Joker Review

I don’t know that I’ve seen a better made bad movie. It is a movie wearing the darkness and grit of late 70s-early 80s Scorsese as cosplay, without attempting to understand what movies like King of Comedy or Taxi Driver were trying to say. Essentially, why is not a question Joker ever considers. It does things because those things seem dark and provoking, but there is nothing behind them. It is vacant posturing, a movie hoping its darkness will mask its emptiness.

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck. Fleck works as a clown, scraping out a life in what appears to the early 80s Gotham City for him and his invalid mother. Fleck suffers from mental illness, taking numerous medications and still being prone to bouts of irrational laughter. He dreams of being a stand up comic, like his idol Murray Franklin. In the opening minutes of the movie, Fleck is beaten by a handful of kids who were harassing him as he worked as a clown. From his already abject starting point things get worse for Fleck. The funding for the social services that helped him pay for his medications gets cut, so he goes off his meds. He gets a gun from a coworker after his beating, but having while working gets him fired from his clown job. After another beating on the subway, Fleck fights back, shooting three men who were accosting him. The lone bright spot in his life is his budding relationship with a single mother living a few apartments down from him and his mother.

As shit keeps being piled on Fleck, he begins losing his hold on rationality. Many people treat his subway killings as a call to action, since the three men were well off money men, working for Wayne Enterprises. Thomas Wayne, exploring a potential run for mayor, calls the poor people reacting that way clowns, inspiring clown make-up at the protests arising all over the city. Things finally come to a head when Fleck gets the chance to meet Murray Franklin.

Joker pulls scenes and shots straight out of movies like Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, and A Clockwork Orange. It seems desperate to appear to have something to say. But as the movie attempts to unravel Arthur Fleck goes on, it becomes more apparent that there is nothing there. That is despite some all caps ACTING from Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. Fleck starts delusion. The movie maybe wants to show why the character finally broke and became the Joker, but it doesn’t come to a better answer than that he was crazy. The movie can’t seem to help but show its contempt for the people protesting in the streets, but they are contrasted with the selfish and corrupt like Wayne or Franklin. Everyone is venal and self-serving.

The movie was numbing. Its desire to shock, to provoke radiates from every scene. But the movie doesn’t actually have anything provoking to say. It is utterly bleak, but that bleakness isn’t expressing anything. It isn’t a black comedy; there is nothing funny here. This is just two hours of ugly posturing that has nothing to say.

**

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Angel Has Fallen

A person can derive a lot of enjoyment out of the right kind of bad movie. Angel Has Fallen, while plenty bad, is not that kind of bad movie. It is a mostly competent action movie that somehow manages to be really dumb without being fun.

This is the third entry in the, I don’t know, Fallen series, after Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen. None of them are good. Angel Has Fallen is obvious and completely uninteresting. Mike Banning, Gerard Butler with his trademark shockingly appealing gruff anti-charm, is an aging secret service agent. While he still has incredible agent skills, he is feeling the effects of his dangerous life. He is popping pain pills and suffering from insomnia. This never matters in the plot. He meets up with an old war buddy who went private contractor and his training facility and agrees to put in a good word for him with secret service training. Especially because Banning is up to be the new director. While guarding the President while he is fishing, a drone attack kills everyone at the scene, except for the President and Banning.

Evidence shows that Banning is responsible. The president is in a coma, so he can’t tell how Banning saved his life during the attack. Banning ends up on the run, trying to find out who set him up and who tried to kill the president and eventually stop that person from finishing the job.

You can tell almost exactly how this will play out from the opening minutes. There is never any doubt who the bad guys are. (Hint: it is the old army buddy and the VP.) What you are left with are some moderately entertaining action scenes, some stupid mystery unraveling and themes that are muddled or non-existent.

The Banning is getting too old for this is undercut by his being the best at everything all the time. His struggles go away completely when it is time for the plot to shift into high gear. Who has time for migraines and insomnia when you have to go on the run from the US military. You meet Banning’s dad, who I guess is supposed to be the worst case for what Banning might become, but the movie doesn’t do more than suggest that. The villains motives change over the course of the movie. The FBI characters are a complete waste. The movie is just a bunch of things not done particularly well.

Angel Has Fallen is not a movie to hate; it is hard to summon enough feeling to actually hate it. I can’t imagine too many people actually like it, either. The best case scenario for this movie would be so bad it’s good, but it’s just kind of bad. The plot makes some observations about the use of PMCs that Metal Gear Solid made more than a decade ago, with more intelligence and more nuance. And I wouldn’t say much about Metal Gear Solid is nuanced. This movie isn’t worth anyone’s time.

**

The Kitchen

I wanted to like The Kitchen movie more. I really wish it was better. However, The Kitchen is too muddled and rushed to really be worth seeing. That is despite strong performances from all three of its main characters.

Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elizabeth Moss play the wives of mobsters who in the opening scene of the movie are caught and sent to jail. The family agrees to take care of them, that promise turns out to be less than expected mostly thanks to the general fecklessness of the men. So the three women start to take things into their own hands. It starts with taking protection money for local businesses, but starts to expand from there. Things really take off when Domhnall Gleeson shows up. He had to skip town after doing a hit, but is back now that things have cooled. He also has a thing for Elizabeth Moss and no problem being their muscle. The three women not only survive after taking over, they thrive.

They do so in different ways. McCarthy takes charge and mostly keeps her quiet PTA mom persona, but is clearly more in control. The abused Moss almost gleefully takes to her new power, reveling in her role as the wild card. And Haddish stops playing the mousey little wife starts to show her real intelligence and ambition.

There is a lot of stuff that looks good on paper. It is like a lesser Scorsese mob movie in some ways. Good performances from its central characters. It just doesn’t know what to do with them. We get their evolution, but we don’t really see what that means every day for them. We don’t really know what they were like before. We don’t know what they are like after, for that matter. The movie refuses to show things. Moss was abused by her husband, but the movie doesn’t show it, it shows the aftermath and you have to draw conclusions. It will show a lot of murders, but not that. It is one thing to have twists and revelations, this movie makes every development feel like a twist by not giving the viewer enough information to understand the situation.

One problem with the movie is that it doesn’t seem to know what to do with the fact that for all their power, the women are becoming monstrous. That is no different from their husbands or the people they interact with, but the movie refuses to reckon with this idea. McCarthy’s father starts very opposed to what they are doing. He is the only person in the movie that seems to display any discomfort with crime or murder. Other than blood being gross, I guess. The problem is the movie raises these concerns; in part by having her dad brings them up. We, as viewers, want to celebrate the held down Moss finding some control of her life. But are we not to feel disturbed that she shows her growing confidence by killing people? Maybe I misread the movie, I was watching it as something with one foot in realism, but the way it deals with things is more of a cartoon.

The Kitchen just feels like a big a missed opportunity. Some refinement to the themes or a better focus could have turned into a really good mob movie. Instead, we got this scattered mess

**

The Lion King

I didn’t like The Lion King (2019). My complaints are essentially the same I’ve had with other ‘live action’ remakes of Disney’s animated movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book. Not only is there nothing about the movie to recommend it over the original, it add feels saggy and tame on its own merits.

Everyone knows The Lion King. It is the tale of cat Hamlet, a young prince must loses his father and fights for his throne against his treacherous uncle. The story works in the broad strokes as well as it ever did. There is still a big break in the middle of the movie that doesn’t quite work. But it still does a good job of setting up its characters and their philosophies and having them come into conflict. It is too bad there is a strictly better version of this movie that already exists.

There is a clip running around comparing the new version of “Hakuna Matata” with the old one, with the comparisons illustrating just how lacking the new one is. That is illustrative of the entire movie. The animated version has a lot of energy, a lot of coming because it is not limited by what actual animals can do. They could draw a lion doing anything, like swinging on a vine or standing on pyramid of singing animals. Real, or realistically animated, animals cannot do that. So instead of anything interesting, characters just walk around while singing. It feels like all the personality is gone. It is hard to create human emotion in a realistic cat face, let alone a warthog. The hyenas all look the same. The baboon mystic Rafiki can no longer do kung fu, Timon can no longer hula dance. Nothing interesting can happen. In making the lions look real, it makes it a lot harder to tell Scar and Simba apart in their big climactic fight scene. It is just two tawny beasts in the dark batting at each other.

The problem with this movie is that unless you are completely enamored by the digital effects wizardry, there is absolutely nothing about that makes it worth watching over the original. It is the Lion King, with less personality, less energy, just simply less. The movie tries to find more for its female characters to do, but it mostly fails. Giving Nala and Sarabi a few more lines really changes nothing. The only thing that I would even consider calling an improvement is Billy Eichner as Timon, who makes him a little more acid that Nathan Lane did. But even then, Lane was great.

The Lion King has made a bunch of money for Disney. So we’ll get more of these. And I’m part of the problem, I guess, because I went to see it. But I am tapping out. I’ve enjoyed exactly one of these remakes and The Lion King is likely the last one I’ll see in a theater.

**

Hellboy Review

If I am being completely honest, I was not too happy to hear that instead of a third Guillermo Del Toro Hellboy movie, we were instead going to be getting a reboot.  However, I tried my best to put my disappointment aside and go into the new movie with an open mind.  It wasn’t like Del Toro’s Hellboy was a particularly close adaptation of the comics, there is certainly room for a different but still good take.  Hellboy (2019) is certainly different, but it is not good.

This movie shares many traits with Del Toro’s Hellboy movies.  As is common with Del Toro movies, his Hellboy movies largely sympathized with the monsters.  Hellboy and Abe Sapien most obviously, but even the one off creatures and the villains are generally portrayed at least partially sympathetically.  This movie does the same.  Again, that almost goes without saying with Hellboy, but also villains like the Gruagach and Nimue get at least some moments of sympathy.  It also features a lot of practical creature effects, though there feels like there is more CGI here.  If only the movie around the these things was enjoyable.

This new Hellboy is focused, almost exclusively, on two things: plot and gore.  The first is not necessarily a problem.  Hellboy is an action movie and those tend to focus on plot. Hellboy, though, crams in enough plot for three movies.  It feels like it is consciously trying not to fall into the trap of that many would be franchise starters do, of spending a lot of time setting up stuff for future movies.  To Hellboy’s credit, it puts as much on the screen as possible.  It tries to tell a story, but the story is just too much, like a trilogy crammed into one movie.  The movie feels like it is sprinting from one set piece to another, without ever taking time to really explore the concepts it introduces.  It starts in Medieval times, with King Arthur defeating Nimue, the Blood Queen.  Then it jumps to Hellboy in Mexico tracking down a lost agent, before shunting him off London to hunt giants, only to be betrayed by his friends.  Mixed into that are scenes of a pig monster, the Gruagach, hunting down the pieces of the quartered Blood Queen in order to revive her.  Then Hellboy gets in on the race for the parts of the Blood Queen, which sends him all over England.  There is just so much.  It is coherent, but it mostly exists as just a bunch of half formed concepts that exist to propel the story along without actually being about anything.

While the story is just a little too much, the gore is definitely a problem. It reveals a big problem with the movie, stressing affect rather than tone. This movie started out with the intention of being rated R, and made sure it had the gore to earn it, whether or not that gore was necessary or helpful.  It wants so bad to be cool and adult that it makes itself appear all the more juvenile.  It is just trying to hard, and the gore is a big part of that.  It feels desperate.  Honestly, if it had just relaxed and been the movie it was, it would have been much more likeable.  It wouldn’t have fixed all of the movie’s problems, but it would have made them more forgivable.

There is stuff in Hellboy to like.  The cast does their best with the material they have; the highlight being Ian McShane.  Hellboy is a great concept.  But the movie is just … bad. All the pieces are here, but not of them seem to fit together right.  Though the plot is almost entirely different, it ends up feeling like a pale imitation of not only the previous Hellboy movies, but of quite a few recent action movies.

**

Venom

Venom is a big dumb mess of a movie. Yet for some reason, I found a smile on my through most of it. Most of that is due to how hard Tom Hardy is committing to everything. No matter how ridiculous or stupid what he is doing or saying is, he goes all in. It doesn’t fix the movies numerous flaws, but it does turn a mess into a watchable mess.

Venom does a decent job of creating an origin story for the character minus the comic origin’s primary character. Everyone knows that Venom is a Spider-Man character, but Spider-Man was not available for this movie. So they had to excise him from the origin. That actually works decently well. It gives room for Venom to the be the protagonist, though they try to shove a villain turns hero arc in there that doesn’t work at all. Here, Venom is a alien organism that was found by a privately funded space shuttle. They brought back several samples, but the shuttle crashes and one of them escapes. The owner of the shuttle, played by Riz Ahmed, begins research on the aliens. Meanwhile, Eddie Brock (Hardy) gets ready to interview Ahmed on his news show. He confronts Ahmed with unsubstantiated information about his dangerous experiments and manages to lose both his job and his fiance. Six months later, while called to investigate Ahmed again, Brock ends up bonded with one of the alien parasites, which takes over his body.

The plot is pretty clear, but it is also nonsense. Brock just happens to be able to perfectly bond with the symbiote. It is killing him, until its not. It wants to destroy the world, until it doesn’t. It wants live food. Or tater tots? The villains’ motivations are more clear. At least partly. One character is already pretty villainous for no given reason. There is an escalation that is not really shown, he goes from ignoring regulations to out and out murder.

I’ve heard some people praise the action, but aside from one decent car chase, I found it to be pretty incomprehensible. I guess there are rules or limits to Venom’s powers, but other than a very specific weakness he seems immune to pretty much everything. So the action is just a black CGI blur throwing dudes around and having bullets bounce off of him. Sometimes it two CGI nothings whaling on each other to little effect.

The only thing that keeps this movie watchable is just how hard Tom Hardy commits to all of this nonsense. He goes full force into Eddie Brock, overcommitting to his investigative reporter schtick, then to him in his fallen state and then to him being possessed by an alien parasite. His performance is the one thing in the movie that completely entertaining. It is bonkers and weird, but it is completely watchable.

Venom isn’t the worst superhero movie I’ve seen. It has one genuinely entertaining performance amidst a generally pretty poor movie that sets it above a lot of the dreck from about decade or so ago. I can’t in good conscious recommend it to anyone, but I don’t regret seeing it.

**

Sicario Day of the Soldado

The first Sicario was a look at the drug war that put the viewer in the shoes of Emily Blunt’s FBI agent Macer as she was exposed to the moral rot that it involved. It invited the viewer to join in her alienation as the tactics of the good guys became essentially indistinguishable from the bad guys. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, still wants to have that moral complexity, but other than a few echoes of the original it manages none of it. The fact that it works as well as it does rests entirely on the shoulders of Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, who is having quite a year.

Sicario Day of the Soldado starts with some histrionics about imagined border security fears, with Muslim suicide bombers sneaking through the Mexican border to attack American grocery stores. It is a disgusting bum note that the movie never quite manages to recover from. It does give an unneeded in to introduce Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a CIA operative who is busy torturing someone suspected of facilitating the suicide bombers. The US government has decided to treat the Mexican Cartels like terrorist organizations and wants Graver to bring his expertise to disrupting the cartels. He starts a plan to kidnap the daughter of the head of a cartel and frame another cartel for it. He brings along with him Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro), a mexican hitman he worked with in the past. Things go awry, as these things do, and Alejandro and Matt end up on opposite sides of the border and the conflict. Weaved inelegantly through the thriller is a plot line about a kid who gets caught up with the gangs starting by helping people cross the border for some cash.

Without Blunt’s character, the movie has no heart. The first half shows only the moral emptiness, with nothing to compare it against and making no real comment about it; it merely shows the blackness. About midway through, it turns into something of a straight up Western, and the two amoral operative suddenly develop at least the inklings of a conscious. It works for Del Toro’s Gillick, because it fits with his motivation. For Graver, it comes out of nowhere and makes little sense. The plot with the kid is as bleak as it could possibly be, but the movie doesn’t let the viewer inside of his thoughts to any degree at all, making it hard to tell if this is a drifting or just how he always was.

The end is where the movie really falls apart. It has no themes to tie together and no interest in delivering some kind of exciting final act, so it just sort of peters out with unsatisfying conclusions to its various plots. Some of them barely explained. Were I feeling generous, I might say the movie is leaving the viewer unfulfilled so they can chew on the movie’s meaning, but the movie doesn’t manage to have much of meaning, leaving the viewer simply underwhelmed.

Ignoring the movie’s either disgusting or muddled politics, as an action thriller it is fairly well staged. Its few actions scenes are tense and exciting. Brolin and Del Toro both deliver very good performances that make it easy to forget how unnecessary this sequel is.

**

Deadpool 2 Review

I didn’t like the first Deadpool all that much. It was a pretty rote superhero origin that was very smug about being aware of that. For all of its claims of being different, it’s only possible claim to originality was its humor, which wasn’t particularly original or, in my opinion at least, funny. So fans of Deadpool should take my review of the sequel with a grain of salt, because I am not predisposed to like it. I am also in possession of a movie pass account and can go watch it without having to pay, so I went ahead and watched and saw Deadpool 2. I didn’t like it.

I’ll start with the positives. Ryan Reynolds remains perfect for the role and does a great job when the material doesn’t let him down. Josh Brolin should be a lot of fun as Cable, hopefully a movie soon will give him the chance to actually play the character in some meaningful way. And finally, Zazie Beetz’s Domino steals every scene she is in, which are not coincidentally most of the worthwhile scenes in the movie.

The story fall completely flat. It is internally inconsistent and it shifts from to attempted pathos clumsily enough to make neither part work. The movie wants viewers to care about Deadpool’s emotional journey, but only during certain scenes. The rest of the time it is just more fodder for mockery. The problem is that is spends a significant amount of time setting up what are supposed to be emotional beats, only for them to fall completely flat. It pulls a stunt so cretinous and ham fisted in the first ten minutes that made it impossible to engage with the movie afterward. A movie that was actually as aware of itself as Deadpool 2 smugly pretends to be would have been able to navigate between both. Look at something like Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead, which are both parodies that actually get the viewer to care about their characters. Deadpool 2 merely lampshades that it is engaging in the tired tropes of the genre before wholeheartedly engaging those tired tropes. A movie that was actually as aware as Deadpool 2 wants to be might have noted the dissonance between Deadpool’s mission to stop Firefist from killing and his methods of accomplishing that mission involving blatantly killing dozens of bad guys.

It also largely isn’t very funny. This one I am sure will not be the majority opinion. Deadpool 2 is essentially an episode of Family Guy with superheroes. It gets laughs not by having jokes but by reminding viewer of other things they have seen. Did you know that Josh Brolin played Thanos in Infinity War? Because Deadpool does and isn’t calling him Thanos a great joke? In the movies favor, there are plenty of funny jokes; it is just that the movie is determined to have three jokes a minute even if only 1 of those jokes are funny. I found it tiresome.

Deadpool 2 is also an ugly looking movie. It really just looks bad a lot of the time. The CGI Colossus should be getting called out for looking like crap, the same goes for another CGI character. Some of the action scenes looked fine, when they weren’t over relying on dodgy effects or the joke of Deadpool getting mutilated. Most notably is one big sequence with Domino showing off her luck powers, which belongs in a much better movie than this.

I was likely never going to like Deadpool 2. I have never been particularly fond of the character and I found the first movie just as tiresome. I did hope that the addition of more characters to carry some of the load would help, but they don’t get the opportunity to do so. This is Deadpool 2, not X-Force, so Deadpool rightly remains the focus. Fool me twice, shame on me. I’ll won’t be back for a third.

**

Baywatch Review

The trailers for Baywatch made it very clear what the film makers were trying to do, which is replicate the formula that lead to the success of 21 Jump Street. This should have been a success. Dwayne Johnson is always charming and Zac Efron has underrated comedic chops. Director Seth Gordon has turned in fine work before, like pleasantly surprising Horrible Bosses. While the cast is largely fine, the movie they are trapped in is a complete mess.

Baywatch proves unable to pick a tone and stick with it. It works best when the Baywatch team, led by Johnson’s Mitch Buchannon, is completely oblivious to the fact that lifeguards don’t investigate crimes. The team soldiers on, oblivious to the inherent ridiculousness of the situation. Less effective are the jokes about balls or the numerous slo-mo running jokes. Or anything involving the nerdy trainee played by Jon Bass. There are three or four tones going on and the only one that even kind of works is the played straight buddy cop movie that Baywatch sometimes wants to be.

I went in really wanting to like this movie. I love The Rock. He is frequently enough to get a movie over just on his charm. That is what this movie has going for it. Him playing a superhumanly competent lifeguard is fun, and funny enough that this movie didn’t need the wealth of terrible jokes, including some that just seem mean spirited for the sake of a few gross out moments. Zac Efron can be fun as a dimwitted foil for The Rock, but this movie has him play both the goof and the straight man, making neither work. Alexandria Daddario has nothing to do, nor do bit players like Rob Huebel, Hannibal Burress and Oscar Nunez. Priyanka Chopra has fun as the villain, but she doesn’t get enough time to play off the rest of the cast.

The movie just feels like a missed opportunity. This is a formula that can work, they have the right cast. But they are stranded completely by a lackluster script, assuming that there was a script. That is the biggest reason the humor falls flat; there are no funny jokes here. There are funny premises, but they are not taken advantage of for any real comedy. The action stuff works better, but it is still second banana stuff in what should be a comedy.

Baywatch is a bad movie that barely keeps it head above water thanks to an all-around charming cast.

**