Tuesday, September 10, 2019

JOKER: TIFF 2019 HIGHLIGHT #4



What I’m about to say applies to damn-near any movie but in the specific case of Joker, this is the kind of thing that’ll be whatever you want it be. If you want it to be a simple & entertaining comic book villain origin story with the slight residue of Christopher Nolan’s super-serious & dark DC universe - then that’s what it’ll be. If you paint this movie out as the poster child for toxic, sad, lonely, incel virgins in a time when everything is weirdly & personally politicized, then it’ll be that. There's a case for both...

Bottom line - this is a movie most folks won’t miss outside of a few people who have understandable comic book movie fatigue or are just genuinely not interested (believe it or not they do exist). So my opinion on it almost doesn’t matter. But if you’d like to know, I did enjoy Joker for the most part (there’s some editing & plot choices that I thought were strange) but it’s hardly a masterpiece or anything groundbreaking. Everyone needs to relax with those labels when it comes to this. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is certainly solid but the movie is just fine.

Todd Phillips’ Joker origin story isn’t that much different from something like Unbreakable as far as I’m concerned. It just has a little more violence and “edginess” to it. While the present-day character we know is an evil mastermind who really shouldn’t be rooted for or cheered on, we still get some sympathetic insight in to why/how they became who they are. But we really have to disassociate & separate the past from the present when it comes to Todd Phillips’ iteration of the Joker (inspired by The Killing Joke graphic novel). Sure life shat all over pre-Joker Arthur Fleck (it truly did) and he is suffering from mental illness, but he’s also fully aware, in control & conscious of all the terrible things he eventually does towards the end of the movie. It could be argued that the tone of the movie is asking for us to quietly cheer for Joker but how is that any different than Stanley Kubrick with Alexander Delarge (A Clockwork Orange) or Martin Scorsese & Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver)? Filmmakers have been getting us to root for terrible people since the beginning of cinema and getting away with it by calling them “anti-heroes” when they’re really just bad people. Joker is no different. I’m not going to get all bent out of shape about the potential toxicity of this movie but at the same time, anyone who claims to relate to this particular Joker or has sympathy for him might want to look in to who they are as a person and maybe get a little help. For folks on the other side of the spectrum worried about the potential harmfulness of Joker - it's perfectly ok for "the bad guy" to be the main character in a movie.


And speaking of Travis Bickle - I can now absolutely confirm that Scorsese (specifically Taxi Driver & King Of Comedy) are single-handedly responsible for the tone of this movie. Influence is an understatement. Most of you reading this probably already know this without having seen the movie but there are actually people out there who question the influence. Now that I’ve seen Joker I can safely say that anyone who debates or questions the Scorsese influence is a fucking idiot or just likes to disagree for the sake of disagreeing because their lives are empty and pointless and they need something to do.

Not only is part of the basic premise of Joker right out of the book of King Of Comedy (an obsessed/dangerous person with dreams of being a famous stand-up comedian goes too far in their quest for fame & notoriety), there are some similar shots...
The King Of Comedy / Joker


As for Taxi Driver, Joker literally has scenes of Joaquin Phoenix pointing finger guns at his head in a pivotal scene...
Taxi Driver

Pointing a gun at his television in his lonely apartment...
Taxi Driver 


Keeping a journal of scary thoughts...
Taxi Driver

any of this sound familiar?

There are also just various random similar shots & scenes between both films...
Taxi Driver / Joker


Lets also not forget both director Todd Phillips and Joker co-star/Scorsese-regular Robert Deniro have flat out fucking said Taxi Driver & King Of Comedy outright influenced the new joker movie (unfortunately even those facts aren’t enough to convince some people).
I find it strange when movies that are considered highly influential by everyone actually show their influence on new movies and then suddenly those same people are like: “WAIT, WHAT??!”


Certain moments where we see Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck slowly transform in to the Joker also reminded me of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now...
Apocalypse Now / Joker


Bottom line, this is probably the most hyped movie of 2019 so I don’t think any review is going to sway folks from seeing this weather they’re happily excited for it or have already judged it and convinced themselves to not like it ahead of time. At the end of the day I thought it was just fine.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

ABOUT ENDLESSNESS: TIFF 2019 HIGHLIGHT #3


At this point if you’ve seen one (recent/semi-recent) Roy Andersson film you’ve seen them all, and About Endlessness is no exception. The latest quirky dark comedy from the Swedish veteran is made up of multiple isolated sketches tackling themes ranging from the loss of faith in religion to the overall pointlessness of life. Like any Andersson movie, each scenario is done in one single shot with the actors delivering their lines in his signature deadpan/Bressonian style. Actually, this movie, more than any other thing Roy Andersson has done, comes off like the kind of comedy Robert Bresson would have done if he had ever made a comedy or exuded any type of a sense of humor. Not only is the acting style right out of L’Argent or The Devil Probably, but the common theme of religion (The Trial Of Joan Of Arc), loss of faith (Diary Of A Country Priest), and just overall cruelty to human beings (Mouchette) makes About Endlessness an accidental homage to the cinema of Bresson.

I’ve got serious mixed feelings about this one because on one hand, I laughed out loud on multiple occasions. But at the same time this movie almost put me to sleep and I found myself checking my watch to see what time it was a couple of times. When a movie clocks in at barely 75 minutes (PERFECT runtime for a movie if you ask me), but feels like a hard three hours, there’s a bit of a problem. But there are so many aspects of this movie that prove Roy Andersson is a masterful filmmaker (or at least a master of his particular style/lane of filmmaking). His and his actor’s comedic timing is perfect and the color palette in About Endlessness is the opposite of the usual drab grays & browns that Andersson has been using recently (Songs From The Second Floor, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch..., etc).

Song From The Second Floor

You, The Living

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch...


This movie ultimately starts to feel long because after 30-45 minutes it becomes redundant. It's difficult to tell one sketch from the other after a while. Like I said earlier - if you’ve seen one (recent/semi-recent) Roy Andersson movie then you’ve seen them all. Now...if you’re a fan of his style then that’s good news. I get it. When it comes to filmmakers I love & adore I like when they stay in their lane and do the same thing over & over. So while this review may sound like a somewhat harsh criticism to some, others may look at it as a positive.

I don’t want to come down on Andersson too hard because without him I feel like there wouldn’t be a lane for folks like Yorgos Lanthimos or even Rick Alverson (mainly The Mountain).
At the end of the day, you’ll enjoy this if you’re a Roy Andersson fan. If you’re not a fan of his movies you were probably already going to avoid this. If you have the patience and are a novice to his work, I’m honestly not opposed to this being an intro to his filmography (it felt like a long 75 minutes to me but perhaps this movie will breeze by for others).

Saturday, September 7, 2019

ZOMBI CHILD: TIFF 2019 HIGHLIGHT #2


Stories about Haiti & voodoo from the perspective of a (white) French filmmaker can be touchy for a few reasons. It can come off a little (unintentionally) insulting & insensitive due to a lack of deep knowledge of Haitian culture (I’m trying my best not to use the term “problematic”). Voodoo on film is the kind of thing that a lot of filmmakers show as “cool” & mysterious and it just kind of stops there when so much more than casting spells.
It’s also a little peculiar that the most popular/known films to are set in Haiti/the Caribbean are made by white people. To date, some of the most prominent films on the subject of Haiti and/or voodoo have been made by white filmmakers like Maya Deren (The Living Gods Of Haiti), Jacques Tourneur (I Walked With A Zombie) and Wes Craven (The Serpent And The Rainbow). No matter how you cut it - it’s kind of strange (and a little crazy) that white filmmakers are the first names to pop up on the subject of Black culture. I feel any filmmaker should be able to make any movie on any subject they want but the representation of Haiti on the big screen has never sat well with me.

Bertrand Bonello’s latest film Zombi Child borrows from all the aforementioned movies. It’s 1/3 Maya Deren’s artistic (and respectful) exploration of Haitian culture from the perspective of a white outsider. It’s 1/3 Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked With A Zombie (all of the Zombie scene scenes in Zombi Child look like they came straight out of Tourneur’s I Walked With A Zombie), and the last 1/3 of Zombi Child is an entertaining thriller in the vein of The Serpent And The Rainbow where we see the protagonist delve too deep in to the world of voodoo.

Shades of Maya Deren...
Living Gods Of Haiti / Zombi Child


Jacques Tourneur’s possible influence...
I Walked With A Zombie /Zombi Child


Another reason stories of Haiti and/or voodoo told from the perspective of an outsider can be worrisome is that things like that can sometimes delve in to the “magical negro” trope.

For those of you unfamiliar with what a magical negro is, allow me to explain...

Basically, a magical negro is a mystical Black character that has unexplained powers that they, for whatever reason, use to help random (sometimes entitled & unworthy) white characters that they hardly know (this actually does happen in Bonello’s Zombi Child to some extent). Classic examples of the magical negro would be Will Smith in The Legend Of Bagger Vance, Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, Michael Clark Duncan in The Green Mile or damn near 25% of Morgan Freeman’s filmography.


Zombi Child is an interesting film. I know “interesting” is the last thing anyone wants their work to be labeled as but in this case I mean it as a compliment because this is the kind of movie that has a lot to unpack even if it isn’t totally successful. Sometimes those are the best movies to dissect.
Zombi Child plays out like 2 different stories (each with its own set of layers ranging from slavery to sexuality) that eventually meet up in a ven diagram-like intersection.
One story follows a Haitian man-turned Zombie slave in 1960’s Haiti. The other story centers on his granddaughter (Melissa) in present-day France at an all-white/all-girls catholic school (she appears to be the only black student at the school). Eventually, one of Melissa’s classmates (Fanny) learns of Melissa’s connection to voodoo and attempts use it to cast a spell on someone for selfish/personal reasons. As you can imagine, the results turn out to be more than she bargained for. Zombi Child isn’t exactly a horror film but rather a slow- burn psychological thriller.

My biggest “issue” with this movie is that while Haitian culture is shown with respect & care (all the scenes shot in Haiti are beautiful), the voodoo in the film is used for pretty silly reasons in my opinion (I don’t want to spoil anything).

So while this movie teeters the line between respectful & (unintentionally) disrespectful, it’s still something I recommend folks see simply for the conversation that it’ll bring up afterwards (this is also new territory for Bertrand Bonello who continues to broaden his subject matter with each film).

Friday, September 6, 2019

THE LIGHTHOUSE: TIFF 2019 HIGHLIGHT #1



Much like its predecessor (The Witch), the scary aspects of The Lighthouse are in the ambiance & overall tone of the movie. The traditional horror tropes like “monsters”, creatures and jump-scares are secondary. In my personal opinion - this is a movie about the horrors of loneliness & isolation more than anything else. I’m not saying this like it’s a revelation. If you’ve seen the trailer or know any basic thing about The Lighthouse I’m sure you could’ve grasped that on your own. This is a movie with primarily two characters in the form of “Tom” (Willem Dafoe) & “Winslow” (Robert Pattinson). Another important character (or two) does make an appearance but it’s Dafoe & Pattinson who carry the movie. So it should go without saying that chemistry between the two main actors is key in order for a movie like this to be a success and they certainly have it here. They play off of each other exceptionally well.

In Robert Eggers’ latest we follow two lighthouse workers, one a veteran (Tom/Dafoe), the other a younger novice (Winslow/Pattinson), and their slow ascension in to insanity as they battle extreme cabin fever and the possibility of being stranded on an island during a severe storm. There are a few jumpy moments but it’s their handling or boredom that really drew me in. What some people my consider to be slow & tedious pacing, I like to think is Robert Eggers showing the grueling side of being lost and having nothing to do.
And for a movie that’s mostly “heavy” & pretty serious, there’s a good amount of humor (mostly on Dafoe’s part).

Intentionally or not, Robert Eggers draws inspiration from folks like Charles Laughton (Night Of The Hunter)...


Night Of The Hunter /
The Lighthouse


...to lesser-mentioned yet still highly influential filmmakers like Jean Epstein...

Le Tempestaire /  The Lighthouse


Mor'vran / The Lighthouse


And while I don’t have any visual examples, Eggers also comes off like a student of Murnau & Dreyer. I hope I’m not overstepping here but certain moments of The Lighthouse look like they take place in the same universe as Vampyr or even Nosferatu. Relax- I’m not saying Robert Eggers is on the same level as Carl Theodor Dreyer or FW Murnau, but he is definitely a student. The very opening shot of Dafoe & Pattinson coming to shore on their boat is reminiscent of the grim reaper sailing in at the beginning of Dreyer’s Vampyr.

Vampyr


I don’t mean to hype up Robert Eggers too much (young 20-something year old cinephiles do that enough on twitter as it is, plus the fact that The Lighthouse is under the A24 umbrella just heightens the hype even more), but this is really impressive for a second feature. I’d even go so far as to say Eggers directs like he’s on his sixth or seventh film.

It’s obviously too early to say where The Lighthouse “ranks” on my list of 2019 movies (it’s barely been 24 hours) but it’s definitely in the top half and something I not only recommend but plan to revisit myself once it hits theaters.

Monday, September 2, 2019

THE PINK SMOKE PODCAST: THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL



The Pink Smoke & I are gearing up for our annual Toronto trip. Listen to our top picks and what we're looking forward to seeing.

Enjoy...

Sunday, September 1, 2019

THE SCHOOL OF CHANTAL AKERMAN PART 10: RICHARD LINKLATER

While Richard Linklater's career continues to broaden & grow over the years, his (self-confessed) origins & influences are rooted in avant garde filmmakers like Jonas Mekas and various French New Wave auteurs. This is all documented on the Criterion DVD commentary track for his first(?) feature film; It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books. On the audio track, Linklater enthusiastically name-drops Chantal Akerman on more than one occasion as a direct influence on his early work. Long unedited takes, lingering shots, identical settings & backdrops, etc...

If you're familiar with the work of both filmmakers (especially Linklater's early features) then you know it isn't too far-fetched to draw a comparison between the two. However, I decided to make some video comparisons in an effort to truly highlight the influence.

Enjoy...

Jeanne Dielman / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

Saute Ma Ville / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books


Les Rendezvous D'Anna / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

Je Tu Il Elle / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

Je Tu Il Elle / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books


News From Home / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

Jeanne Dielman / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

Hotel Monterey / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

News From Home / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

Je Tu Il Elle / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

Les Rendezvous D'Anna / It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books

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