Posts tagged "DC Universe"

“Joker” A vengeful origin story that hits too close to reality

October 1st, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Joker” A vengeful origin story that hits too close to reality”

“Joker,” winner of the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival has created more than an Oscar stir. The controversial film is also igniting anti-gun organizations’ political battles as Warner Bros. stands behind this origin story of The Joker. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the deranged, unstable and anti-social sociopath, director Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”) creates one of the franchise’s darkest and most disturbingly sinister back stories that actually rings true to the graphic novel. While this certainly isn’t a film for every viewer, Phillips gives this genre’s fans a story that may change the DC Universe forever.

The opening scene sets the shockingly dark tone of this film as we see Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), dressed as a jester who becomes the recipient of a random act of violence. Fleck is a broken man trying to support his ailing mother, Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy) in a dirty, dilapidated tenement building. He dotes on her, sacrificing for himself in an effort to make her as comfortable as possible, but he seems to have a target on his back as he is constantly pummeled with verbal and physical abuse by co-workers and strangers alike. Receiving social welfare benefits and medical aid for his condition, it’s pitiful to watch this poor man getting squished beneath the shoe of mankind as no one really seems to care about him. Actually, no one seems to care for anyone but themselves. When Arthur inadvertently receives a revolver, his brain snaps and so too does his trigger finger.

The world around Arthur in the dark world of Gotham is out of control. The political figures are vying for power, promising a brighter, safer world. And it is within this political world displayed through the medium of television that the tentacles of connection reach out and betray Arthur. Believing in a story told by his mother, Arthur begins to search for the truth about his own background, leading him down a path that will change him and Gotham. And as they say, with knowledge, comes power, but in this case, it’s an extraordinarily evil power.

The film stays true to the graphic novel, but adds so many deeply realistic elements to the story that it hits a little too close to home. “Joker” addresses our current political state with the hatred and division and more importantly, the power of the 1%. We also see how our system is failing so many who desperately need help, particularly the mentally ill. The social service programs are cut in the film’s story and this is a key aspect to Arthur’s deviation and of course, we see this happening in our world today. Gun violence, access, and regulations are also at the heart of the film as is the power of media and celebrity. It’s a complicated story that truly touches upon our current world, sitting upon a fragile precipice.

With all of these underlying components, the film also depicts the lack of humanity and compassion, an integral part of the survival of mankind and a way for Joker to rise. Without this compassion, chaos is unleashed, finding the perfect breeding ground for evil and rebellion, the two perhaps not so definitively separate. Creating a film that has all of these aspects, but also setting up one of the most well-known good vs. evil super heroes scenarios in this universe is a huge undertaking that Phillips capably creates, but it is Phoenix’s performances that will ultimately haunt you long after the credits roll.

Phoenix provides all the layers of his character as we watch him go through a metamorphosis. Our hearts break for this man, watching him suffer with no support and the subject of ridicule. He devolves into the Joker and while we do not agree with what he does, we have an understanding for him—now that’s a tough character to so artistically and evocatively create.

Media plays a hefty role in this film as well, particularly with the Johnny Carson type of talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Within this role, De Niro brings a cutting humor, reminding us of the power of words and that sarcasm creates ill will and not laughs. As the tension builds around Arthur and Franklin, the outside forces are also bubbling to the surface; a volcano about to erupt. While the story focuses primarily upon Arthur, there are several sub stories that occur, all intersecting at the most intense time, giving a sense of dread and discomfort throughout.

Conceptually, socially, and intellectually this film is disturbing, but the startling and realistic violence was more than unnerving. It was distressing. There were plenty of scenes that I wanted or perhaps even needed to cover my eyes, but those images will forever be ingrained in my mind. And perhaps if so many of these issues weren’t so relevant today, the violence wouldn’t have been as upsetting. But they are and it is.

As a piece of art, and film is an art form, “Joker” masterfully finds a voice for the brutal and believable backstory for The Joker. Phoenix gives this character incredible realistic depth which may help you see others who struggle in a more compassionate way. In the end, however, this is a film for super hero fans. It stays true to the graphic novel and creates an incredibly realistic persona and world that hits very close to home; perhaps too close. The shocking violence seems to be used for shock value alone rather than for the use of the plot. Oh, and the running time is, of course, too long. That seems to be a super hero film’s MO.

3 1/2 Stars (for fans of this genre)

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” A teen’s dream, but just another super hero film for the rest of us

June 27th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Spider-Man: Far From Home” A teen’s dream, but just another super hero film for the rest of us”

The never-ending onslaught of super hero films continues with the sequel to Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man with “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” This teen-geared film finds Peter Parker (Holland) preparing to go on a school trip to Europe as he dreams of telling MJ (Zendaya) how he truly feels about her. It’s a grand romantic plan, but of course, there is evil to be fought and that pesky leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) just can’t let a kid be a kid for a summer. Donning his Spider-Man suit, the young boy must fill the shoes of his beloved hero, Iron Man and save the world.

Ultimately, this is just another formulaic super hero film, but it does have its unique appeal as the film pays homage to those heroes that were lost in battle. The concept of those who disappeared only to return is referred to as the 5 year “Blip” and the consequences are wonderfully creative as you laugh out loud. The film also capitalizes wonderfully on that awkward first-love or first crush in high school as both Peter and his comedic sidekick Ned (Jacob Batalon) navigate those choppy and unpredictable waters.

There are new threats that develop in the world as the evil Elementals begin to wreak havoc in every country. Fury looks to the young Spider-Man to help lead in this fight to save the world from imminent doom, but his reticence proves that he’s not quite ready for the big league. Thankfully, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to help and we see Peter’s longing for that father-figure in his life. The first half of the film, thanks to comedy, dialogue, and the introduction of this new character, is great fun, but the remaining half of the film plummets into predictable chase and fight scenes overloaded with visually boggling CGI. The story also blatantly attempts to make several social statements about our world today, particularly in the realm of media, but these, like the fight scenes, are very heavy handed. There’s no subtlety here. What started out as cute, very funny, charming, and even novel, developed into exactly what every other film in this genre typically is…a big fight scene with good versus evil, lulling us into a light slumber.

The cast of characters makes the most of the script and they truly shine in the first half. Holland is supremely comfortable as the awkward teen charged with tasks only a man should be able to carry. It’s this internalized struggle which he conveys with humor that makes Peter Parker a super hero for young fans to relate to as well as emulate. Of course, that love interest with the smart, independent, and striking MJ gives the story a boost of adrenaline, but it’s Batalon’s portrayal of Ned that brings us the extra charge of levity in this story. His timing and reactions are brilliant with unexpected dialogue that will have you roaring. Jackson has honed his role as Fury, to no surprise, and Gyllenhaal is well-suited for playing Mysterio. He’s passionate and creates a believable character, no matter the situation.

With these elements shining in the film, it feels that a different writer took over the reigns for the second half of the film, losing the pacing and charming comedic edge. Of course, this is based on a graphic novel and the artistry in creating alternative realities is quite impressive, but it’s not enough to maintain a high interest level or carry the storyline. Perhaps it’s the 2 hour and 9 minute running time that taxed my attention span, wanting the editing staff to cut about 30 minutes.

“Spider-Man: Far From Home,” even with its charming subplot of teen love and angst, is just another super hero movie in a world where I need Captain No More to save me from seeing another film in this genre. Teens will love it as will those who are invested in this universe, but if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

2 Stars

SHAZAM! is one of a kind

March 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “SHAZAM! is one of a kind”

SHAZAM! Another super hero movie? Do we really need one? The answer, in this case, is a resounding YES! The DC Universe got this one right. “Shazam,” starring Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Asher Angel, is written by Henry Gayden and directed by David F. Sandberg and this team creates an immediately engaging, funny, sweet, and sometimes scary story about life as we enter a world where good and evil fight hand to hand or sometimes lightning bolt to lightning bolt combat. “Shazam!” is exactly what a super hero movie is supposed to be—fun and complete entertaining escapism.

The story is loosely based on the original comic book series by C.C. Beck and all you comic book aficionados will have great joy in identifying the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film, but for those of us who are clueless about the genre, Gayden more than adequately lays the foundation for the story of Billy Batson (Angel) aka Shazam (Levi).

We begin in 1974, winter in Upstate New York, where a father and his two sons are driving the country snow-filled back roads to grandfather’s house when Thad, Magic 8 Ball in hand, is suddenly in the presence of The Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who is searching for a pure soul to take his place in protecting the world from the 7 evils locked away in stone surrounding him. Failing the test, Thad is shot back into reality and a nearly tragic accident. It’s a jarring beginning to a film, but it lays a firm foundation and by no means is the overall tone for the film.

Fast forward to the turn of the century and we meet the young Billy who is separated from his mother. In a loss at finding her, Billy is placed in foster homes, one after another. He’s a delinquent constantly in search of his mother, hoping she has been doing the same. Placed in yet another foster home filled with an eclectic mix of kids, Billy makes no attempt to fit in, but he finds himself in front of The Wizard, reluctantly accepting his powers and this is where the fun begins as this 14 year-old transforms back and forth into a man with incredible powers, but still has the mentality of a boy.

Billy befriends his disabled foster brother who is a geeky expert on all things super hero. Together they test Billy’s new-found powers as his discovery of his new self lands him in hilarious situations, preparing him for his ultimate and yet unknown nemesis.

“Shazam!” takes us all back in time to our youth reminding us of how bullies wreak havoc and the social awkwardness of being a kid. Additionally, it creates a loving tone accentuating the importance of family and what that really means.

Angel and Grazer are magical together on screen typifying two polar opposites, but both with bold personalities that immediately connect you. Angel creates a hardened exterior with a heart of gold and we watch this young boy grow. He’s funny and energetic with an innocence of childhood yet this broken heart of his casts a shadow on his every move. This young actor has a bright future ahead of him proving that he can already find a way to create depth in what could have been a very superficial performance. Grazer equals Angel’s performance, embodying a boy with more hurdles to jump over than most of us can imagine. His quick wit and style of speech brings a sense of compassion and understanding to his character as you forget about his disability…something his character can never do.

While Angel and Glazer shine, it’s Levi’s ingenious efforts that are truly striking as he makes us believe he’s actually a 14 year old kid beneath that chiseled adult exterior. The genius doesn’t stop there as he is a gifted comedian, having fun and highlighting his timing and physically comedic attributes.

In fact, the entire cast of kids in the foster home, Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand) and Darla (Faithe Herman) are simply marvelous, but it is Faithe who steals every scene she’s in. To describe her as adorable is an understatement and her need to hug everyone elicits an audible sigh from the audience whenever she says a word.

“Shazam!” is what a comic book movie should be—funny, charming, heartfelt, and just a good story told really well. Even the too long final fight scene that is in every comic book film doesn’t take itself so seriously (a cue upon which other super hero movies should use) so that flaw can be forgiven at least a bit. This is a laugh out loud funny movie that, as Levi said in a recent screening here in Chicago, may require ear muffs (PG-13), it’s a movie the entire family can enjoy! (Check out the video from that screening on YouTube HERE

3 1/2 Stars

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