JOKER: Give Me More Time

Last month I emerged from screening It: Chapter Two with great satisfaction, and went on to write a review asserting that the IT movies were practically gospel for horror fans. A month has passed and in that time I was able to see the multiple variations of reviews for the film and see the IMDb rating drop to a 7.0 out of 10, with a dip in the the 6 range highly likely in the foreseeable future.

Just last night I emerged from seeing an early showing of the highly anticipated origin story for the clown prince of crime of Gotham City, and I left with the same feeling of satisfaction, particularly with the characters and their actors’ portrayals. I chatted freely with my friend about how Joaquin Phoenix could possibly win the Oscar for his performance, making this the second time in Oscars history that two separate actors have won awards for playing the same character (the first, and so far ONLY pair has been Marlon Brando and JOKER’s very own Robert de Niro for Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, respectively). He would be joining said duo with the late, great Heath Ledger, who gave one of the most phenomenal performances ever in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. We parted ways for the night, and I proceeded to look up JOKER on IMDb and was impressed to see that it was already on the Top 250 list at #13, but quickly saw that it holds a 62 on Metascore.

That stopped me in my tracks and made me think: “Wait a minute…”

I then proceeded to search the Rotten Tomatoes profile and saw that it held only 69% approval from the critics… Certified fresh, yes, but it still kept me in my spot, puzzled. I looked over to the next column to see that it holds a 92% rating from audiences.

This left me thinking: “Is this one of those moments when the critics don’t get what everybody loves? Or am I missing out on something?”

I will agree that there were some moments that were predictable and cliched, but that is generally the case when one is presented with an origin story for an iconic character. In this case, it is the classical fall into villainy and madness, with several rites of passage, including the first killings, that help bring Arthur Fleck to Joker, Batman’s eventual nemesis.

But I can say with pride that the movie left me satisfied when it came to finally giving the world an origin story to the Joker, whose background, until now, has been just as mysterious as it was the day he made his debut in 1940. We have been given a gritty presentation of a vulnerable man coping with mental illness clashing against a society that has so often kicked him while he was down (literally at one point). Robert de Niro delivers, as he always does, this time as the bully talk show host who exploits Arthur’s desperate desires to make the world smile, but while Zazie Beetz (best known from Atlanta and Deadpool 2) gave an acceptable performance, we need to acknowledge that it is because her role could have been made bigger than what she was left presented as a brief girl-next-door love interest.

So I must admit that I am hesitant to give this film a definitive, case-closed review due to my poor judgement with IT, but I can say that I would highly recommend seeing it if you have a chance. The movie may hold up, or it may very well dwindle into a disappointment, but hey, you might as well get a look while you can.

Best Time of the Year for Movies

If anybody were to ask what is the best time of year for movie fans, the assumption would be from October to January, as one would reach the conclusion that it is award season and everybody wants to familiarize themselves with what will potentially be nominated. As a movie fanatic, I must correct you by saying that is bullshit. The award shows are nothing but parties for Hollywood A-listers, and one can never hold the Oscars as the maxim for defining superior movies. Can one really say that Chariots of Fire is superior to the first Indiana Jones installment, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie it defeated at the 54th Academy Awards? Or that Dances with Wolves is better than GoodFellas? Or, the most obvious, How Green Was My Valley is a cut above Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece that is considered the greatest movie ever made?

If it is not award season, then what can it be? Summer for the blockbusters? No. Just because it is popular does not guarantee a good experience. Christmas? No, Christmas is the time of year that I always hope passes by the quickest, due to the fact that I have worked three seasons in retail… Okay, maybe that one is subjective, but it’s my blog so we will continue with my proposal.

The best time of year for movie fans has to be September and October. Why? Halloween. And Halloween is horror movie season.

The movies, along with so many other forms of storytelling, serve as a means to satisfy our natural desire for adrenaline-related sensations. This is evident in our forms of play, which is seen in all animals. We, humans, have the ability to introduce creative aspects to our forms of conflict. All stories most require some obstacle to be overcome, otherwise nobody would pay attention. Hitchcock summed it up perfectly by saying “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out.” The Master of Suspense also brought up how many times a woman will share that she went to the movies and had a “good cry”, and if it had been a “bad cry” she would not have paid the money for the ticket. We love to play with our emotions. The grandness of the conflict can range from finding the missing groom in time for the wedding, as seen in The Hangover, or saving an entire civilization in the fight against the personification of evil, as seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nobody wants to encounter danger or drama in real life, but when we know that we, ourselves, are safe, imagining some character being confronted with conflict gives us pleasure, but not in a sadistic way (though maybe there are some folk out there who do think like that).

And what better way to experience a rush of adrenaline than a common theme throughout horror movies: the endurance and survival through an interaction with a terrifying force? Whether the conflict has a miserable or happy ending, or whether we are watching for the first time or the hundredth time, we simply want to experience that rush that comes with this simulation of emotions.

I have seen The Shining countless times that I know the story every which way. But I love watching Jack Nicholson descend from family man to madman, and the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel trying to take control of Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd as they flee Jack’s rage, and I observe something new every occasion.

But horror movies work in September and October because it is Halloween season, and it is festive to be scary. Again, none of us like to be scared in real life, but when we know it’s all arranged/play/or not real, we love it. But none of this excitement happens with Christmas, either. Sure, people like to delve into magic and wonder, but it does not give us the rush of a horror film. And I include the month of September because I believe that Halloween, as a season, deserves more than 31 days (at best).

As the season goes by, I plan on re-watching all of my favorite scary movies. From mainstream Hollywood’s earliest scares with the Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Mummy), to the pioneering Psycho, the one horror flick to win the Best Picture Oscar (The Silence of the Lambs), to the obscure masterpieces such as The Changeling (not the 2008 movie with Angelina Jolie, I mean the ghost story with George C. Scott), Suspiria, Night of the Demon, and one of my favorite silent films: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s begin to scare ourselves beyond comprehension to get that natural rush that all living animals experience! May we look to Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula greeting us as this season starts as he says “I bid you welcome!”

No Excitement for Star Wars

2015 was all about Star Wars for me. It was the year in which Disney would release their first installment on the Galaxy Far, Far Away since purchasing Lucasfilm back in 2012. This would be following what happened after Return of the Jedi, we had no idea what was coming next. It was not a prequel, in which we had a rough idea what would happen, just not the minute details and how’s. Two important highlights of the year for me were in April and October, in which new trailers were released. And when the movie, Episode VII- The Force Awakens, was released that December, I was more than satisfied, and I began to ponder what would happen next.

Now it is September, 2019. Episode IX- The Rise of Skywalker, will hit theaters in three months. And let me be frank: I worry that I don’t care.

I fell in love with the Skywalker saga when I was just five-years-old. I cannot tell you the countless items of merchandise I have owned over the years, from toys, costumes, books, models, collectables… Certain collectables include Force FX Lightsabers, and there would always be a disclaimer printed on the box: “Do not play with. These are collectables, not toys”. Well, then do not sell it at Toys R’ Us! (a relic of the past now)

There is no passion. There is no excitement. Why? Just three words are needed: The Last Jedi.

When the first trailer was released in April of 2017, I was caught up in excitement. And above all: confusion. Luke Skywalker stated in the trailer “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” WHATTTT???? Holy shit! I, like millions of others, began speculating what this was all about, and was anxious to see the movie then and there.

But as time went by, I started to learn more about how different this movie was from the rest. I could not forget how Mark Hamill shared that he confronted Rian Johnson, the writer and director, that he could not disagree any more passionately with the direction he was taking with this movie. However, he stated he got that off his chest and needed to proceed with helping Johnson bring his vision to life. Then when the full length trailer was released in October, I was warned on social media not to watch the trailer, as it would give away spoilers, but I eventually caved in and watched it, not noticing anything that had me thinking I could predict where the movie would go.

I finally saw the movie with my brother and a childhood friend of ours, and we were chatting afterwards about all the expectations that came from fan theories about the backgrounds of Rey and Snoke being completely different… Well, there were not any differences, there were no explanations for their backgrounds. I chuckled thinking of the hardcore fan theorists who were let down by this installment.

I noticed something was different this time. I was putting up an effort to like this movie when I was reflecting on what I had just seen. This lasted for not even a month until I conceded to myself: I hated it.

I had countless complaints about the movie. The character Admiral Holdo, the Canto Bight storyline serving no purpose except promoting an anti-rich people agenda, the use of flashbacks, Johnson attempting to make the characters morally ambiguous, and above all: killing off Snoke and saying Rey had no important backstory.

The Force Awakens left us scrambling left and right to understand who this mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke was, on top of who are Rey’s parents? This mysterious man (or whatever species) who seduced the son of Han Solo to the dark side and create the First Order, the Galactic Empire’s successor, was tossed aside as trivial. Rey, who explained that she remained in Jakku waiting for the return of her family who left her there (who turned out to be self-centered people who sold her), and was abnormally powerful with the Force is, well, simply powerful. There is no explanation as to why this girl could rival Yoda without ever been trained in the slightest way. She just WAS.

I could go on and on, but I feel this has been tackled by many other commentators before. It would be akin to beating a dead horse. But the best way to describe it is that JJ Abrams enticed me to come towards him in this journey through the Skywalker saga with The Force Awakens, and then he allowed Rian Johnson to continue the tour, and Johnson, through The Last Jedi, proceeded to pull the rug out from under me, which caused me to collapse. I asked him to justify his actions, and he said: “Just because. This is how I’m running this tour now.”

However, there is one tragic aspect of why I am not excited for Episode IX: the death of Carrie Fisher. I was crushed to learn that she had passed, and worried about how they would handle Leia’s story arc now that Fisher was no longer with us. I fear that there is no way we can do her justice by keeping her in the story. Not only did we love her character, but we also loved Fisher as a personality, which was an unusual blend of motherly love with a raunchy, provocative sense of humor.

I am depressed as I ponder what to expect in The Rise of Skywalker. Fan theories exhaust me, but there is always room to wonder what will happen next without diving into all the small details in the previous movies for clues. Billy Dee Williams has returned as Lando Calrissian, but that still is not enough. C-3PO is seen with red eyes, indicating a potential turn to the Dark Side, and I just shrug it off. But the Emperor/Chancellor/Sith Lord Sheev Palpatine laughing in the background of the trailer? Man, I don’t even know what to expect.

After the disaster of The Last Jedi, I pray that with JJ Abram’s return to the helm, The Rise of Skywalker will make up for the disappointment I have been experiencing for over twenty-one months. I have often re-watched the final scene from The Force Awakens: Rey has found legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker in self-imposed exile, and offers him his old lightsaber as his eyes widen in bewilderment… A PERFECT SETUP FOR THE NEXT MOVIES!

Only to see Luke toss the lightsaber behind him in a comedic manner and sulk past Rey.

This? This is what we were waiting for? That’s what that amazing setup was all about?

That was not funny, Johnson, that was a let-down! It depresses me to think that this is now how the story continues. There have been countless petitions to pull The Last Jedi from the canon and re-do Episode VIII. Unfortunately, this will be impossible without our beloved princess/general. We have no choice, this is how the story must continue.

In a strange manner, I echoed Leia’s immortal words: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!” thinking that Kenobi’s spirit was out there somewhere, and that those who had passed on to the Force could intervene and save this saga.

My brother, who is an even bigger fan than me, insists that we should give it more time, and that it will eventually be recalled in a nostalgic manner, as people are being kinder to the prequels over a decade after their release. There are still numerous valid criticisms, though, but perhaps he is right? But in this moment, my optimism has been drained. I pray that The Rise of Skywalker will provide the. joy and wonder that these movies have given me since I was in Kindergarten

“IT: Chapter Two”- Practically Gospel for Horror Movies

Amazing. Just amazing. That is the simplest description I can give for IT: Chapter Two. Although I had never read the whopping 1,000+ page novel, I could tell throughout the screening that this adaptation was just what Stephen King, Pennywise, and the Losers deserved.

IT: Chapter Two follows up on the events of Chapter One, set twenty-seven years further. We come back on the group of outcast pre-teens who have aptly labeled themselves “the Losers”, who return to their hometown of Derry, Maine upon learning that the mysterious entity that they refer to as “IT” has returned, who commonly portrays itself as Pennywise the dancing clown, in one last attempt to defeat It for good.

The film is incredibly layered, so my review will not cover much of the events and the portrayals. But I can say that this was done incredibly well. Throughout the movie, I had a clear understanding of who the characters were through and through. That is one of King’s talents: he creates phenomenal characters. Every actor gave a stellar performance, and our attention will always be drawn towards Bill Hader as comic relief Richie (who has conveniently grown up to become a comedian). But make no mistake: Hader nails it with the fear and desperation aspects. Not only that, the movie contains fantastic scares (if you are into such things) that had me saying to myself in a shaken and impressed manner: “Damn!”

I have seen the 1990 miniseries with Tim Curry as Pennywise, so I knew what to expect as the movie progressed, but I feel I would have enjoyed it even more had I read King’s novel. I worry about attempting to read It now, as I believe I will not be able to shake the actors from my mind as I delve into the original story.

This is a MUST SEE if you love a good movie of any genre. It is an even further necessity if you are a horror fan, almost as if it were canonical in a Horror Bible. Even if you shy away from scary movies, I definitely encourage you to find the bravery to sit through the entire two hours and forty-nine minutes.

“M” (1931): a Necessary (and easily accessible) Watch

This is a movie that remains one of my favorites, and has influenced numerous filmmakers over the ages, including William Friedkin (director of The French Connection and The Exorcist), sits on IMDb’s Top 250 Movies chart at no. 84, is available through the Criterion Collection, and yet almost nobody I know has heard of it. (Okay, most people aren’t familiar with the Criterion Collection, I just threw that in there to add another accolade. But by the time you’ve started reading my blogs, I hope you will become of fan of Criterion)

Consider your ignorance over as I share this masterpiece of a thriller with you: M (yes, just the letter “M”), dated from 1931 Germany in the years leading to the rise of the Nazis. Its director was Fritz Lang, who created the iconic and groundbreaking silent sci-fi, Metropolis. It also helped launch the international career of Peter Lorre, who at that time was known as a comedic figure for German cinema.

What drew me to this movie were three separate aspects:

  1. The title- I scrolled through IMDb’s Top 250 and found it listed as a single letter of the alphabet. It was unique in that it stuck out from the others on the list that contained traditional poetic or literary figures of speech.
  2. The poster- The image I have attached is the original poster from its theatrical release, which depicts the letter “M” printed on the palm of a hand. Like the title, this had a mysterious element to it, and made it all the more fascinating. And finally…
  3. The plot description- I was immediately sold after reading the brief description of the events that transpired throughout the movie. That served as the final incentive to eventually find the movie and watch it.

Perhaps I should stop going on and on about my discovery of this obscure but important movie and finally share its plot with you: a serial killer who preys on children is on the loose, and the police are unable to catch him. Suffering from the immense crackdowns that are interfering with their way of life, the career criminals and gangsters decide to join in on the manhunt and rid the streets of the monster.

What made the movie so powerful for me were the techniques that are used throughout its run, constantly using suggestive themes. Val Lewton really pioneered the thought that it was not what you saw that made something terrifying, it was what you didn’t see. Though I am not a fan of Lewton’s films and consider them overrated, I believe he hit the nail on the head with this one.

The opening scene perfectly sets up the environment of its setting: a city’s population is on its edge due to the mysterious killer’s deeds. A mother brushes it off and waits for her daughter, Elsie, to come home from school. Elsie is seen walking down the streets dribbling a ball, and proceeds to throw it against a newsstand that has a sign on it advertising for any information people may have on who the killer’s identity is. Suddenly the shadow of a man covers the ad, and asks the girl her name. The scene cuts back and forth from Elsie and her mother, as the stranger buys her a balloon and her mother anxiously awaits her daughter, who is now hours late. Finally she desperately calls for her from the window, and we then see Elsie’s ball rolling through an empty field and her balloon caught in telephone wires.

“DAMN!!!!” I thought as I watched this for the first time. What a way to terrify somebody! It had me imagining myself in such a horrific scenario. This immediately sets the tone of fear and anger for the rest of the movie.

But on top of the fantastic depiction of a manhunt, the movie also delves into the legal and moral concept of culpability, as Lorre’s character, the killer Hans Beckert, passionately pleas that he is compelled to commit his crimes that he is ashamed of. There is also a play on how passion clouds one’s judgement, and what are we really seeking: justice or revenge?

Apart from the fantastic story and performances, one has to also appreciate the technical accomplishments of M, which was released in 1931 as sound was gradually entering the mainstream movie industry. Many techniques are sound-oriented, such as a car honking its horn or a telephone ringing, as the main way to direct everything prior to the introduction of sound was through visual means. The director would no longer have to use a visually creative manner to depict characters being spooked by somebody yelling in a separate room, the director can just insert the audio recording of the yelling actor in the editing room, or simply record the actor there on the set. In fact, Hans Beckert’s theme for his presence, even when we don’t see him or recognize him, is his whistling of In the Hall of the Mountain King, a technique that had traditionally been used in operas.

If I’ve succeeded in winning your fascination of this movie, and if you have two free hours on your hands, then I suggest you find a way to watch it. Due to certain clauses in copyright law, you can easily access it through YouTube. Not pay for viewing on YouTube, I’m talking about a traditional user uploading it as if it were their own video.

So what are you waiting for? You don’t have any more excuses! Find some time to sit down and watch M! You’ll definitely thank me for it, later.


(this essay is what I’d consider an improvised theory, in that I propose the question/theory and attempt to answer it as I write it)

This coming Friday, September 6, we will see the highly anticipated “IT: Chapter Two”, the film depiction of the second half of Stephen King’s iconic novel. The first installment depicting the first half of the novel proved to be exactly what viewers (and readers) were looking for, and it seems that Chapter Two will reach the same heights, based on early reviews (I’m really looking forward to Bill Hader’s performance as older Richie, whom I hear steals the show).

This could be considered a remake of the 1990 miniseries adaptation of King’s novel that includes Tim Curry as the title character’s personification as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The miniseries proved to be a success, and helped cement Pennywise and the fictional Derry, Maine further into pop culture. But that was TV, and aren’t we talking about movies? Of course, and I must ask (as a form of devil’s advocate) do I really want to blur the lines between different mediums of art, such as TV and film? I have made this distinction several times, such as with big screen adaptations of Stephen King’s other masterpiece, “The Shining”, and JRR Tolkien’s magnum opus “The Lord of the Rings” when it comes to addressing the fans of the books who were critical of the movies.

TV generally allows for more time to tell the story, while movies are generally limited to single installments. However, exceptions can be made, such as splitting “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” into two separate films, as well as making a trilogy of “The Hobbit”. “IT” proves to be an example of this exception, and it could have been done as a series on HBO if the filmmakers wanted to do so. But it seems there is more status in getting a story onto the big screen. After all, that was one of Warden Gentles’ severe criticisms of aspiring entertainer Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development: he’s not a coward, but a “television actor”.

But so often filmmakers attempt to take an iconic story, familiar or unfamiliar, and present a new take on it. Why exactly do they continue to do this? We have countless adaptations of Biblical stories, A Christmas Carol, and Shakespeare, yet nobody bats an eye. Perhaps it is because these stories having already existed for hundreds of years, prior to the invention of film, and would often be retold in innumerable forms, but not one singular and easily accessible piece like a movie? But when we learn that somebody is remaking On the Waterfront, everybody loses their minds! (Wait a minute, was I just channelling Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the Joker? Oh, that’s another example of multi-medium adaptations). Movies are bigger projects that require higher investment than that of theatre or television, for the most part, and they are easier to advertise. Perhaps that is why original movies, or even adaptations of novels written in the twentieth century onwards, are easier to etch into stone as THE version of the story, the standard.

Very few times do remakes succeed. The Departed was a remake of a Hong Kong thriller, Internal Affairs, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty (nominated for the Best Picture Oscar). For the most part, however, remakes fail miserably, such as the 2006 version of The Omen (which was probably made to cash in on the June 6th, 2006 release date [06-06-06]), and Gus Van Sant’s 1998 version of Psycho.

Maybe we do this because we go into the film industry with the attitude of stage and print media that existed for millenniums before: every adaptation is its own different version, so there will be multiple takes with good and bad qualities? However, we have not realized that movies are held to a different standard than that of the stage for millenniums, in that the movie is easily accessible and not dependent on your location or time of existence. A stage version of Hamlet performed in 1940s San Francisco is different from Reservoir Dogs, eternally accessible (unless it becomes “lost”).

Theatre is different. There innumerable versions of Eugene O’Neill’s plays can be performed until the end of time, but when it comes to the movies it will be 1962’s version of Long Day’s Journey into Night that will be the standard. A Streetcar Named Desire will dominate theatres all around the world, but people will take aim at any film version that does not include Marlon Brando’s perfect performance as Stanley Kowalski. To Kill a Mockingbird, however, has been adapted to film (though I personally dislike it), and is in the midst of a powerful run as a Broadway drama. The same can be said of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (this one I love) and has appeared on the stage many times before and after the film version.

It occurs to me that remakes are just quintessential for art, but it is nearly impossible in the film industry, as one movie captures an entire generation around the world, and those viewers will more than likely be disappointed when the inevitable remake comes along.


When I was a child, I was often told I was obsessed with movies. People would roll their eyes when I referenced a certain title. The thought that must have run through their minds was: “This kid must have no life.”

But during my junior year of high school, I took a course, “Survey of Film”, and it finally gave me a justification: “Cinema (not “movies”) is an art.” It gave me a whole new way to watch movies, and opened this world for me even further, and gave me a whole new appreciation. A reverence, perhaps?

I came to the realization that folks like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese were not just “really good directors”. No, they were geniuses in this genre of art. Centuries later, scholars would look back at these men who had been entertaining me and rank them alongside Mozart and Picasso.

I learned that there were many other legends that I needed to familiarize myself with: Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa. Not only would I need to familiarize myself with mainstream legends, I would need to search for international artistic directors that people in my inner circle most likely would never have heard of if it had not been for me referencing them: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Fritz Lang, and Jean-Luc Goddard.

I’ve come to understand that the best metaphor for cinema is that of a city. Upon your first visit, you head to the most popular destination, the basics that could be described as Looney Tunes, Disney, and Lucasfilm (well, the latter two are now synonymous, I’m talking pre-2012 acquisition) that we were introduced to as children. When you return for your next visit after maturing you are able to gain familiarity with the local culture: think Hitchcock and other such legends. When you fully move in, you find the niches around your corner, or seek out the places that provide you with an adventure along the way: think Criterion Collection. And then there are some places you just don’t want to go anywhere near: think pornography… or maybe the Twilight Saga.

So, we have come to the vast City of Cinema, and I implore you to let me be your guide as we wander this wonder of the world…