Amistad: An underrated classic

7.5/10

Movie number 3 is an older movie and one of Steven Spielberg’s lesser known directorial turns.

Review pending…

The Joker: A Character Study

8/10

Movie Two of Advent is The Joker, possibly the most anticipated blockbuster this season.

The Joker is less of an awe-provoking action caper than an entertaining character study. There is no denying that Joachin Phoenix’s blood, sweat and face-paint coated tears went into this character. Evidently the extraneous effort paid off. From the opening scene, as our protagonist stretches his face into a smile, we know we are dealing with a disturbed individual. The DC cinematic universe has a darker tone than Marvel, often to its Box office detriment. This is obviously not the case this time as box office figures have been through the roof and Phoenix is the one to beat this awards season. I enjoyed delving into the psyche of this complex character. However, when focussing on the plot one finds the premise somewhat wafer thin and predictable. I was captivated as Phoenix contorted his body and transformed his face to evoke sympathy and revulsion in equal measures. Without giving too many spoilers, the scene towards the end, dancing on the steps was truly iconic. Its place on posters in students bedrooms is secured for years to come. The colour composition and contrast with the darkness of the upcoming scene was breath-taking.

There was a serious lack of developed supporting characters, which, while adding to the  title characters isolation, allowed very little space for others to add to the plot. Zazzie Beatz, who played the love interest was not given the opportunity two develop a three-dimensional personality for her character. Even the mother, the secondary character with the most to add to the storyline, was underused, especially when played by the powerhouse of weird that is Frances McCoy.

I chose not to search for the ground-breaking social commentary implicitly promised by director Todd Philips. It did not offer anything new as a social critique. To paint the Joker as simply a by-product of a judgemental society, suggests that his actions are an understandable or inevitable reaction. The character has severe mental health issues which are not purely symptomatic of society’s rejection of him. This movie is not an allegory, it is not a warning, its an entertaining study of a deeply disturbed individual.

The Joker made me laugh, made me cringe, made me wholly uncomfortable. It was not the showstopping revelation promised by the box office numbers and fan reviews but it was certainly a provoking and entertaining watch.

Hustlers: Scandal-less

6.5/10

For my first movie of MOVIE ADVENT I delved into the world of Hustlers. Where better to start than a female directed, predominantly female starring cast.

This film had everything I thought I wanted and yet the impact was like eating a sweet with no after taste. The only thing I can compare it to is how I felt watching Bohemian Rhapsody. I enjoyed what I was given but I wanted more. It should have been scandalous, but it wasn’t. Hustlers is based on a 2015 article in a New York magazine by Jessica Pressler. It tracks the story of  a group of exotic dancers who began a criminal enterprise of drugging rich men and stealing their money after the market crash in 2019. It has all the makings of a fun criminal caper but adds little more to the genre than Ocean’s Eight did last year. Many parts are very fun, such as the scenes in the beginning in the dressing room which are a celebration of women of all shapes, sizes and colours. Whether its anything revolutionary in terms of feminism, I’d say not, but its sweet and fun and representation matters. I loved the campiness of the exchanges between the girls and Lizzo and Cardi B’s cameos were amazing and gratuitous in the best ways. Constance Wu was a superb lead lady and gave a complex and entertaining performance. She is very funny and naturally awkward as the timid good girl Destiny forced to become an exotic dancer to earn money. She meets Ramona played by Jennifer Lopez who turns her into a sexy scamming stripper. It has very x-rated Sandy from Grease vibes.

J Lo was… there, and it was very obvious. Some of the more indulgent shots of her were quite farcical and you could feel the fawning through the screen. In the beginning the exaggerated shots were understandable. She is simply stunning and her pole dance scene was jaw-dropping. However, after a while it began to take away from the realism of the caper. Every time she came on screen we were pulled away from the action by a close-up of her mouth or an exaggerated slow-motion strut. As for Lopez’s performance, it was excellent and bold. She fully embodied the character which benefited from her natural stardom. Even without the cameras fixation with her her performance would have stolen the show. I would not be surprised if this turn earned her an Oscar nod

I enjoyed the comparison of the opulence in 2007 with the desolation of post market crash America. Every industry was affected by it and this is not one often considered. As it is a very recent history, it is only know that this pre-2009 era is being depicted in movies with a level of nostalgia.

Hustlers makes an attempt to go over the top, but whether it was an attempt to keep a marketable certificate rating or just an unwillingness to cross the lines of audacity, the movie did not reach the heights of scandalous and campiness I was expecting. However, it was an enjoyable viewing experience and a feat of female film-making.

MOVIE ADVENT

For the 24 days of Advent I have decided to kick this blog off with a blog post everyday. Everyday I will watch a different movie. Some old, some new, some I’ve watched and some I haven’t. There might also be some Christmas themed ones in there (I’ve never seen Nativity and I’ve been told I’m missing out).

My goal is to watch a movie and write a post on it every day. This is mostly for me to get back into the habit of investing my time in both of writing and watching movies. I’ve not been giving time to the things that I enjoy doing most and hopefully this will prompt me to do it. Christmas is a busy time and I work full time in retail so we will see how this goes!

Today, this is my blog post, because I only came up with the idea and have minutes to post before it’s the 2nd of December!

Ad Astra: Daddy Issues in Space

6.5/10 Rating

I will preface this review by saying that I am generally not a fan of movies about space. Similar to movies set in the desert, wide open space, when handled badly, is a pet peeve of mine. However, the space was handled well and was, in contrast, claustrophobic at times. This movie was entertaining and beautifully shot. The effects were lovely and there were plenty of adrenaline-inducing moments. James Gray also did a great job creating this subtly futuristic world. It was overarching storyline that fell flat. The movie tracks a stoic American Astronaut named Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), on a mission to save the earth. About twenty years previously his father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), an astronaut and research scientist, embarked on Project Lima in deep space and had disappeared, thought to be dead. However, power surges caused by his project are killing thousands on earth and Roy must travel to Mars to get in contact with his father, who is alive, to try and stop him.

The movie is narrated by Roy’s inner monologue which is well-written but at times tedious and at odds with the action. Yes, ‘daddy issues’ is widely resonant theme. No, I don’t need to hear about it as you fight space monkeys. McBride’s continuing existential crisis brought a stellar performance from Brad Pitt. He carried the movie well as the only actor on screen for a large portion of time, which created a chilling sense of isolation. However, the angst and stoicism could be gratingly one-note. The continued flashes to his failed marriage were, in my opinion, unnecessary and did not achieve their aim of rounding out the lead character. I understand that his absentee father made him unable to love and this is exhibited in the breakdown of his marriage. However, if you are going to hire Liv Tyler, if you need to have a romantic storyline, flesh it out. Instead we get brief images of a voiceless woman who didn’t get a chance to add significantly to the plot.

A major issue was I didn’t care about many of the characters, so their fates were of no consequence to me. Most significantly we have no opportunity to resonate with the father character. The tortured scientist who didn’t have the capacity to love his son because of his work. Tommy Lee Jones exhibited a complex character. However, he was on screen for an extremely short period of time and in that period is deeply unlikeable. Also his last scene made me laugh which it was not supposed to. Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga) is in charge of the Mars space station and has lived her whole life there. Her parents were killed by Roy’s dad on the Lima project and so she is (inexplicably) dedicated to breaking all protocol to make sure that he sneaks onto the spaceship to his father’s ship to save his father. Negga gets the job done in the role she was given as the only slightly three-dimensional female character in the movie. However, I had the same  problem. I did not care about her. (However, we love to see Irish representation in blockbuster films). Her American accent is dodgy at times but I wonder if I would have noticed had I not known she was Irish. On a side note, why did we only see Natasha Lyonne for approximately three minutes as ‘undefined mars space station lady?’ Why was this amazing actor given such an inconsequential character and such a small amount of screen time? I assume she had more scenes that are on the cutting room floor, but I spent all of the Mars scenes waiting for her to come back.

Ad Astra means “to the stars” but it didn’t quite hit star quality for me. It is very watchable and I would predict all the visual and production Oscar nominations. I would not be mad if Brad Pitt got a lead actor nomination for this role as long as he doesn’t win it. Visually it is stunning and the action was suspenseful. A fine way to spend 2 hours.