Send in the Clown

Send in the Clown

“No longer is he forced to be part of the scenery; he is the scenery, and such is the strenuous effort of Phoenix’s performance that it becomes exhausting to behold. Get a load of me, he seems to say, and the load is almost too much to bear.”
– Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

The general perception of clowns runs the gamut from freakish, to tragic, to malevolent and, ultimately, to homicidal. It is as if we instinctively distrust anything, or anyone, who makes such an aggressive attempt to be joyful. Pop culture gives clowns a bad rap. The most ironic thing about a clown is that clowns never seem to be happy.

One of the biggest Joker contentions is that it’s too full of itself, too self-important, trying too hard to be of import, to be relevant and in effect becoming a wannabe. Is it, though?

I disagree with naysayers who claim it’s a film meant to make the Joker sympathetic, to excuse his insanity, to present him as someone wronged by society. If anything, I admire Joaquin Phoenix’s deep dive into the the complete mental breakdown of a clown-for-hire. He knows this isn’t a character you’re going to ever like, and isn’t interested in being loved, or understood, or forgiven. He just is. His performance is a tour de force, and there is no wonder he’s being mentioned as a definite Oscar mention. It’s fearless, because there is absolutely no attempt on his part to gain the sympathy of the audience.

 Isn’t that what viewers do? Consciously or unconsciously, because we see the movie mostly through its hero, or anti-hero’s, eyes, we are automatically predisposed to relate to its lead. Yes, Arthur Fleck’s life is hard. But so is everyone else’s, in the gritty Gotham of the early ’80s, with garbage lying uncollected on the streets, graffiti on the walls and giant rats everywhere. Yes, there is a scene where he gets beat up, and there is also a scene where he is told he wouldn’t have been if he hadn’t made stupid choices. But everyone makes stupid choices. It’s how we choose to live with them that matters. And sometimes, some people are just too broken to live with themselves.

As I mentioned, there is zero attempt to make Arthur Fleck relatable, which may (and has) enraged quite a few. I couldn’t like him, lord knows I tried, and ultimately, I think that was the point. Joker is the equivalent of two middle fingers thrown up at the viewer, an I-don’t-give-a-shit-if-you-don’t-like-me manifesto that flies in the face of the traditional Hollywood ending. You walk out of the theatre drained and numb, because that is what living life as Arthur Fleck is like. By the end of it you stop feeling, or even wanting to feel, because the sheer effort of being happy, of staying happy, in a world that feels like a nightmare is too much to bear.

This is not Venom, a movie that tried very hard to make Eddie Brock likeable enough for people to want to see sequels; Joker is a movie that doesn’t give a shit about what comes next. Which, come to think of it, is apt. It’s true to the form of its main character, and, incidentally, its director – Todd Phillips, the guy who gave us The Hangover Trilogy and one of my all-time favourite movies, Old School. All his films are nihilistic, saved only by the goofy charm of its leads.

“You know what I am?” asks Heath Ledger’s Joker, in the Christopher Nolan iteration, “I’m a dog chasing cars.” Perhaps this is what makes the Joker the undying, ever-popular foil to the moody, grim Batman we all know and love, and a character whose ability to chew scenery is Oscar-bait when done right. Batman cares too much. The Joker doesn’t give a shit. He never has, and he never will. Why should his movie do the same?

Fin

Fin

May has been a month for goodbyes. The final chapters of stories I – along with a good chunk of the rest of the world – followed over the past decades (The Avengers, The Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones) have finally been unveiled. I know it’s ridiculous to feel sad about bidding farewell to characters who don’t really exist in real life, but they were real to me, and it was nice to have that sense of community, of belonging because other people felt the same way I did.

It feels a bit empty too, wondering what the next big show would be. In the past, we’ve seen great shows come to an end – and attempt second lives by way of disastrous movies – but there was always something. Something else. Some other TV show that was different, but just as good if not better. The last time I remember feeling even the slightest bit bereft was when Breaking Bad ended. But Game of Thrones was there to catch me, and what a long rebound relationship that turned out to be.

I suppose it was a bit like being a serial monogamist. Always having one boyfriend waiting in the wings once the current one plays out with barely any change in rhythm, but this one… well, this one feels different. I felt the same way about Avengers: Endgame. It was immensely satisfying to see it all play out, but I walked out that theatre with the feeling that I was personally ready to move on. The MCU and Marvel Studios is obviously going to keep on keeping on,  and I’m quite sure they will always have an audience for the stories they have yet to tell, but my part in their tale might just be more of a recurring guest star than an episode regular.

I can’t say the same about HBO, a powerhouse which frankly dominates the landscape of TV with good reason, but I do wonder if I will ever be as invested in a TV show as I was with Game of Thrones again. Perhaps I might. I enjoy good TV, and there’s a lot of good shows out there. But I don’t see myself going full on stan the way I did with Game of Thrones.

There’s a lot of corny platitudes that could be used here, and I suppose anything really would be cheesy and completely tacky to say, but there’s still truth to be found in the cheesiest of sayings.

“How lucky [we] are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
– A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

 

From Here To Infinity

From Here To Infinity
There are no Avengers: Endgame spoilers in this post. Fine. Maybe a teensy one, and it’s at the end, so don’t read the postscript!

 

Continue reading “From Here To Infinity”

Khal Drogo Goes to the Beach

Khal Drogo Goes to the Beach

The problem with Aquaman is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Half-hearted environmental PSA on the hazards of polluting our oceans? Showcase for all the kaiju that could be unleashed if given a higher budget? Tomb Raideresque adventure quest for a mysterious gold trident? Ridiculous over-the-top fantasy epic, à la Lord of the Rings? The answer shouldn’t be all of the above, but that’s what we’re getting, and we’re getting a LOT of it. At a runtime of over two and a half hours, Aquaman gets pretty hard to sit through, Jason Momoa’s rippling physique bedamned.

You’d think I, as the obvious target audience, would love all the swaggering braggadocio of Jason Momoa letting loose, but I didn’t. Aquaman sucked.  One of the reason’s Momoa’s turn as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones was so effective, was that there was so little of him. He was spread out through seven episodes; here, it’s two and a half hours of nothing but machismo. That’s all very well, and I have to hand him points for being enthusiastic, but the dude seems to have embraced his Khal Drogo character a little too tightly, and is unable to let it go. It just gets… painful, after a while.

Surprisingly, no one in this movie can act, and there are quite a handful of established actors in this piece who come with cult and  Oscar cred. Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson – often found in more highbrow, award-worthy work – as  Queen Atlanna, Vulko and Prince Orm, seem almost embarrassed to be in a superhero epic, and act accordingly. I expected more out of Patrick Wilson, who at least got to showcase a lot more of his skills as The Owl in Watchmen, but nothing can help his performance in this particular movie. The CGI is far too distracting, and perhaps the effort of trying to keep their faces straight began to tell.

Being an Oscar-winner is not a hindrance to doing a good job in a movie with a silly premise, as Robert Downey Jr. has demonstrated so often. It requires a sort of insouciance, and self-awareness, and without it the performance becomes tedious and flat, as Kidman, et. al., demonstrate. You have to really embrace being part of a superhero flick. There is no slumming it. Everyone knows the actors are in it to make money, but they need to project a sense of fun, which none of them end up doing.

Except Jason Momoa. That one is on the opposite end of the spectrum, having waaaay too much fun, like the drunkest guy at the party, capering about while everyone else awkwardly looks on. It might even have been fun if he wasn’t so aware of why he was cast to be Aquaman instead of some blonde, milquetoast boy scout. Do you know how many times he looks flirtatiously over his shoulder at the audience?

Thrice.

Do you know how  many times he goes shirtless in Aquaman?

Too many, and I can’t believe I’m complaining.

The truth is, relying on that body can only take one so far.  It just isn’t enough to distract from the reality of things: although the movie is beautiful and the underwater scenes are a marvel (my favourite visual is of Aquaman and Mera diving into the trench with a red flare, pursued by a thousand sea monsters), it’s  still a disjointed, bloated mess with cringey dialogue, needless backstory and unnecessary exposition.

I’ve had it with these DC movies. They’ve had so many chances to get it right, and they still keep sucking ass. I have decided this will be the last time I voluntarily pay for a DCEU offering. Unless it’s by Christopher Nolan, I’m out.

 

Netflix, I’m leaving you

Netflix, I’m leaving you

Dear Netflix,

You were the one.

You were the scrappy upstart, the daring pioneer, the one who put established movies, TV shows and  unique content together, showing me that life without cable didn’t have to be all about streaming movies and shows off of dicey websites and downloading files under threat of jail and insidious malware.

You were the one. I went legit for you.

Oh, you delivered. Some of my happiest times were spent on the couch with you and take-out food. We were good together, you and I. We were happy in each other’s company. You were a part of me, knowing what I wanted before I did, keeping a list for me. You never forgot anything and were always solicitous, suggesting things I might want to see based on something I’d already seen before. We were perfect. We were beautiful.

Netflix, I’m leaving you.

It’s the bajillion movies and TV shows you’ve come up with in the past two years, 90% of which are kind of … garbage.

It’s all the comedy specials I don’t think I’ll ever find the time to see.

It’s the suggestions that make no sense.

It’s the enthusiasm for auto-play, which I didn’t mind at first, but slowly began to resent.

It’s my dwindling attention span.

It’s not you, it’s me.

It’s inflation.

It’s the unjustifiable price increase.

Netflix, you put She-ra in shorts. Shorts.

It’s not me, it’s you.

It’s both of us.

Netflix, I’m leaving you. I’m leaving you for Crave. Crave has HBO, and movies I want to see. Movies I want to see right now, anyway.

Thanks for the memories, Netflix. Le Hubs thanks you for the complete seasons of X-files (before you pulled it) and the complete seasons of The Office. I thank you for the complete seasons of House, M.D. (that I never got around to watching again, damnit), the first three seasons of Orange is the New Black, the awesomeness that used to be House of Cards, the first season of Daredevil, the gloriousness that is The Crown,  and finally, for introducing Jo Koy to the world.

In closing, we both thank you for Black Mirror and Stranger Things. It’s been fun, and a helluva lot of bandwidth. I have no regrets.

All the best,

Me

Gratuitous and Meaningless

Gratuitous and Meaningless

I watched Outlaw King for Chris Pine’s peen.

There, I said it.

I’m sorry, but if a big part of the buzz surrounding your movie is that its lead actor drops trou and goes full frontal, that’s going to be the main reason people will flock to see it, especially the ones who otherwise wouldn’t care about a band of scrappy outlaws fighting to regain control of their own country. Like me. To be fair, I’m not the biggest fan of war movies. There’s only so much men, muck and dying that an easily bored consumer like me, up to my ears in possible content to watch, can stomach.

So yes, I spent most of the two hours and one minute runtime waiting for my reward. I don’t know what it is about movie star peen, but an episode of Bojack Horseman does come to mind. In its latest season, Bojack plays a noirish PI a la True Detective McConaughey, who, through a series of machinations gone awry, somehow ends up doing a scene where he is required to be stark naked as he changes a light bulb. It’s supposed to represent an honest look at the character, flaws and all but instead is obviously gratuitous and meaningless. Which is where Chris Pine’s peen comes in. Thank you for your bravery, Chris Pine, but it is gratuitous and meaningless. Not that I don’t appreciate it, or the guts it took to let it all hang out.

And yet. And yet. When the benchmark for a medieval Scottish highland fling such as this is Braveheart, the seminal Mel Gibson-helmed movie that masterfully combines romance, catchphrases, fantasy, shady backroom deals and noble men with stout hearts riding forth for glory and honour, expectations are going to be high. It’s got to be more than a Chris Pine peen (Chris Peen?) movie. It’s got to encapsulate the wonder, the magic, the determination of early Scotsmen and one man’s drive to unite the warring clans of Scotland.

What we get are bad haircuts, duels staged for unknown reasons – just as gratuitous and meaningless as random peen – and (for me, anyway) a distracting cast. As a hardcore Thronie, the sight of Stannis Baratheon, Jeor Mormont and Brynden Blackfish Tully in medieval Scottish drag is jarring. I know, I know, actors are more than the parts they play, but HBO succeeded in pushing these actors to inhabit their parts so well, it’s difficult for me to separate them from the characters they have played in Game of Thrones. Pine, Taylor-Johnson and Pugh do give powerhouse performances and it’s hard to look away when they are on screen.

While Netflix’s Outlaw King has manliness and nobles riding out for glory, it is sadly short on the romance and the backroom deals aren’t so much shady as they are desperate. It’s unfair to expect real life events to always be glamorous and fantastical, but too many things go unexplained. Why are there so many pointless duels? Why do all the old kings dying take place so suddenly and with barely any lead up? Why aren’t the Scots sufficiently shocked when their future king kills his rival in a church? Why does the hair on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s beard not match his hair? Why are all the wigs so bad? What does it mean to raise the dragon and why does that sound like a euphemism for getting a boner?

Netflix gets a few things right – the quartered body of William Wallace nailed to a post in the town square, for one. It’s such an effective prop, it makes you believe the sight of it is enough to raise the ire of the Scots and incite riots. I had heard of the phrase “hanged, drawn and quartered,” but I’ve never really seen a fourth of someone’s body on display and I thought I had plumbed the depths of gore with The Walking Dead. There is also a scene that involves the swift punishment of Robert the Bruce’s younger brother c/o a sadistic Prince of Wales, which turns the stomach. Unlike Braveheart, which focused on Mel Gibson’s facial expressions and let the viewer’s imagination do the heavy lifting, this particular scene, scored by the wails of frightened women and children, is a searing punch to the gut. Lastly, the Battle of Bannockburn is claustrophobic, messy, chaotic and amazingly shot, giving the Battle of the Bastards a run for its cinematic money.

Still the story of Robert the Bruce and his fight to regain Scotland is too complicated by far for a two-hour movie. While the cast is able and the premise honourable, ultimately it falls far short of the standards set for movie epics. Too many questionable decisions and not enough concrete answers, and events that obviously took years and could’ve lent a lot more gravitas to the piece are skimmed over or compressed into minute sound bites. The performances are good, and the backdrop of Scotland is beautiful, but a movie is not based solely on crazed performances and an exotic locale, no matter how convincing the madness of the Black Douglas is. Neither can it be carried on the strength of one man’s peen, unless the peen belongs to Ron Jeremy, but that is another story.

Mary Poppins Returns, and so do the Nineties, Yay!

Today is a pretty good day for trailers you guys, even if it does seem rather early in the week for Flashback Friday. But never mind all that, there’s things to see, starting with the nanny we all wish we had…

Mary Poppins Returns

The Banks children are all grown up and overwhelmed by the stresses of adulting, so naturally their former nanny comes back to add a spoonful of sugar into their dreary lives. It seems slightly sacrilegious to admit I’m probably going to throw money at this thing, especially when we all know there can only be one Mary Poppins, and that’s Miss Julie Andrews. Forgive me for going, Miss Julie, but it looks… interesting? Fine, it looks like a boatload of fun, with re-imagined themes that bring us right back to the original, from the nostalgia-inducing kite and giant clock to escapist adventures replete  with old-timey technicolor animation. While I’m sure a number of Hamilton fans are plotzing over Lin-Manuel Miranda, I’m in this for Ben Whishaw and Emily Blunt, who always seems to  make everything better with that posh British accent. Also, Colin Firth, who does makes everything better, but is not in…

Captain Marvel

Never fear, Jude Law is there to represent the Brits. Speaking of nostalgic 90’s movies, Marvel Studios wastes no time going all-in on the best decade ever (the nineties rules and everything else is trash, I’m clearly biased, don’t @ me!) by having the titular heroine crash land into a Blockbuster in the first official trailer for Captain Marvel. More than just a big Flashback Friday moment, it could also be a cheeky reference to how all the Marvel movies have been blockbusters. Kevin Feige, you sly dog. Anyhowitzer, here’s hoping that bit becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it does look sorta/kinda/maybe boring? I’m not sure how I feel about this trailer.  I do know it didn’t make me scream and abuse the replay button the way I did for Avengers: Infinity War. I also know zilch about Captain Marvel, and in the interest of not spoiling the experience, have resolved to avoid further research. We shall see what we shall see.