuinely enjoyed the experience of sitting down and spending so much time with these characters, it’s rare that I make it through something this length without falling asleep, but I managed it with this so make of that what you will, though I also got to the end wishing we had got a one-off series of ten one hour episodes so we could have had more time with not only Joe Pesci but also the likes of Tony Pro.

Movies

The Rise of Skywalker my spoiler-filled opinions.

Before I go ahead with this, I should enforce the headline of this article, what I am about to write is going to be full of spoilers. That’s not to say that every single moment in the film will be in there, there’s probably tonnes of stuff that I’ve forgotten since my viewing finished at 20 past 11 on Thursday evening. I’d also like to point out two things.

The first is that despite my feelings after the first trailer that I posted about in my “The Fans Awanken” article, I still genuinely went into this film with the absolute best intentions because we all obviously want the best Star Wars experience possible. I’ve tried to split the film into three acts and then an overall opinion at the end to try and provide you with my feelings as I was remembering the events of the film as I walked home from the cinema.

The second thing I’d like to add is that these are just my opinions and if there are any messages or comments of any kind, be it at the bottom of this blog post or on my social media platforms, that I feel are resorting to name-calling or abusive in any way (and that includes abuse aimed at others, be it other commentators or people involved with the movie themselves), then I will not be engaging, I won’t hide them, if you’re going to put your name to that kind of stuff I’m not going to keep it private, that’s on you to control your behaviour. Again, these are just my opinions, I’m not in posting them as fact and I’m more than happy to engage with differing opinions in a polite and civilized manner because that’s how discussion works and it may just change my viewpoint if I’m shown things in a different light.

I’m going to start with this, I think the first two-thirds are an absolute mess. You’ll soon see why, but first off the bat, and in fairness, this isn’t really anyone’s fault, but the scenes with Carrie Fisher in were pretty much always awkward. Daisy Ridley often did her absolute best with what she was doing (and I think this is probably her best film), but due to the way the footage they had leftover from The Last Jedi was used, it just didn’t really work for me. I can’t think of any particular lines that were delivered by Leia that really had any impact and its clear that she was supposed to have a much bigger part, unfortunately, Carrie Fisher’s death made this impossible and the use of cut footage from the previous film just didn’t really work as well as the crew had hoped, I think it would have been better for the film if Leia had have died between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, as the send off the character has been given is really rather weak.

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What did work in the first act though is the reveal of Palpatine, we knew he was going to be in it, but what an excellent performance by Ian McDiarmid right from the off. From the very moment we set foot on Exegol (which is basically the Sith HQ of the Galaxy Far, Far Away) the atmosphere is incredibly menacing and your first glimpse of the Emporer is genuinely scary. That Abrams took one look at the decision made in TLJ to kill off Snoke early and basically go “yeah, he was nobody” by allowing Palpatine to have been his creator was an excellent idea that I was fully behind. Yes, it’s kind of wedged in there, but because the previous films didn’t really give us anything about Snoke’s past other than that he was greatly feared, particularly by Luke, this gave the writers an excellent opportunity to just let his prior death happen and move on with Palpatine’s plan.

However, the wheels begin to fall off from here on out, with The Inbetweeners (how many time did we have to be told they were all friends?) going off on an adventure where they constantly failed upwards. Every predicament they found themselves in was solved by something pretty random occurring, they get chased across a desert and then fall through some quicksand into an underground chamber, oh look, there’s a dagger with some Sith runes on them (that 3PO’s programming wouldn’t allow him to fully translate, which I did like), then oh no, its a giant wormy thing that’s going to attack, ah but Rey has unlocked Force Healing and so on, this continues throughout the film and reduces the sense of peril that The Inbetweeners find themselves in as you constantly expect something unplanned for will occur and get them out of their current predicament, there’s never really a situation where the relative skills of the group are put to use, aside from any time Rey has to use her lightsaber.

This failing upwards did lead to one excellent bit of action though, and probably the best non-Jedi or spaceship based action scenes in all of the films. After escaping from the wormy thing, The Inbetweeners find a ship (that happens to look exactly like the one Rey’s parent’s supposedly blasted off in The Force Awakens) and as Poe and Finn get it prepped for takeoff, Rey heads off to intersect Kylo Renn who is flying at them in his TIE Interceptor, Chewie heads after Rey to tell her to come back but is captured, then in a Force Pull tug of war, it seems as though the craft he is on is destroyed by a sudden burst of Force Lightning that comes from Rey. It’s not much later though that they discover Chewie is alive and Rey, Finn and Poe go to free him. Once the latter two have freed him from his shackles, the Wookie and his Friends blast their way through the corridors of the ship they’re on trying to make their way to the hangar with their ramshackle ship in. This particular moment is wonderfully shot with a low slung moody camera with blaster bolts going off everywhere and Storm Troopers taking hits left, right and centre, and whilst it gets a bit unbelievable just how many shots hit The Inbetweeners, Poe does eventually take a hit (though it’s only a flesh wound).

It’s around this time that we learn of Rey’s heritage, and this for me is the films biggest negative, there are a few things that happen that reveal more but it basically boils down to Rey and Kylo doing their Force Communication thing, though there’s some physical interaction as they fight with each other despite being in separate locations. It’s revealed that Rey is the Grandaughter of Emporer Palpatine, now at this point in the cinema I genuinely rolled my eyes, I refrained from groaning as I didn’t want to spoil anyone else’s experience, least of all the autistic girl behind me who was loving every moment of the film (which I was really pleased to hear, I’m not the sort to say “I don’t like this so you shouldn’t”, despite the fact I sometimes mock my partners taste in movies and music, that’s only ever meant in jest).

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We’re later told that the Jedi Hunter who owned the Sith Dagger they’d found killed her parents under the command of Palpatine whilst trying to find Rey, which to me doesn’t really make a lot of sense. I find it difficult to believe that Palpatine, who turned Anakin to the Dark Side, discovered a way to bring himself back from the dead (or cheat death depending on a certain point of view) and also keep Darth Vader on a leash, then keep his continuing existence hidden for over 30 years, would just go “yeah, kill them”, they’d been captured, the ship Rey saw leaving with her parents on belonged to the Jedi Hunter, so they were definitely under arrest, I’m pretty certain Palpatine of all people (zombies?) would have been able to get the information he wanted from his son or daughter-in-law (I will make the assumption they were married, not that it’s important), considering he was able to get some information from Luke during the final act of Return of the Jedi.

Moving on though, the biggest positive that came out of this second act was most definitely the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren, we got a taster of it in The Last Jedi, and really my biggest disappointment from that film is that there wasn’t more built upon the tension of either of them switching sides. But here, things build and build, Ren tells Rey he doesn’t want her dead, he tries to ask her why she didn’t take his hand in Snoke’s throne room and there’s a bit of to-ing and thro, culminating in the films most visually striking (and probably the most important) Lightsaber fight as waves crash around them, soaking them and Kylo showing Rey’s lack of training as he wears her down, though as she’s the Good Guy, she wins the fight, very nearly kills Kylo Ren but then uses her healing powers to keep him alive, telling him she didn’t nearly take his hand, it was Ben Skywalkers hand she almost took. This poignant moment is almost left hanging as Rey makes her escape, but Ren reflects on this and is visited by the memory of his father and from here Kylo Ren dies with Ben Skywalker beginning his return to the Light Side of The Force.

If these first two acts had have done away with some elements of the treasure hunt (and at least keeping 3PO’s excellent arc) then I think The Rise of Skywalker wouldn’t feel as confusing as it has done up until this point. Things do improve greatly from here on out though.

This final act was Star Wars at its best, big spaceship battle (though it’s definitely not the best one in the series, it does have a lot fan service in there), the Nazi Propaganda imagery was really cranked up with the imagery of the Star Destroyers and time we get to spend with the First/Final Order and Richard E Grants character, and whilst there were problems with the final conflict between Palpatine and Rey (it never really felt like she’d turn and take the Sith throne, whilst Luke genuinely gave a sense of him struggling with his emotions in Return of the Jedi), it was incredibly visually striking with the lightning and Ian McDiarmid doing what Ian McDiarmid does best: being an incredibly creepy presence as Palpatine. I’d have liked Ben to have had a bigger role in this fight and rather than Rey wielding two blue Lightsabers I’d have gone with Luke’s Green RotJ one alongside Leia’s blue (after all we’re shown the two training in a flashback), which whilst I know the green saber was damaged, it was also, reportedly, repaired (though I don’t think this is referenced in of the films). It would have made for an incredibly striking image with the two different coloured weapons fighting off Palpatine’s Force Lightning.

One final point, that’s not important but I think it does show Disney’s mindset with these and ties into my conclusion, is the gay kiss. It’s between two female characters in the background when the Resistance is celebrating. I’m pleased it’s in there, but a kiss between two white women is probably the safest Gay Kiss that Disney could have gone for, and there’s almost definitely a part of me that wanted there to be a more intimate relationship between Finn and Poe, especially with all the obsessions over each others past and keeping secrets from each other that we saw during the first act of the film, not to mention the way they behaved when they were reunited in The Force Awakens, I always kind of felt there was something more there, but Disney’s big-budget sci-fi opera having a kiss between a Guatemalan man and a Black Afro-British man was never really, and unfortunately, going to happen.

And it’s this playing it safe that I think ultimately harms The Rise of Skywalker. I said in the article I linked at the top of the page that I felt Disney/Lucas Film were going to put too much weight on the backlash that some quarters had against The Last Jedi, I also feared that Abrams would fall back on The Force Awakens’ nostalgia trip too much. Now whilst I’ll admit I don’t think either of these were as much of an issue as I feared they would be, and in the case of nostalgia, the final film in a nine-part series was always going to have a heavy dose of that.

It’s the fan input I feared would be most damaging. But whilst I think it wasn’t as all-encompassing as I thought it would be, it did play a part in the films core theme, if The Last Jedi was telling us “it doesn’t matter who you are” then The Rise of Skywalker was throwing a fit and screaming “it does, it does! Look she’s a Palpatine and he’s a Skywalker and only by them copulating will the Galaxy be saved/placed under Nazi control again” and that left me incredibly disappointed as a lot of the films best plot beats didn’t need Rey to be of the same blood as the Emporer to actually work.

Ultimately, I don’t think anyone should be leaving the cinema asking themselves if they enjoyed a Star Wars film, which is exactly how I felt as the credits rolled and I spent my walk home making notes on my phone.

Movies

Jaws

I’m going to be playing catch up on this #100 Movies tag over the next few weeks as during October my partner and I took it upon ourselves to watch a horror movie for every night of the month (okay one was a TV movie split over two discs so we only actually watched 30 movies in October). Some of these movies were on my “100 Must-See Movies” poster and thus will receive a write-up, Jaws was on that list.

Much has been made of Jaws over the decades since it was originally released, what with it pretty much launching the career of one Steven Spielberg, and the attention and praise its received since its release in 1974 is more than warranted. Okay, the shark looks awful today, but it’s still easy to get lost in the moment and feel the dread that Brody, Quint and Hooper feel when out at sea hunting for the infamous shark.

There are three things that Jaws is very famous for, we’ve already mentioned the shark.

By modern standards, it is very, very rubbery looking. But at the time this was groundbreaking. Of course, Spielberg would go on to make a very similar movie advancing a lot of this technology nearly 20 years later when he released Jurassic Park. Spielberg is quoted as saying that he wanted the shark to be the star and at the time it most certainly was. But now? I’m not so sure, personally I found a lot of Quint’s scenes would offer up the level of tension I’d assume the shark was supposed to be providing, especially any dialogue between himself and Hooper, which isn’t really surprising when you take into account that the two actors took an immediate disliking to each other on set.

There’s one scene in particular, late at night, the three men have all been drinking, making jokes, but there’s a sense of tension in the air. The conversation turns to Quint’s time in the US Navy and him being aboard the USS Indianapolis and the shark attacks the crew suffered. As his story unfolds you can see the atmosphere inside the boat change, as tense as things had been prior, things are ramped up even further with Brody and Hooper looking genuinely terrified of Quint at this point.

The other big thing Jaws is famed for is its soundtrack. Duh-Dun Duh-Dun Duh-Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun Dun-Dun. Famously scored by John Williams (who would then score many many huge films, most famously George Lucas’ Star Wars), the aim was to create something akin to human respiration whilst bringing tension to the view, your heartbeat raises as you hear the famous notes and you begin to expect the worse. It’s since become the go-to piece of music when anyone wants to act like they’re sneaking up on someone as a joke. It’s not just that theme that is key to the tone of Jaws though and once again its Quint that’s the focal point. We frequently hear him sing an old British Naval song “Spanish Ladies”

Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.

He sings this at various points in the film, and its almost our first introduction to the character, who’s perceived to be drunk (he probably was, its likely Robert Shaw, who played Quint, was drunk himself), but it almost always sounds threatening, we’re given the impression that the character is on the brink of sanity and, I feel anyway, that whenever he’s heard singing this, he’s literally on the precipice of turning on the rest of the cast.

The last thing it’s infamous for is Brody’s  line to Quint after seeing the shark for the first time

You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Though I don’t really have much to say on that, it is what it is.

If Jaws were filmed today, I know it would be a very, very different movie. The temptation to show the shark at any given opportunity would be far too high and I don’t think the characters would be given the chance to shine like they are. I know Spielberg wanted the shark to be the star, and it is, but the threat of the shark doesn’t carry the characters, its the tension between them that does far more than just fill the gaps between shark attacks. This is apparent during the aforementioned USS Indianapolis tale. I think if this was a modern movie, we’d cut away and be shown what happened, instead the panic and fear that Quint felt at that time begins to show through and being stuck in such a confined space, out at sea, in shark-infested waters, with that character is when the film really shows its teeth as a horror film. The monsters just there to get bums on seats.

Movies

How the Joker plays his ultimate joke

Like everybody else, I recently visited my local cinema to watch Todd Phillips’ “Joker”, I decided to make some notes on the bus home and then return them a few days later once I’d had time to think on them. I’ll get this right out there by stating that I really quite liked the movie, sure it hangs off of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, but thats why you hire an actor of Phoenix’s calibre, its rare he phones in a performance and the majority of the time you find yourself watching him rather than everyone else in the film, I for one think Gladiator would have been a much poorer film without his casting.

I think it goes without saying that from this point on there are alot of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading now.

There’s a widely held belief that Joker is about a man who suffers from a variety of mental health issues and potentially has a personality disorder that is pushed over the edge and becomes The Joker. I can see exactly why people think that, its the story thats being told throughout the film, but I put it to you, who is telling the story? Is it Arthur Fleck or is it The Joker?

I think its the latter.

Whilst this is a standalone movie at this point, and this can often be the case with the medium the character is taken from, with many different writers and film makers over the decades offering their own take on The Clown Prince of Crime. However one constant is that we have never really been told the characters origins. Sure there are parallels with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. A guy, down on his luck anyway, struggling to cut out a career as a comedian, goes through a period of time where things get worse and worse for him. In the case of The Killing Joke its one bad day, with Joker its prolonged over a few days or weeks.

So why do I think its The Joker himself telling this story and how do I think this is revealed.

There are a few things that contribute to this. The most obvious point is his relationship with his neighbour Sophie, as everyone is aware, there is no relationship, as we see when Arthur lets himself into her apartment and when she discovers him there she (justifiably) freaks out. The one sided element of this relationship is really driven (or heavily hammered) home later in the film when we are shown a few scenes where the two had been together which would then flick to show she wasn’t in those moments with Arthur at all.

There’s alot of serial killer tropes being ticked here too: Lives at home with his Mother, has no friends, people at work creeped out by him, his job isn’t a Regular Joe kind of job, a history of mental health issues; one of which weirds people out, abused as a child, no Father figure, obsesses over false idols, creates false relationships and fantasy scenarios.

There’s a sense that he over embellishes. I’ve seen a few complaints that the scene on the TV show goes on too long and I think thats entirely the point, he quite clearly likes telling a tale and the longer he can keep this going the more attention he gets.

Then we get onto his history and the tie in to the DC Universe, Arthur Fleck is the illegitimate love child of Thomas Wayne and one of his employee’s (Penny Fleck) thus making him the half brother of his ultimate nemesis, Bruce Wayne aka Batman. Add in that the final riot just so happens to take place, and is kind of the cover for, the murder of the Waynes and it places the Joker’s story as being “aah thats why he and Batman were destined to face off against each other time and again”, some have labelled this as a lazy tie in to the rest of this particular universe and I totally get that, I think its a lazy embellishment on The Jokers part.

So, how did I come to this conclusion? Mostly due to the final scenes where The Joker is talking to a psychiatrist in what I presume is Arkham State Hospital, we cut to this at the moment The Joker is being worshipped by a mass of people in clown masks, he tells a joke that the psychiatrist thinks is awful whilst the viewer is tricked into believing that she is the Social Worker we saw Arthur talking to repeatedly earlier in the film (though it is two different actresses who do look very different from each other).

All of this shows us that Phoenix’s Joker, like Heath Ledgers Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Alan Moore’s Joker, is an unreliable story teller, the inconsistencies, fabrications and embellishments create a tale that from very early on feels incredibly surreal, that it shares a similar tone to Martin Scorsese’s Robert De Niro vehicle Taxi Driver only further cements my feelings in this regard, and I kind of feel that the casting of De Niro as Fleck’s idol/father figure in this whole scenario is purposefully done.

Of course, I could be giving Todd Phillips too much credit with all of this.

 

Movies, TV

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

As most of the people reading this will be aware, on Friday Netflix released El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. The movie, released 6 years after the end of the main TV series, follows Jesse Pinkman after his escape from Jack’s compound at the very end of the final episode.

Thats not where things start exactly, we’re first treated to a flashback (a commonly used tool in El Camino) of a conversation between Mike and Jesse in which Jesse informs the former that he intends to leave the drugs business, they discuss Jesse’s possible future, which is a theme that crops up time and time again in El Camino.

When we return to the present, Jesse is literally driving away from the slaughter that Walter White had committed, screaming, turning down a side road to avoid the Police he see’s on the horizon and ultimately ending up at the house old friends and accomplices Badger and Skinny Pete are living in. The pair take him in, help him get cleaned up etc and aid him in evading the Police using a plan that feels far too clever for the pair. It was great to see these three back together, Badger in particular was one of my favourite characters during the shows original run. It’s a pity we didnt get a little longer with them, and it was really endearing seeing Skinny Pete taking on a homely and caring role in order to get Jesse back on his feet.

Mike, Pete and Badger aren’t the only returning characters, in fact there’s a few of them which both make and break the movie for me, the vast majority are in flashbacks however. The major positive was the return of creepily friendly and (as we already know) completely unhinged Todd (or as I call him “Not-Matt Damon”). We, through Jesse, spend alot of time with him prior to the moments in the show where Jesse kills Todd. This time is there to show how broken Jesse became, which was portrayed better over the running time of the shows seasons rather than the limited time afforded to it in these flashbacks even though the Todd ones take up a meaty section of the film. It also gives us the information to understand alot of Jesse’s actions in the present day, with Todd telling Jesse about the money he keeps in his apartment and Jesse’s need to get to it in order to carve out a new life for himself. During his search for the cash we’re treated to an excellent bit of film-making (in my opinion) when we’re given an above camera shot of the entire floor plan of the apartment with Jesse ripping the place apart (literally, I don’t just mean throwing furniture around, he literally pulls the plaster off the walls) to find it. The whole sequence kind of reminds me of playing Hotline Miami, and the music would almost fit that games soundtrack too.

It’s Jesse’s plan to create his new life that cause the most problems for me. Choosing to visit “the Disappearer”/Ed who aided Saul and Walter both abandoning their lives and going into hiding (with the latter returning for the events of season 5 and the former going off to work at a Cinnabon as we find out in Better Call Saul). We know Jesse had the opportunity to use Ed’s services back on the show, which he ultimately rejected, but it feels a little too much like the writers are leaning too heavily on those events, both to cause more tension and keep the plot ticking over (Ed wants Jesse to pay for the services he declined and for his services this time, Jesse is a little short on the cash needed so has to resort to getting that before Ed can move him on). Ed gives him the opportunity to go it alone, basically saying that with $248,200 he could get very far away very easily provided he’s careful, but for whatever reason Jesse decides to enter into a very dangerous situation in order to get the rest which feels entirely unnecessary.

Thats not to say that this harms El Camino entirely, its an entertaining couple of hours and it kind of feels good to be back in that world again, especially with Jesse who always seemed to be the heart of the show. However, it does feel like the writers couldn’t help themselves, especially when they shove a flashback featuring Walter White in there (with Bryan Cranston wearing a skull cap that makes his head look huge). Early on we’re told that White did in fact die at the end of Breaking Bad and I personally felt thats all we needed, it felt like Vince Gilligan was pandering to the fans too much at this point.

It’s a nice enough send off to the show, but if thats what Gilligan intended this to be then it feels really weird for it to have been made six years after Breaking Bad ended, particularly whilst Better Call Saul is getting so much praise in certain quarters (though it has reminded me I need to get back to that show as I dropped off it in Season 2 I think). I think it mostly feels that way because the present day stuff takes place so close to the end of the TV show and the cast are showing 6 years of aging, especially Jesse Plemons (“Not Matt-Damon”/Todd), and overall I think I preferred how Breaking Bad ended prior to the release of El Camino.

Movies

Reservoir Dogs

Imagine living with someone for nearly 18 years and in that time watching many, many movies, some of them your favourites, some of them theirs and some of them movies that neither of you have ever seen before. During that time you’d pretty much know what films each of you haven’t seen and surely there should be no surprise? Well, looking through my “100 Must See Movies” my partner, whom I have three children with, announced she’d never seen Reservoir Dogs before!

Now this confused me, I’m certain I’ve watched it since we met (I obviously watched it before we met), and thats not to say we only ever watch films together as thats not always the case (work, sleep, life etc means thats not always going to happen, not to mention individual tastes, there are films she loves I dont enjoy so will do something else when she fancies watching them, as is the case for every couple out there). So one day recently, once the kids were at school, I cooked us up a meal and we sat down and watched the film that introduced the world to Quentin Tarantino.

Reservoir Dogs wasn’t my first Tarantino, I think that was technically From Dusk Till Dawn, its also technically a Robert Rodriguez movie as he directed it (Tarantino provided the script), which also started a lifelong infatuation with Salma Hayek. Anyway, onto the film itself.

It’s a very simple affair and going back to it now we’re reaching what feels like the end of Tarantino’s career (there’s been alot of noise about Once Upon A Time in Hollywood being his last movie, but then I’m sure that happens with every film he makes) you can see alot of the stuff thats become what people look for in a Tarantino movie.

Most notable, and obvious, is the dialogue, there’s something very distinctive about Tarantino’s dialogue. Not just the language used, but the references being thrown around, but the tempo of the dialogue is always the giveaway in his films. It’s very fast paced, back and forth, everyone trying to out do each other throughout. It grabs the attention but it can also be exhausting and whilst it felt fresh in Reservoir Dogs, that element of each character trying to be a bigger character than the last makes it difficult to want to see more of these characters. I get that their not really supposed to be likable, with Mr White being the only one with any semblance of some humanity, but it also makes them feel very one dimensional. He does get better at this, but we’re not looking at his other films, we’re looking at Reservoir Dogs.

He does like to let them act though, they really are given every opportunity to show us just how good they are and its no real surprise that he’s managed to work with most of the long-term big names in Hollywood at least once with many of them returning for multiple films. Here whilst the two characters we, arguably, spend the most time with are Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi, who both put in excellent performances, the two stand out performances in my opinion are Tim Roth and Michael Madsen (the latter of which appears in many of Tarantino’s movies). It’s easy to say that Roth over-acts the dying man, but I think thats the point. Yes he’s dying and desperate, but he’s also trying to be a believable criminal, he’s the only one who’s background isn’t known to their boss and, being an undercover cop, he has to make sure he’s not found out or no one is going to get him the help he needs.

Michael Madsen seems to excel at playing an unhinged, menacing bastard and thats more than obvious here. You always get the sense that one comment is enough to push him over the edge, but not into the mad shouting crazy man that you’d expect in any other movie. No, Madsen is cold, calculating and appears to enjoy seeing people suffering, be it physically or emotionally. He knows what buttons to push to get someone to that point, but also enjoys playing the game to get them there rather than just simply pushing and pushing. He’ll push, back off and give the impression that its not him thats the problem, its everybody else, then applies the tension again.

There were a few points where I had to explain things to my partner, or remind her who was who, but she did seem to enjoy it. She was a bit confused that Tarantino didn’t show the heist at first but then grew to understand that that wasn’t the point of this film, that thats every other heist film out there and I did say that if she wanted to see something like that we could always watch something like Heat or Ronin (I think she’s seen the former, but I’ve never watched the latter with her). Overall though I think she enjoyed it and, for me, its one I love returning to mainly because of the performances mentioned above (though its not my favourite Tarantino, that goes to Deathproof).

Movies

Jurassic Park

Back in June I turned 35, one of the gifts I was given was a posters featuring 100 must see movies and each movie features a scratch off panel with some artwork behind. It’s not proclaiming to be a list of the 100 best movies of all time but its a pretty good list, although it cheats on two occasions: the Star Wars Trilogy (the Original Trilogy) is listed as one movie as is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are some films on there that I’d switch for others (an example that immediately springs to mind is Spirited Away, I love that movie but of Miyazaki’s movies it comes third to Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro). Now, I’ve already seen over 60 of the movies listed before already but my better half has decreed I cant scratch those off until I’ve rewatched each of them, and so with me seeing The Matrix at the cinema a couple of weeks back, I got to scratch off one panel, we’ve since re-watched Jurassic Park.

First things first, my eldest daughter and my other half/her Mother, both love the Jurassic Park movies, even Jurassic Park 3 and Jurassic World: Fall Kingdom, but to me the series has blown cold with each instalment, aside from that very first one.

From the off it still stands tall as an excellent bit of film making, the characters all feel grounded and, if not relatable, at least realistic and the decisions they make throughout aren’t outside of the realms of possibility.  The core three, Dr Ian Malcolm, Dr Ellie Sattler and Dr Alan Grant all shine throughout and even the kids have some really excellent moments and don’t ever get as annoying as kids in films often do, they’re squabbling feels like that of a brother and sister whilst it also feels like there’s genuine familial love between the two.

It’s funny, you can a film, dozens and dozens of times but sometimes you still spot things you don’t remember before, a case in point during this rewatch of Jurassic Park was during the sequence where Malcolm, Grant and Sattler are in the electric Explorer together prior to the energy going on out and Malcolm is teaching (and flirting with) Ellie about Chaos Theory, then Grant jumps out of the car and Malcolm says that Grants actions prove Chaos Theory as no one could have predicted he’d do that (or words to that effect). Sattler follows and Malcolm is left alone in the car and continues his speech about Chaos Theory, even showing how he himself has a part to play in it, but its that particular moment that had completely passed me by and shows alot of who Ian Malcolm is as a person, he loves to talk and loves to theorise and if somebody happens to be listening or remotely paying him attention, then thats just the icing on the cake.

This leads us into the films big centre piece, its most famous scene (well, apart from the bit following that with Jeff Goldblum’s shirt open), the Tyrannosaurus Rex attack. It’s utterly amazing that it still stands the test of time, the film is twenty six years old and yet that T-Rex looks and feels more real to the viewer than any of the offerings they’ve used since, even the latest two movies the T-Rex looked and felt CG, and while I know they blended the two with 1993’s Jurassic Park, doing so enabled the cast to really play out and act as terrified as they appear to be during that particular moment of the film.

It also feels like its of a time when family films were allowed to have genuine peril in, now big blockbusters that everyone watches, the heroes always get through and the danger never feels genuine (I’ll say now I’ve not seen End Game so I’m not going all in on defending that comment, as Infinity War was definetly a “Part One” movie). the moment when Timmy, Alan and Lex are climbing the electric fence, not knowing that Ellie and Robert Muldoon have worked their way through the jungle to get to the generators and bring power back to the park after Dennis Nedry had shut it all down, there’s an incredible amount tension for both groups, on the one hand you want Alan and the kids to get over the fence safely, but on the other the power needs to come back on, with Ellie and Robert having the major issue of the Velociraptors being loose, it ends up being a close call for Sattler but we/the park loses its Games Keeper.

The Raptors are an almost every present threat, from their introduction during the films opening moments when one of the workers is dragged into their pen, through to the scene in the kitchen with Lex and Timmy trying to sneak their way around and avoid them, a scene that has been aped elsewhere, such as in the last season of Game of Thrones. Even at the end of the movie, their the bigger threat to the group prior to them managing to escape the island, and its only through the actions of the T-Rex picking a fight with the raptors that they are all able to escape from the visitors centre.

It was always going to be difficult for any follow up films to be as good as Jurassic Park was, we’ve seen this problem before in other franchises, and unlike, say Alien/Aliens and The Terminator/Terminator 2: Judgement Day, taking a completely left field approach would have been a very difficult sell. I don’t mind The Lost World, but its not a patch on Jurassic Park, and the final third of Jurassic Park 3 had the most potential out of the entirety of that film, but as with the westernised versions of Godzilla, it would have been a little more problematic to make into a full film, especially when the western Godzilla movies (not including 2018’s King of Monsters, which I’ve also not seen yet) pretty much miss the entire message that Kaiju movies have tried to carry in their home land (though the first Pacific Rim did manage to hit those notes to some degree).

Movies, Uncategorized

The Matrix, a 20th anniversary viewing

People who follow me on Instagram will know that on Monday 29th July I went to a late night showing of The Matrix to mark 20 years since its original release, now that was actually 6 weeks later than its actual anniversary, as it was released on 11 June 1999. I didnt see it until it came out on VHS and my Step-Uncle brought it round and showed us the first scene with Trinity, now he and my Step-Dad were gawping over Carrie Ann Moss in that outfit, I on the other hand, was transfixed by what Lana and Lilly Wachowski were doing with their cinema work.

I’ve watched it many times since, I even spent one summer shortly after the sequels were released diving down a rabbit hole of plot theory, figuring out what each and every scene was going on about, and maybe giving the Wachowski’s writing more credit than it possibly deserved. There’s no doubt they had high idea’s for their story but ultimately its hard to see exactly what they were trying to say. Besides, alot of that has now been consigned to long lost memories and I’d struggle to go further into its lore without spending many more hours digging through the internet, Neo style, trying to find answers.

So, we go back to the original movie, I’ve seen it on VHS, I’d seen it on DVD, I’d never seen it at the cinema before so was very excited to do so.

There were a few problems with the showing though. Vue’s website says it was 4k and whilst I’ve never seen anything in 4k before (that I’m aware of anyway. I don’t have the home set up for it and the last film I saw at the cinema was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at Milton Keynes, which I’ve no idea whether it was a 4k showing or not), there were times I was seriously unimpressed with the picture. The stand-out moment was during the scene where Smith and his cronies have Thomas Anderson in the interrogation room, when Smith mutters the line “what is the point of a phone call if you are unable to speak?” (or words to that effect) the picture of Keanu Reeves, his mouth sealed up, struggling to fight off the Agents, was really quite blurry. Likewise the scene with Trinity I mentioned early didn’t look as sharp and clean as it was in my mind.

These moments didnt detract from the overall experience though, the shift from Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” into Neo’s alarm is still a really cool scene switch that still leaves the viewer questioning whether Neo was dreaming about his meeting with Trinity, the visit to The Oracle is still as mind-bending and funny as it always was “Don’t worry about the Vase” etc, and everything from Cypher’s betrayal to Neo’s resurrection (and his position as a Christ-like figure within the world created by the Wachowski’s) is still seriously fucking awesome.

Obviously the technology on show has dated, the phones and computers we use now compared to what we see within the Matrix (both the machines program and the film itself) are ridiculously more advanced, whilst the technology used to create its visual impact has also aged and been used to death. The costumes have, again, been used to death to make someone stand out as being “cool”, which wasn’t the intention of the costume designer, instead her intention was to create a clear difference between ones appearance in The Matrix and in the real world.

And that aesthetic, and the films theme, still stands true today, maybe even more so as the internet has become a place that one can very easily create an entirely new persona for themselves, only showing the rest of the world, through their social media platforms, what they want the world to see. We live in a world of “influencers” and more than even in the 80’s what you wear and how you portray yourself is the be all and end all. One mis-judged social media post, be it something something untoward on Twitter, or wearing something on a new picture of Instagram that upsets enough people, and that image falls to pieces.

Okay, thats not the central theme of The Matrix, which is about humans becoming an energy source for the very things they created, but there’s not a huge difference.

So, 20 years after the Wachowski’s amazed the world with their visionary masterpiece, does The Matrix still stand up today? You better fucking believe it does.

Books

What “Solo” could have been

I quite liked last years “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. I genuinely thought it was a fun little story, however, and you’ll notice this is a bug bear of mine, I feel it bogs itself down in fan service too much. Do we need to know how he got his gun or see him winning the Falcon from Lando? And the Kessel Run being included was always going to be on the cards. I know it sounds like I’m complaining, again, about Star Wars and that I’m not a fan. I assure you I am, but I’ve just read Marvel’s “Han Solo” by Marjorie Liu and Mark Brooks and genuinely think it could have made for a great standalone movie for the character.

We’re re-introduced to Han and Chewbacca after the events of Star Wars, Han is trying to pay off Jabba but turning down job after job (much to Chewie’s concern) because “they dont feel right). He’s ultimately coaxed into a job for the Rebellion, mostly as he doesn’t want someone else to use the Falcon, which involves retrieving some informants, using an inter-planetary race as a disguise. Its the perfect setup for an excellent adventure featuring Han and Chewbacca, and whilst Leia appears at points throughout (plus gives Han the job anyway), it doesn’t feel the need to name drop characters from the movies at all (Luke gets mentioned once, Jedi aren’t mentioned at all).

So, instead of having a story that feels the need to nudge and wink at its audience on a regular basis, as we got with Solo, what we have is a race across space in the Falcon, with occassional planetary visits that help move the mission along. Han meets some characters from his and Chewie’s own past along the way, and like with our introduction to Lando in Empire, we’re given just enough information to understand the relationships between these characters. The Empire play a large part in proceedings, indeed, they pursue Han (and the other members of the race he is taking part in) throughout the journey and its only down to Hans wile and (typically) alot of luck (all part of the plan!) that Han achieves his mission unscathed with the closing panels giving us a nice pathway into Han and Leia’s relationship, plus Han’s further involvement in the Rebellion, at the beginning of Empire.

So, as good as the comic book is, and as fun as Solo: A Star Wars Story is, I think the two would have better served the franchise as a whole of their creation was switched. A chase movie featuring Han questioning his own morals and beliefs, new characters that don’t shrink the Universe plus some familiar sights (Stormtroopers, Twi’leks, a Dug) that all help tie its involvement into the Star Wars Universe beyond it being a story featuring Han Solo, plus the growth of the Rebellion and how hard its key leaders have had to work in secret, for me, would have made an incredibly compelling movie. Instead, I urge you to pick up Han Solo from your local comic store, it contains a second story but that one spends alot of time with Luke and Leia too.