Joker 2019 drama, crime
This film fits neatly into the “mind games” movie genre because the narrator, Arthur Fleck (aka Joker) has serious mental health problems treated with seven drugs. In one particular key scene, early in the film, Arthur came off of his medicine, which I assumed are a mix of anti-psychotics. So at this point we know, or at least suspect, that we are watching a wild mix of fantasy and real life during the transition of Fleck into Joker. This device makes Joker a rare bird, and I rather enjoyed the ambiguity and the change of pace. Not to reveal too much, the first scene I thought was pure fantasy in Arthur’s mind involved his female neighbor in the shitty apartment complex. Arthur has a crush on the attractive, single mother living down the hall, but there are a few tips that the relationship was pure imagination.
Arthur and the subway mass shooting was a scene I thought was reality based. Gotham City, Arthur’s home town, is made to look like early 1980’s New York City. There are neither desktop computers nor cell phones. Arthur’s TV is a boxy CRT on stick legs. The cars are obviously 1980s vintage. From my perspective, the character of Arthur Fleck seemed to be, in part, based on Bernhard Goetz. As I recall, Mr. Goetz, a white male, shot four black muggers on a New York subway in 1984. Goetz was arrested and his trial became a major three-ring circus. Goetz soared to Folk Hero status and the shooting focused the media and public attention on the serious escalation of violent crime in NYC. Feeling the heat of millions of angry, fed-up citizens (voters), the normally complacent, useless NYC politicos decided to make major changes and adopted “broken windows” policing. Goetz was acquitted by the jury, and with a new sheriff in town, the crime rate was under control.
The climax of the film is Arthur’s guest appearance on the Murray Franklin Show. Is this event real or fantasy? The last half of the movie might actually be one of Arthur’s fantasies because we watch as Arthur empties out his mother’s refrigerator, climbs inside, and closes the door. We never see him emerge from the refrigerator, so did he die in the icebox making the whole latter half of the movie a dying man’s hallucination? Yes, it is that kind of movie.
I have read both glowing and scathing reviews of Joker – people either love it or hate it, but all the movie reviewers agree that the film is technically very well done. I recommend the film without hesitation – it is not a typical comic book movie. I plan to watch it again. If you are the type of movie fan that is comfortable with a degree of vagueness or uncertainty in a film, I suggest two more films for your watching pleasure; Mullholland Drive (2001) and Detour (1945). In both movies the narrator is unreliable, just like in Joker, so keep asking yourself – Am I seeing this straight? For an extra bonus, find the hidden clues in Mulholland Drive here.
Ford v Ferrari 2019 drama sports
This movie chronicles the epic battle between two legendary automakers on the track at Le Mans in 1966. To say this is another “race car” flick is to sell it short. Drastically. You need not be a racing fan or car aficionado to enjoy this film. Because above all else, Ford v Ferrari is an interesting, well told tale and that is the basis of any good film. The real heart of the movie is about the relationship between American racing hero Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and championship driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale). They have a friendship forged in the racing pits and test tracks where the risk of death lurks in the shadows. The two men know for a fact that they are in way over their heads, but with a blank check from the Ford Motor Company, they take a shot at the high-flying, seemingly unbeatable, Ferrari race team.
Thus is launched the Ford GT40 project. Along the way a surprising amount of actual, technical detail about developing the Ford GT40 is presented. Shelby’s shop in a hangar at LAX is the central set where the key winning elements come together. The movie strips away almost everything else, both historically and factually, to present the efforts of Shelby’s team at LAX. This dismays some of the race car “experts” who are quick to point out the movie skims over the British design team responsible for the GT40 body, and the scores of Ford engineers and technicians in Detroit who designed and built the awesome 427 V8 engine. Sorry, but the reality is 152 minutes of screen time. Cut!
The film may not be 100% factual with the exact timeline, or provide screen time to everybody involved, but who cares? This film is the closest any Hollywood production will ever get to tell the real story of America’s greatest car racing victory in Europe. And that is more than enough for me. For those who want to get into the car racing weeds, I suggest you read this book: Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans (2009) by A.J. Baime.
On the other hand, some film reviewers harshly condemned the movie because it was too factual and realistic. Bloomberg’s “Horrible” Hannah Elliot writes, “It’s a beautifully shot film that will be enjoyable for modern car buyers and enthusiasts alike—engines rev, tires squeal, stopwatches click. But what I saw is a devastating picture of the lack of diversity… Ford v Ferrari shows a generation best left dead and gone… men dominate the screen for 98% of the time, by my unofficial count. They are in the executive suites at Ford and Ferrari, in the workshops and garages in Venice, on the track out at Willow Springs Raceway. (And when I say men, I mean white, straight men.)” Hannah, are you for real? The message of this excellent film is true and straightforward: It glorifies American innovation, competitive spirit, bravery and determination. That said, I understand how this movie could rattle the delicate sensibilities of the modern, anti-white male, self-hating SJWs. I think Hannah is hungry to engage in some revisionist history, so I have an idea to help her. The 1968 Disney car flick, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, is in serious need of a modern remake, after all the cast is ridiculously white. Let’s yank Dick Van Dyke (a white, straight, male) from behind the wheel and put Whoopi Goldberg in the driver’s seat. That should fix it.
There is already quite a bit of Academy Award chatter on the web about this film. Oscars have been cheapened by the host of weak films that win awards based more on PC ideology than actual movie craftsmanship and acting talent. This year may be different because Ford v Ferrari is so terrific, it will be hard for the snobs to ignore the best film of the year. Christian Bale's multi-layered performance will stick in your mind for days afterwards, and deserves recognition. Same can be said of the Screenplay, Cinematography, production and direction of this excellent film.
I highly recommend seeing this movie on the largest screen possible. Sit back and enjoy the powerful growl of the GT40 427 V8 as you re-live the Golden Age of American muscle cars.
The Highwaymen 2019 drama crime
This Netflix original film has a terrific adult script—and something to say about setting the historical record straight. In a nutshell, The Highwaymen tells the true story of retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, who is pressed back into active duty in 1934 to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde as their bloody crime spree enters its third year. Before reliable two-way radios for police cars and communication between various police departments, Clyde Barrow exploited backroads, state lines, a Ford V8, and plenty of firepower to keep his gang on the road. Frank Hamer, a seasoned manhunter, decided to hit the road just like the Barrow gang and trail them, learning their patterns—and driven by the conviction born of experience that “outlaws and mustangs always return home.” Hamer (Kevin Costner) is joined by his ex-partner and veteran Ranger, Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson). The two lawmen have some of the very best screen chemistry and dialogue I have seen this year. The film attacks the myth of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as the sexy desperados depicted in the 1967 film. In this version, the criminal duo is kept in the shadows until the end of the movie. Retelling Bonnie and Clyde from the point of view of the actual good guys of the story is a superb idea that took far too long to come to screen. Director John Lee Hancock seems to have cared deeply about restoring Frank Hamer and Maney Gault to their proper place in American history as real life, crime fighting heroes. Hancock’s skill for historical films (Alamo) is well established, and once again highly successful in The Highwaymen. From the beginning to the brutal ending, the film is akin to a time travel machine that brings to life the mostly forgotten days of early 1930’s Prohibition era America.
Midway 2019 war action adventure
This is an epic movie about the time in June 1942 when the Japanese Imperial Navy (JIN) sailed to Midway Island looking for a fight, and expecting another Pearl Harbor surprise attack. Instead, the JIN fleet was hammered by waves of American bombers, torpedo planes and dive bombers. The surface fleets did not engage; the battle was settled by airpower and marked a turning point in the war, as well as, a transition in naval doctrine in favor of larger and larger aircraft carriers. To understand the background and more details about this military history topic read my 2017 article, “Kitty Hawk to Midway: The Genesis of the Modern Aircraft Carrier Era”.
Back to the movie, the trick to making quality Historical Docu-Dramas is trying to balance Historical relevance with Historical accuracy and all the while have believable characters and dialogue that present a good story. The artistic cast and movie makers of “Midway” did just that, and produced one of the best war movies in decades. The success of this film did not (could not) depend on one big star; this historical topic is a bit more complicated with plenty of dynamic, moving parts so the director used one of the best ensemble casts ever that did not depend on one power actor to propel all the key scenes. And let’s not forget the war birds – the American Dauntless Dive Bombers and Japanese Zeros are star-worthy, too.
This movie is ridiculously underrated with a metacritic score of 50, indicating a mediocre effort. Horse Apples! If you read the actual reviews, there emerges a particularly harsh tone from several of the Woke-type feminist film critics. Writes Wendy “Windbag” Ide of the Guardian, “All the most enormous, jutting, chiseled chins in Hollywood are called up to do their duty, and armed with lines of dialogue that sink like depth charges… Every tired war movie cliché is unearthed in a film that brings nothing new but will no doubt please fans of men in uniform.” Post-modern fem-Nazis, like Wendy, love the modern style of movie casting that reject white males and replace same by a collection of female heroines, no matter how fake it comes off. I am sure Wendy would have no problem casting Whoopi Goldberg as Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to “bring something new” whatever the fuck that means. So back to reality, in this case, we have a war story firmly rooted in the real world of the 1940’s, together with a skilled director that stays true to his art and time period accuracy. In real life, and in the movie, the main characters are American or Japanese males. As expected the film is biased in favor of the Americans (DUH!) and quite a bit of screen time is filled by the American carrier pilots, who are two-fisted, masculine heroes, brimming with strength, mastery, honor, and camaraderie. No wonder the anti-male feminists hate this film and thereby, reveal their ignorance about Artistic Integrity.
Finally here is a new WW2 movie with the right balance of high-tech effects, good storytelling, tension and remarkable historical gravitas. I highly recommend seeing this production on the largest screen you can find. All of us Patriots need to support “Midway” and help make it a big success.
Zombieland: Double Tap 2019 comedy, horror, adventure
Hard to believe the original Zombieland premiered ten years ago in 2009. It is way past time to review the famous Rules of Zombieland, so here we go again. Fans of the original Zombieland will be pleased by this sequel – it is a riot. The whole gang (Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock) is back together and, as usual, are well armed and ready for zombie combat. Along the way they pick up Madison (Zoey Deutch) who adds plenty of laughs and gets credit as the top banana in the flake department. True to character, the group travels on a cross country odyssey – this time to Graceland for a retro salute to Elvis Pressley, then on to Babylon – a liberal, hippie-type compound “full of love and understanding! And NO guns allowed.” If the movie has a message, it is this: The story expertly and hilariously trolls the anti-gun crowd, who promptly shit their pants when the Zombie mob arrives in Babylon. Once again the importance of the armed individual and self-defense become painfully obvious. So despite the violent slaughter, the movie delivers a rather wholesome message. Stay for the end credit scene! You won't regret it! This film had the whole cinema laughing throughout the movie! Catch it on the big screen while you still can.
Candyman 1992 horror
This is one of the stand-out horror movies of the decade; frightful, disturbing, intelligently made and without a screaming teen in sight. So just take my word and watch this flick, when in the mood for a scare. Suffice to say, it has a genuinely weird and evil villain, fast pace, jarring shocks, and a moody, dark score. Virginia Madsen is totally convincing as Helen, the damsel in distress. She is so good; in fact, you will remember her performance for days afterward. One reviewer complained that this flick made her kids have nightmares and it "dwells on the nasty things in life." I can think of no greater compliment for an adult horror movie. No dear, this is a film for grown up people. Put the kids to bed. You have been warned, gentle readers.
Pitch Black 2000 action adventure SF horror
While most monster movies pitting humans against horrendous extra-terrestrials end up being cheap imitations of Aliens, Pitch Black stands as a fine piece of Sci-Fi/Horror. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the film is the lighting. The movie camera captures many different colors, shades and intensities of light which set the mood and lend a distinctive feeling to the film. At first I thought something went haywire with my motel room TV. The visuals are quite different than the typical movie lighting. But why is this interesting? Because the desert-like planet where our gang has crash landed has not one, not two, but three suns. This is a key part of the plot. NO. SPOILERS. I was impressed with the excellent ensemble cast, and Vin Diesel, as anti-hero Riddick, expertly brings his troubled character to life, and avoids the routine portrayal of the hardened criminal. The supporting cast of B actors turn in solid performances, and although I knew most were doomed from the start, I was rooting for them to make it off the planet to safety. The special effects were more than adequate, but at the same time not the sole focus. The movie uses Science Fiction as a medium to tell an engaging, human story, rather than telling a mediocre story hiding behind flashy Sci-Fi FX.
Fearless Vampire Killers 1967 horror comedy
This movie has a dark, gothic atmosphere like a good Hammer vampire flick, but is tempered with plenty of goofy humor and silly characters. A comical Professor hunts vampires in snowbound Transylvania with his trusty young assistant, Alfred (a young Roman Polanski), but the hapless prof does not really know what to do once he finds Count Dracula and his army of vampires. This is also a rare opportunity to see what an astonishing beauty Sharon Tate was (Sharon Tate and Polanski were married soon after this movie). To know what happened to her afterward is heartbreaking. Favorite scene not to miss - the midnight vampire ball with Roman and Sharon dancing to haunting harpsichord music while surrounded by vampires.
Shadow of the Vampire 2000 horror suspense
Available on Prime Video
This is not your Anne-Rice or Buffy kind of vampire flick. Willem Dafoe is unforgettable as the original movie Vampire – Max Schreck. Schreck is a walking, talking monster. For those interested in horror/ suspense genre, silent films, films about films, vampires, or cinema pioneer F.W. Murnau; this is the movie for you. Mr. Malkovich, as maverick director F.W. Murnau, takes the role to the absolute Dictatorial Level. Most of the characters are unlikeable except Greta (Catherine McCormick). No spoilers, but she is so delicious, Max wants to eat her alive. Some of the scenes are disturbing, especially the ending, but, this is after all a horror flick. So what did you expect?
Riding the Bullet 2004 horror drama psycho-thriller
Available on Prime Video
This is a solid story from the twisted mind of Stephen King. The overlooked film is not near as famous as his big hits Carrie, The Shining, Christine, and Green Mile, but is worth the search. The storyline has many of the recurring themes that are in several King books and movies: The troubled teen with a touch of schizoid, family tragedies that tend to repeat over generations, demons from the supernatural world, death and guilt. Unknown actor Jonathan Jackson delivers a fine performance in the lead role. I've read mostly mixed reviews on this underrated flick, but found it to be one of the more enjoyable (and less gory) horror films of the last few years.