Review: JOKER

Joker is a film that could have been set anywhere, in a universe without Batman, Joker, or superheroes of any kind, and the characters and plot would still work. What is the point of a tale like this? A tale where the setting no longer directly informs the plot?

With a wandering plot and ambiguous detail, I can only speculate about the point director Todd Phillips intended for audiences to see. Nevertheless, as a memorable and gripping story of mental illness, and as a display of the extremes people will go to be noticed in a society that promotes and accepts loneliness, Joker succeeds on all counts.

Arthur Peck works as a clown by day and dreams of being a stand-up comedian by night. The only problem? He’s not funny, and he is crippled by uncontrollable laughter, a result of childhood trauma, that makes him socially awkward. It’s very tragic to see him laughing, at times almost wheezing and crying at the same time, while onlookers only see him as creepy and awkward. The stigma he feels is something relatable to anyone who has ever been judged for something about their manner or appearance that they can’t help.

The film inevitably takes a darker turn as Arthur descends into the persona known as Joker (for those squeamish about violence – be warned!). Inspired by elements from the film The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, this is a film that has generated a lot of discussion and buzz, both positive and negative. Almost as if the movie is a mirror, reviewers have seen everything from depictions of Antifa to a glamorization of incel culture (if you have to look up the term incel as I did, you are not alone) in the frames of this dark character portrait. My opinion? Todd Phillips wanted to shock audiences by mixing a bunch of interesting themes into his film without committing to a single one idea. The result is something that is well-acted, thought-provoking, yet ultimately wandering and bleak. But memorable cinema nonetheless.

-BONE-

Review: Captain Marvel

Drumming up an original introduction to yet another Marvel movie review requires more effort with each review. What original words can be said about this one that have not already been said in some combination regarding the myriad of predecessors? Has the franchise passed its prime? That is the question I concern myself with, probably too often. Is there an original thread to be plucked, or thought to be explored that hasn’t been already?

This is popcorn fare. Designed to bring crowds to the theater, satisfy the faithful comic-book readers as well as those who casually keep up with the films. Glitz, glamour, extensive action set pieces. It’s practically rote for Marvel films at this point.

And speaking of Marvel, Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel. Through a series of flashbacks, Carol’s story is revealed. It’s a sad, happy tale that includes a not-so-ordinary cat named Goose and a younger Nick Fury, who still has two functioning eyes. This film marks the first time a woman has taken a leading role in a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film. This feels less significant in the film than it does on paper, because the movie doesn’t highlight the gender of the main character. I think this is appropriate–the film seeks to tell a good story, free of politicization.

While the story was not bad, I am sad to admit that, other than some well-placed bits of belly-laugh-inducing humor, this movie failed to excite me in a visceral, lasting way. But regardless, it’s a fun popcorn flick. Will I watch it over and over as the years go by? Unlikely. But like the recent glut of Marvel films, if you like seeing movies at the theater, this is another one that feels hand-crafted to pair best with a big screen, a massive sound system, soda, and a bag of popcorn.

Anime Review: ERASED

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ERASED is an animé series that tells the tale of Satoru, a 29-year-old failed manga artist who works at a pizzeria. Occasionally, he experiences Revival, where he can go back a few minutes in time (think Next) and change the outcome of recent situations. One day, Satoru experiences an unusual revival that takes him back to his elementary school days, giving him a chance to prevent a series of abductions and murders that happened to several of his classmates many years ago.

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This is one of the most artistically beautiful animés I’ve seen. In addition, it touches on heavy topics such as child abuse and divorce in a way that doesn’t seem heavy-handed.

This 12 episode show is currently available on Crunchyroll and FUNimation in a subtitled version–no English dubbing yet! Rated TV-14 for violence and occasional swearing.

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Avengers: Infinity War

Call me jaded – but the thought of another two-and-a-half hour film filled with superheroic antics did not have me excited. As I mused a long time ago in our Thor: The Dark World review, it’s difficult to create compelling drama when franchise deals guarantee characters’ survival to appear in future films. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of all the drama escaping as the film deflates.

This problem is still present in Avengers: Infinity War, directed by duo Anthony and Joe Russo (the Brothers Russo as I shall refer to them): we know that Spiderman will be appearing in an unnamed Spiderman sequel, and we know that the Guardians of the Galaxy will be getting a part 3. So what could really happen?

A lot, as it turns out.

The Brothers Russo seem to be aware of the dramatic pitfalls of serialized adventures and have taken steps to heighten the stakes. Which isn’t to say this film is perfect; but boy, does it deliver on the expectations built up over 10 years, all the way back from the first post-credits scene in Ironman, when Nick Fury tells Tony about the Avengers Initiative.

Well, the Avengers have grown up, and if Infinity War’s principal villain, Thanos (played by Josh Brolin), gets his way and manages to destroy half the population of the universe, the Avengers might have quite a lot to avenge by the time this 2 part movie arc reaches its conclusion.

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*** Mild Spoilers Ahead ***

Infinity War kicks off at the bitter conclusion of a battle between Thanos, aided by his children, and the Asgardians – Thor, Heimdall, Loki, and the rest. The Asgardian ship is half-destroyed, and most everyone dead. In a last-ditch effort, Heimdall teleports the Hulk off the ship, back to earth to warn the Avengers of Thanos’s impending arrival.

This film builds compellingly towards its climax; more the story of Thanos, the destroyer of worlds, than any one other one hero, the film also manages to fit in some interesting character arcs for Star Lord and Scarlet Witch; while there’s only time for minimal development of most of the cast, none of the characters feel shallow or weak as a result. Maybe that’s a result of all the previous films; we only get one scene with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, but that’s all that the film needs – the audience knows the characters.

The film’s ending is the most surprising part of this superheroic outing, and for me the best part of the film: bold, kinetic, unexpected, utterly devastating while also supremely hopeful. It’s the ultimate cliffhanger, where the filmmakers not only take the heroes to the cliff, but actually throw them off the cliff as well.

The Brothers Russo have rustled up something fresh from the superhero milieu that has been suffocating itself. For this, I applaud them. Is the superhero genre getting long in the tooth? Sure. Might it soon go the way of the Westerns? Probably. But for now, Marvel Studios has once again proved that they still know what makes a good story, and how to tell it in an unexpected way.

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-BONE-

Summer Reads Reviewed

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Tokyo Ghoul

What happens when college student Kaneki finally goes on a date with his crush Rize? Well, she turns out to be a ghoul and tries to eat him. When the smoke clears on this situation, Kaneki is part-human, part-ghoul, and must figure out how to live as a different person – holding to his “human values” (not eating people, etc.) while dealing with his nature (only human flesh can satisfy his hunger).

It’s a philosophical sort of manga, with references to Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Herman Hesse (“Who would be born must first destroy the world”). Volumes 1-8 were very interesting, albeit extremely disturbing and violent in places. If extreme violence makes you uncomfortable, maybe pass this series up–the manga seems to get progressively darker and more grotesque.

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The Coldest City

The Coldest City is a sparse, slow-burning, noir graphic novel set in Berlin near the end of the Cold War. A missing list containing the identities of all the secret agents operating in Berlin (on both sides) is the linchpin around which this story moves.

As a spy thriller, the graphic novel is well set up, but knowing that it was a spy novel, I found some of the plot revelations predictable. Unfortunately, unexpected plot twists are half the fun for me in spy stories–getting my mind blown by third-act revelations. That said, the graphic novel has an interesting set of characters and enough layers that, even with a somewhat obvious conclusion, it’s still interesting.

Also, The Coldest City is apparently the inspiration for the film Atomic Blonde? I did not know.

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-bone-

Making Comics: A Resource

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Do you want to make comics, or maybe just have a better understanding to be able to critically read and evaluate? These two desires drove me in high school not only to read and draw my own, but also to try and find resources on how to effectively tell stories in the comic book medium. A great tool that I found was the book Making Comics.

What NOT to expect

If you are looking for a step by step guide of any kind, or if you are looking for an anatomy introduction or beginners course in perspective look elsewhere (Figure Drawing for Dummies). Scott McCloud, the author, is interested in principles, not formulas. While this does not mean that the above are not present in abbreviated form, this book’s primary focus is on broader principles. McCloud is interested in presenting options and information, not teaching a color by numbers approach.

What to expect

Scott McCloud’s book is unique in that it is actually a comic book itself. This means that while he is teaching principles, the book itself is demonstrating the very things he is talking about. He discusses in depth the use of page layout and its interaction with pacing and intensity. He talks about art, and using it on its own and in conjunction with words to most effectively communicate ideas, emotions, and story. All the while, the pages of his book visually reinforce everything he is discussing.

Conclusion

Scott McCloud’s book Making Comics is by far the most valuable resource I have found for learning the principles surrounding effective comic making. It is easy to read, but eminently approachable and useful since it is in comic book form itself. Scott has studied this art form his whole life, and he is able to concisely communicate core ideas in a natural way. Whether you want to make comics, or simply be better equipped to read and evaluate the comic books in your personal collection, this is an excellent resource.

-FLINT-