Joker (2019)

Starring Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role, Joker, which was released in cinemas last week, takes a look at how the popular DC comic character becomes the villain; an origin story of sorts that takes place in Gotham long before the rise of Batman. This isn’t the glorified (and poorly portrayed) madness of Jared Leto’s Joker, nor the insane and yet somehow charming Joker portrayed by Heath Ledger. This is Phoenix like we have never seen him, in a grim look at the true darkness of mental illness, and the effects of poverty and ignorance on the city’s most underprivileged residents .

I’m honestly still not sure how I feel about the film. I think part of this comes down to the direction. Joker was directed by Todd Phillips, who is responsible for movies such as Road Trip, The Hangover trilogy and Due Date. As such, I felt he was put of his depth here, with a film that is not only considerably darker than his previous films, but also a completely different genre. Despite the title, this is no comedy. Whilst there were admittedly some funny moments, it was a kind of bleak humour, and far removed from any of the director’s previous works. The film as a whole is more of a psychological thriller, and I feel like this film would have benefitted from someone more used to this dark, gritty style of direction. Perhaps Fincher, or even Christopher Nolan (who, as we all know, directed the Dark Knight franchise, with much success.)

Director aside, Joaquin Phoenix does the best he can with what he’s got to work with, and to his credit, gives quite a brilliant and impressive performance. His portrayal of Arthur Fleck is truly something to see, and makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing. He is a clown for hire with aspirations to become a comedian, who looks after his ailing mother (Played brilliantly by Frances Conroy), and he does the best he can despite the hand he’s been dealt. But this film is not your typical underdog story. It is a visceral and compelling look at the effects of ignorance and insensitivity, and paints a picture of a society that could quite conceivably drive a person over the edge. The main character is mentally unstable and in some ways quite childlike, and as the film progresses, the scales of feeling are evenly weighted between sympathy and revulsion. His slow descent further into madness, as he evolves into the villain he will inevitably become, is actually quite confronting to watch. In addition to this, Arthur’s penchant for bursting into uncontrollable, unsettling laughter – which happens consistently throughout the film – made me vaguely uneasy. His unkempt hair and sickly physique were in keeping with the overall grimy feel of the film, but it’s not until his emergence as the Joker, that he finally looks like he belongs. The costume and facepaint he wears as his Joker persona suddenly reflect the madness he’s had within him the whole time, and once he makes his new identity known, there’s no coming back from it.

There are no rose coloured gasses here. The world Arthur lives in is one of systemic oppression, and the significant gap between the rich and the poor. These are desperate people; underprivileged and angry at the system that is determined to keep them down. Whatever the spark that ignites the fire, revolution is inevitable. In some ways, Joker was a difficult movie to watch, because there was a heavy focus on how mental illness is perceived by society, and the tendency of people to make it into a joke, either out of cruelty, or simple lack of understanding. In the journal he carries with him – a physical manifestation of his innermost thoughts – Arthur writes “The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t“. It is a painfully accurate statement, and one that brings with it a floodgate of emotions. And yet, despite revelations that come to light regarding the origins of his psychological issues, it is hard to feel full sympathy for Arthur. He is a character ruled by delusions and guided by his absolute certainty that he is somehow special. It is a difficult protagonist to empathise with.

It did have some really great moments, and was thought provoking in a lot of ways. Amongst others, the movie touches on things like mob mentality, influence of the media, and how easily things can turn from love to hate or vice versa. There was some unexpected violence, which was utilised to great effect and surprisingly not overdone. That being said, there was a lot about the movie that didn’t quite work. There is one relationship in particular that just feels wrong and even though it is later explained, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. Whilst Joker managed to tackle some pretty big themes and really captured the darkness of a city on the brink of chaos, for me, this movie felt like a long lead up to a not especially satisfactory conclusion.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Chances are, you know of Quentin Tarantino. Bit of an oddball, painful to listen to, but he’s made some of the most iconic films…probably ever. Notable for his unique direction style, haphazard narratives and gratuitous violence, his films have made waves in the industry every time. His most recent film is no different. With a stellar cast, nearly three hours of screen time and a nostalgic look at Los Angeles in 1969, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood pays homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and one of the most profitable industries in the world.

Leonardo DiCaprio is Rick Dalton, the former lead actor of a popular TV western, now resigned to taking supporting roles in TV pilots. He is the embodiment of a fading star, clinging desperately to some semblance of his former fame and trying to carve out a career in film before it’s “too late”. At his side through it all is Brad Pitt as Dalton’s stunt double and friend, Cliff Booth. Casually, contentedly in the background of the film industry – with a somewhat unsavoury reputation – Cliff is cool as a cucumber from start to finish, and the antidote to Rick’s somewhat tumultuous, and often alcohol fuelled moods. The chemistry between the two is palpable, and there is a true sense of brotherhood that flows through the film as we follow the lives of these two showbusiness veterans, tetering on the edge of irrelevance.

Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate, young and idealistic, and just breaking into the film industry as Rick Dalton (who, in this version of events, happens to be her next door neighbour) seems to be on his inevitable way out of it. This raised a few eyebrows in the lead up to the film’s release, as people were quick to jump to conclusions about how Tarantino may have handled that particularly sensitive issue. Anyone familiar with the Manson Family will understand the controversy, but the truth is that Robbie’s Sharon Tate is almost like a background character, more or less there for the purpose of juxtaposition between the old and the new.

Tarantino tackles a lot of really excellent themes in this film, particularly the bonds of friendship, and the effects of change. But with a run time of 161 minutes, the film itself is a bit meandering. Whilst the main story is that of Dalton and Booth, the film gets caught up in the Manson Family subplot which, for the most part, feels a little…lacklustre and at times, even pointless. The scenes involving the infamous cult have a tendency to drag, and not even the increasing undercurrent of tension, as the film builds to it’s inevitable conclusion, is quite enough to propel the scenes forward. Certainly, the movie would have benefited from losing at least a half hour of screen time. It feels like we’re being taken on a slow amble through the film, until the third act kind of explodes onto the screen with a pace and energy that the rest of the movie doesn’t quite manage to achieve.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed being taken on the nostalgic, and occasionally self indulgent ride back to the late 60’s. The era has been recreated with minute detail, and the movie is both stylistically and visually pleasing. With some familiar cameos (heyyyy Zoe Bell) and a supporting cast including Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant and Emile Hirsch, it is the characters more so than the actual plot, who truly drive this film. Despite a few flaws with the film’s pace, it is worth watching for the explosive final act alone (if nothing else). In typical Tarantino style, is has some great dialogue, some funny moments interjected with the sincere, and truly unforgettable characters. The quirky director can be a little hit and miss for me, but in this case he scored a hit.

The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir

Recently, I went into Big W looking for a specific book. I didn’t find the book I wanted, but I did leave with six other books instead. The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir was one of those six, one purchased on a whim because the blurb just captured my attention. It turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

As you can guess from the title, it is about a young woman called Biddy Weir. She is quirky, and misunderstood, and considered by everyone to be a little bit odd. In fact, she is so odd that Alison, the mean girl at her school, nicknames her Bloody Weirdo, and the consequences of that name stay with her all through her school years, and well into her adulthood.

As she suffers daily torment and abuse at the hands of Alison, her self worth slowly vanishes. Every happiness she has gets wrenched away from her, for the cruel entertainment of a bunch of girls. If I’m honest, the book is actually rather reminiscent of Carrie, albeit without the telepathy and the violent ending. But something about Biddy got to me, and stuck.

It is a heartbreaking story, and a familiar one. The one who dances to the beat of her own drum, is always the one left outcast and alone. Because even today, in our supposedly liberated society, to be considered weird is an insult. And Biddy is weird. But that is what makes her so special. Author, Lesley Allen, created a protagonist that I loved instantly, for all the reasons the other characters hated her.

The book is well written, has a steady pace, and is full of heart. It is beautiful in its sadness, and made me cry…and I’m not usually emotional. If you’re a little bit weird, I encourage you to meet Biddy. And I challenge you not to love her.

Satanic (2016)


**This review has spoilers. But that shouldn’t really matter because if you value your time, I highly recommend you don’t even bother watching the film anyway.

Sometimes I ignore my better judgement and watch a movie that I suspect will be awful, in the vague hope that perhaps I’m wrong. But in the case of Satanic, a “horror” film – and I use that term loosely – that I found on Netflix, the scariest part about the movie was the fact that there are enough people out there with terrible judgement to grant the film five stars.

Satanic is so bad, in so many ways; I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe with the eyeball gouging-ly awful characters, who seem to have no redeeming qualities at all between the four of them, and who seem to do nothing but be douchebags, and scream a lot. Or perhaps I could start with the sub par plot, which is full of holes and lack of research, and has about as much imagination as a rock. Or hell, why not start with the ending, which is so nonsensical and limp that I still can’t believe I actually made it through to the finale without turning it off.

Basically, the movie tells the story of four college friends who go to L.A en route to Coachella, to check out some well known true crime locations. They think they’re all hardcore and, like most ignorant young people, think that Satanism is all about ritual sacrifice and wearing black. Long, dull story short; they pick a fight with a dude who runs a cult supply shop, follow him to his place, essentially walk in on what looks like a bunch of guys in robes about to sacrifice a girl. That same girl then turns out to be a whole lot crazier and fucked up than she looks, and then they all die by way of some invisible, malicious force, supposedly meant to be the devil or something I guess.

The whole film just falls flat. There are no scares, no substance and no surprise. The acting is bad, the writing is worse, and the effects are…lame. And don’t even get me started on the cliches and complete lack of subtlety. Honestly, there was nothing about this movie that I liked. If you’re looking for a good way to spend your time, I’m sure pulling out your fingernails one by one would be less painful than suffering though this film.

How To Build A Girl (review)

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I finally found it. The book I’ve been waiting to review. And let me tell you, How to Build a Girl is hands down the best book I have read in a long, long time.

Written by Caitlin Moran and set in Wolverhampton in the 1990’s, How to Build a Girl follows the life of Johanna Morrigan from the ages of 14-17, as she tries to navigate the tempestuous waters of young adulthood. It is funny, clever, filthy, and raw, and I found myself relating to this awkward, dorky, sassy teenager in more ways than one. There is something about the way Moran captures what it’s like to be a teenage girl that really resonated with me. And she doesn’t shy away from the realities of exploring sexuality either. The book frequently delves into Johanna’s masturbation habits and later, her sexual encounters, with a kind of blunt honesty that I found both refreshing and amusing.

Johanna is an aspiring writer, who leaves school to pursue her dream and turn it into a career. She lands herself a job writing music reviews for a magazine, and it is a move that thrusts her into the music scene, and into the adult lifestyle that she so desperately craves.

Enter Dolly Wilde; a drug taking, alcohol guzzling, top hat wearing cynic, who manages to charm and repel people in equal measure with her razor wit, outlandish tales, and scathing opinions. Dolly Wilde is Johanna’s greatest creation; the very embodiment of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. And it is through Dolly, and the fearlessness that she is able to enjoy whilst wearing that mask, that Johanna is able to discover herself, who she truly is and what she wants. Though she manages to get herself into some pretty interesting – and cringeworthy! – situations along the way.

An array of interesting characters are interwoven throughout; a lovable bunch of misfits that add a kind of dark humour to the book. Amongst these are Johanna’s father; a sometime drunkard who has grand plans of making it in music…if only he can get someone to play his tapes on the radio. There is her surly older brother Krissi, who doesn’t seem to reciprocate Johanna’s unfailing feelings of adoration, but who still remains her hero and one of her favourite people. And of course, her first real love, best friend and favourite person; quirky rock star, John Kite. It is this last relationship in particular that really struck a chord with me. There’s something inherently sweet and pure about their easy friendship, and the intensity with which Johanna loves this slightly dishevelled, but truly genuine soul.

This book is honest and funny and heartfelt, and everything I could want in a coming of age story, without any of the saccharine overtones. I laughed out loud, and there were even times when I felt the prickling of tears at the corners of my eyes. I loved it so much I almost want to go back and start it all over again. But, more books are yet to be read and so, for now, I will simply say that How to Build a Girl has definitely made its way into my top ten books of all time.

Preacher (TV) Review

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The other night I bit the bullet and watched the pilot episode of Preacher. I wanted to be excited for it, I really did. But if I could go back and not watch it, I would.

I am a Preacher fan. Jesse Custer, possessed by the supernatural ‘infant’ of an illegal angel/demon coupling, is the quintessential anti-hero. Toss in a gun toting girlfriend and a mouthy Irish vampire, and you pretty much have the greatest trio in the history of graphic novels. I mean, we’re talking about a Texas Preacher, possessed by a supernatural force that makes him powerful enough to rival God, going to find God. And I don’t mean that in a religious, metaphorical sense. I mean Jesse Custer goes on a search to literally find God.

It is baffling to me that they managed to completely destroy the story in just one episode. Reading up on some Preacher history, it seems too many studios were unwilling to take on an adaptation of Garth Ennis’ mind blowing graphic novel series, on the basis of it being too religiously incendiary. I’m sorry, but if you’re not willing to do it right, don’t bother doing it at all. And that, I think, is where this AMC adaptation has failed.

What makes Preacher so brilliant is that it is unashamedly controversial. Any fan of the original story will be familiar with the likes of Herr Starr, Odin Quincannon and most notably (and awesomely) the Saint of Killers. These characters Jesse meets on his journey away from Annville, Texas. But I have to wonder how the showrunners of the TV series plan to introduce them if, as it seems, Jesse will be staying in town to…help people. His speech at the end of the episode essentially tells us that his plan is not to go and hold God accountable, but to stay where he is and just be a Preacher. A worthy goal, I’m sure, but not what the story is about.

For someone who kept insisting he loves the original, and wanted to keep it real, Seth Rogen didn’t do a very good job. As one reviewer put it, Garth Ennis’ work is caustically misanthropic, and that’s what fans love about it. The TV series seems to be heading in a softer direction already, and what attempts at badassery they did throw in seemed somewhat ridiculous. I mean, a home-made bazooka? Come on, guys. Even someone who has no real knowledge of blowing shit up knows that is implausible. Why not just blow up the still? That whole ‘Tulip is a tough bitch’ thing just seemed contrived and frankly, made me cringe. I seem to be on the outer there however, because the internet is abuzz with how brilliant she was.

And while we’re on the subject of ridiculousness, can someone explain to me the vampire hunters on the plane? If you’re trying to kill someone, don’t go getting drunk and fucked up with them first. And why would they get on the plane in the first place? Allow it to take off? Give themselves no escape route when the vampire ultimately works out who they are and goes to town? That whole scene made absolutely no sense, and there were a billion better ways to introduce Cassidy.

I could go on forever about how bad it was if I was comparing it to the graphic novels. On that front, the series already doesn’t compare. But if you take away the original, you’re still left with a watered down attempt at entertainment, with an uninspiring lead, a predictable plot, and a bitter taste in your mouth. If they wanted to do it, they should have made an accurate adaptation. If they wanted to make a series about a tortured Preacher helping folks out, they shouldn’t have marketed it as an adaptation at all. Fans of the original, don’t bother. Everyone else, do yourself a favour. Don’t succumb to the internet hype; it’s an hour if your life you’ll never get back.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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It’s rare that I see a movie that I know absolutely nothing about, but tonight I did. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sci-fi and a psychological thriller all rolled into one, and it keeps the audience on their toes from start to finish. Hailed as being a ‘spiritual successor’ to the 2008 film, Cloverfield, this film had me enthralled from the get go.

We begin with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who wakes after a car accident to find herself chained up in a cement room. Enter Howard, (John Goodman), who says there has been an ‘attack’, and that he saved her life by bringing her into his bunker. She naturally assumes her captor is either lying or crazy but after a couple of failed, albeit creative, escape attempts, she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), Howard’s gregarious neighbour, and fellow survivor of the supposed attack, who confirms the story. With nothing else to do but wait out the assumed apocalypse in the cleverly decked out bunker, the three settle into a relatively comfortable living arrangement, but not all is as it seems.

Having no prior knowledge of this film or its franchise, I didn’t know what to expect. Much like the protagonist, just when I thought I had it figured out, something would happen to throw me off. It was superbly acted, and the small cast did great things with their respective characters. Particular kudos goes to John Goodman for his thoroughly chilling portrayal of a doomsday prepper that perhaps enjoys the bunker life just a little too much.

While there are many out there who found the ending to be pointless or not in keeping with the rest of the film, I have to disagree. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, except to say that it is an ingenious way to meld a typical thriller into a sci-fi, and create a seamless link to this film’s predecessor.

If you’re looking for a film that is in equal parts intriguing and entertaining, with an unnerving antagonist, a creatively kickass female lead and some awesome alien action, 10 Cloverfield Lane is the movie for you.