We’re celebrating Queer, Black, Female voices in Hollywood. It’s still Pride Month, people, drop us a Thumbs Up and show you care!
Cineplex is offering Canadians a whole bunch of movies that speak to the black experience for free this month – check here for a complete list – and this is one of them, as it should be. I hadn’t seen it since it was released in theatres and Sean hadn’t seen it at all.
It’s been 7 years since this movie came out, but I still remember how deeply it had moved me, saddened me, enraged me, which is why a part of me wasn’t super keen to revisit it. And another part of me was disgusted by that part’s response: the suffering and inherent iniquity of my fellow human beings makes me uncomfortable because IT SHOULD. My ancestors helped create this mess, my privilege benefits from it, and my inaction maintains it.
Oscar Grant III was just 22 years old when he was shot by a white cop while lying face down on the ground. It’s been nearly 12 years since his death signaled a significant problem in policing, and nearly 12 years since we’ve continued to allow our darker skinned friends to die for their melanin. The problem has of course existed as long as policing has; American law enforcement was built in the wake of slavery as a new way to round up black bodies and extort free labour from them, but only in this century has the presence of cellphones allowed these shootings to be captured on film. Grant’s name joins a long list of black men and women murdered by police.
Fruitvale Station is the first feature length film by director Ryan Coogler and his first collaboration with Michael B. Jordan – but not his last. His next film, Creed, gives Rocky fans (and Rocky himself) a strong black protagonist to root for, an extension of Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) legacy, but also a modern American hero for a new audience to look up to. Coogler’s next film takes that premise to an even greater height with Marvel’s first black super hero movie, Black Panther. Through Wakanda, Coogler explores themes of responsibility and identity. He casts Jordan as Killmonger, the fearsome but ultimately sympathetic villain. He helps T’Challa realize that Wakanda’s relative strength and power means they owe something to their neighbours in need, a message that seems not to permeate stubborn white audiences.
Cineplex and other streaming services are also offering another Michael B. Jordan super hero movie for fee this month: Just Mercy. Bryan Stevenson is a real-life African American lawyer who helps wrongfully convicted death row prisoners. Just Mercy is further proof that Michael B. Jordan is himself a black idol, and a major, bankable Hollywood star, living up to his name’s GOAT status.
Black Lives Matter: because of course they do. It’s a statement that feels crazy to have to make, which only makes me realize to a further degree how crazy it must be to have to live it. We support the movement 1000%, without reservation. We are only a little movie channel and we are trying to be better allies by listening and learning. To that end, we humbly offer up a few movies, many of which can be streamed for free, that focus on the black experience.
Everywhere, there are rainbows, co-opted to bring hope and cheer to a world self-isolating from a deadly virus. Normally, a rainbow spotted in June meant Pride Month was being celebrated and acknowledged. This June, however, things are more sedate. Pride events have been cancelled, or moved online at best, to be observed virtually, from one’s home computer. Except home isn’t always a safe space for queer folk. Many have been forced back in the closet, or back into the wrong gender’s clothes and pronouns for the duration, not daring to risk being caught on the wrong website, further isolating an already marginalized population. This pandemic has deprived the queer community of the few safe spaces they can comfortably exist in their own skin: queer bars, sexual health spaces, support groups. Worse still, many of these spaces were already teetering on the brink of inadequate funding when COVID forced shut downs. Many will not reopen. In fact, many queer and trans services rely on Pride Month events for essential fundraising, especially since members of the LGBTQ community were already at higher risk for unemployment, food insecurity, and lack of insurance even before the pandemic hit.
Most of all, though, a pride event is about visibility. It’s about celebrating the victories and honouring the sacrifices and acknowledging the gaps. It’s about giving people a sense of community and belonging. There are still countries where homosexuality is illegal, and even punishable by death. But even many “progressive” countries are still getting it wrong; Trump’s Affordable Care Act rule would allow health care to discriminate against LGBTQ people, the Supreme Court is deciding whether employers can fire people just for being queer or trans, the UK’s Women and Equalities Minister has considered revising the Equality Act to keep trans women out of women’s spaces.
If you are cis and straight, do your part to create and maintain safe online spaces for queer people. Reach out to queer friends and ask if they are really okay. And check out some queer stories because yes, representation matters.
A short list of a rare genre: happy LGBTQ movies
I know that you are attempting to adapt the great unadaptable Dune. I know that you are a strong and capable director – in fact, among the very best. I trust you. Blade Runner 2049 was a sci-fi masterpiece, aloe to my burning worries. But having recently rewatched David Lynch’s 1984 Dune, I do have some thoughts:
- Do people really need to be so sweaty? It’s unclear whether this was an artistic choice or simply the result of filming in the Mexican desert, but either way, get some blotting papers and use them. Vigorously.
2. This story takes place in the year 10 000++ (I can’t remember exactly, but it’s far, far into the future). Why does the future look so much like the past? And I don’t mean the 1980s, when it was filmed, although obviously it does bear those marks as well. I mean the 18th century – many of the gowns look extras wandered in from the set Amadeus. I cannot imagine a version of the future where women embrace hoop skirts again. And the Duke uses a ring to make his wax seals, you know, for “security” because apparently we moved so far beyond digital fingerprints and retinal scans we’ve landed back at wax. And for that matter, how is it that they can travel through space but they can’t send an email?
3. And for that matter, on the 80s theme…I get that you were living in heady times, David Lynch. You had so many new effects at your fingertips. In just two years time, with every motherfucker with a Panasonic camcorder doing it, you may have relied less on those extravagant wipes. You might have held back on the layering of images if you watched just a little more MTV. Every time the image of a gently weeping man was super-imposed over the image of a barren desert, I expected a power ballad to chime in. And despite a soundtrack from Toto, none ever did. Sheesh.
4. The flying fat suit. I really, really just could not. It reminded me of a hybrid between Mad Max: Fury Road’s Immortan Joe and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’s Violet when she blows up like a blueberry. It’s gross, it’s painful, at times just downright silly, and always, always incredibly unnecessary. Please omit.
5. Also: the eyebrows? Not feeling them. I mean, even if in the future we decide to take faces in a whole new direction, I’m not sure teased, bushy eyebrows would be the look, even if it were possible, which it is not. I can assure you that Sean has not even once in his life groomed his eyebrows, and though they are wiry, unkempt, and disastrous, they are not six inches long because there is just a limit on how long eyebrows will grow before they fall out. That’s just life. And frankly, I think any society should work harder at getting email back before it looks into eyebrow growth hormones.
6. That codpiece though? Yeah, Sting’s codpieces are perhaps the one thing that worked. If I were you, Denis, I’d even look at getting Sting back.
7. I’m not dogging on Lynch. He’s a man of vision and I admire the attempt. I’ve read the book. The story is vast, and very engrossing. But to squeeze it into a two-hour film is just impossible. Movie-goers were even given cheat sheets with backstory, but still it’s not enough. How to retain the book’s essence without overpowering the story with detail? It’s nearly impossible, as Lynch discovered. Villeneuve has promised to break it up into at least 2 films, though Lynch would have expected to do the same and never got the chance after the first one’s failure (it made $31M against a $40M budget, actually Lynch’s most successful film, but still considered a flop). One thing’s for sure: 80% of the dialogue in the 1984 version is attributed to a character’s thoughts, which we hear out loud (or actually, whispered, though I can’t imagine why someone would whisper to themselves inside their own head). This constant narrative device was a major failing of the film and I hope like heck that between Villeneuve and his screenwriting conspirators, Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, the problem with have found a solution. A workable one.
New vs Old cast:
Timothee Chalamet role: Paul Atreides Kyle McLachlan
Rebecca Ferguson Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica Francesca Annis
Zendaya Chani Sean Young
Jason Momoa Duncan Idaho Richard Jordan
Josh Brolin Gurney Halleck Patrick Stewart
Oscar Isaac Duke Leto Atreides, Paul’s dad Jürgen Prochnow
Javier Bardem Stilgar Everett McGill
Dave Bautista Glossu ‘Beast’ Rabban Paul Smith
Stellan Skarsgard Baron Harkonnen (flying fuck) Kenneth McMillan
Charlotte Rampling Reverend Mother Sian Phillips
??? Princess Irulan Virginia Madsen
??? Feyd Rautha Sting
You can only pick one: who’s it gonna be?
p.s. Sean’s Rise of Skywalker review below.
Keanu Reeves day is officially slated for May 21 2021: the day both Matrix 4 and John Wick 4 will be released. But every day can be Keanu Reeves day, and perhaps every day should. He’s one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors and is almost undoubtedly one of the kindest. He typically shies away from the spotlight, even turning down an enormous paycheque for Speed 2 in favour of touring with his band and doing a small Canadian production of Hamlet, for which his performance was praised.
Dubbed the ‘Internet’s Boyfriend’, and occasionally ‘Sad Keanu,’ the whole world is concerned about his happiness, participating in ‘Cheer-up Keanu Day’ every June 15. Although he’s deeply private, he has publicly admitted to feeling lonely, which, combined with his tragic past (a girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, who was stillborn, and their grief resulted in a breakup, followed by her death in a car accident just months later), makes an irresistible lust bubble. Feast your eyes on:
Over the weekend, Sean and I did a 24 hour Star Wars movie marathon. That’s all 10 movies: Episodes I, II, III, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rogue One, Episodes IV-VIII, quite a recap going into Episode IX next week, a nice refresher. I’d only kinda seen Episodes I-VI before this – Sean made me watch them once, but I was pretty high on pain pills after a back surgery and clearly didn’t remember much. All I knew is that I really didn’t connect with them as much as people who’d grown up with them did.
Having now rewatched them properly, I think I know why I don’t love the original trilogy: it’s made for kids. So if you were a kid when you first saw it, you probably feel all warm and fuzzy toward it. But if, like me, you were a grown up, well, it’s harder to excuse a lot of its flaws. I was routinely unsettled by the characters’ coldness – every time there was a big battle, they’d immediately celebrate their victory with high fives and hugs all around, no word of sorrow for literally hundreds or thousands or a whole planetful of their friends who were just slaughtered. And the so-called romance is completely passionless. You’re telling me Han Solo is a cold fish? Really? I’m pretty sure a scoundrel like him would be making use of all the supply closets and cargo holds in the Millennium Falcon. I’d bet there’d be boxes of condoms falling out of every console on that ship. But what really gets me is the overly simplified concepts of Light and Dark. There’s good guys and bad guys and nothing in between. I thought Luke Skywalker was a bit of a wiener in Episode IV, but Mark Hamill grows him into a hero over the whole of the trilogy and I suppose George Lucas wanted to tell his fellow nerds: look, we can be heroes too. Darth Vader, meanwhile, is pretty much the epitome of villainry – the way he looks, talks, breaths, walks, it’s all so imposing and threatening. I love him as a bad guy and have a hard time getting over that he wasn’t the bad guy boss, and an even harder time understanding how quickly he was ‘turned’ by Luke in the end. I know that as a 6 year old, little Sean was relieved that Luke’s dad was now ‘good’ but big Jay (god I hope that doesn’t stick) feels quite conflicted about it. It’s just a little too easy, and unearned. Plus, the dude has slaughtered millions at this point. Sparing one hardly seems like adequate contrition.
Anyway, all that to say it’s a total relief when we finally get to the newer movies, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. They are so much more emotionally and thematically complex that I respond to them on a whole different level. They’ve made me cry, while the previous ones didn’t even make me feel. The Last Jedi in particular feels like a real triumph in cinema – after I saw it in theatres, it grew on me the more I thought about it, the more I traced the themes of failure and perseverance and hope and redemption. But it’s only now, having watched all of the films in quite succession, that I can truly appreciate all that this film accomplished. The Last Jedi is more or less Luke’s film. He’s been in exile but Rey tracks him down, determined to gain his help for the Resistance. But Luke denies her. He is a beaten up old man who just wants to be left in peace. He doesn’t want to fight anymore. The fight has gone out of him. He suffered a major setback in training his nephew, Ben. He couldn’t keep Ben from turning to the Dark side. It even brought out some Dark in Luke as he contemplated ending Ben before he could turn into Kylo Ren. Ever afraid of the Dark, Luke runs away in shame and sadness, to a quiet life of contemplation. He turns himself off from the Force. And he’s not the only one who is suffering. His sister Leia may still be fighting, but it’s taken a toll on her. Now she knows that even victories come with a cost. She is emotionally exhausted, and burdened. And that’s to say nothing of her son, whom she has lost. It was shocking in The Force Awakens to learn that Han and Leia shared a son, but losing him tore them apart, as grief does to so many parents in mourning. We see how much life has changed Han – still a plucky, trouble-making smuggler, but also a grieving father keening for even a glimpse of his fallen son. Luke too is changed – no longer the young boy filled with optimism and confidence. He has seen too much, suffered too much. His wisdom has made him weary. It’s hard to see Luke without hope, but it reminds us of his master Yoda – he too had exiled himself in the face of failure. In fact, he only broke his exile to train Luke. And now here we are, some 40 years later, with a new young Jedi and Luke is the teacher. A reluctant teacher, of course, because Luke has been so disillusioned he’s lost his faith, yet he can’t help but step up in exactly the way that his teacher did before him, even giving his life for Rey in the same way that Obi-wan did for him. When Luke’s cloak flutters empty to the ground it’s a direct call-back to Obi-wan’s own demise, and a brilliant cinematic moment.
I liked The Last Jedi for having the courage to show us failure. Every other movie (and by no means do I just mean Star Wars) shows us heroes facing down impossible odds and overcoming them. This is a new kind of test: how to get knocked down and get back up again. How to keep going in the face of failure. How to let go of the past. And these films mean that last bit in more ways than one, literally passing the torch between the older generation and the new, but teaching both that only by letting go can we truly move forward.
Video evidence of our movie marathon:
We went to see our little nephew play hockey on professional ice today. It was a fundraising effort for his team – we bought tickets to see the pro home team play, and then the kids took to the ice afterward. They got to walk onto the ice through fog, with swirling lights, have their names announced, and stood for the anthem. Then played a game with music breaks and the announcer throwing out goal credits, and our nephew rose to the occasion with a hat trick. It was a perfect way to spend our Saturday noon, except getting in and out of the parking garage was perfect hell. The arena was in the same area as a big open-air Christmas market and the whole thing meant we spent 30 minutes driving to the venue and 50 minutes waiting to park, and the exit process was looking to be just as harrowing only with more honking, so we got into our car, considered our options, and got back out to spend our time more wisely: paying for a movie that at least one of us had already seen.
[It’s awards season, so besides Frozen 2 and Last Christmas, which we’ve already seen, the theatres are packed with things one or both of us have seen previously at film festivals.]
Of our options, we went with Knives Out, even though we grabbed two of the last 5 seats in the theatre, which means we were watching from the front row and Daniel Craig’s head was horrible distorted.
The script, however, was just as delightful. So even though I’ve already given you a full review of the film here, I wanted to urge you, if you’re at all interested in this film, to check it out at the cinema. Our packed theatre was having so much fun, laughing out loud consistently, it’s such a great communal experience to laugh alongside your fellow hooman.
Sean and I both saw Joker at TIFF last month, at back to back screenings. We met up for lunch afterward (I believe we had a slight pause before seeing the Harriet Tubman movie) because boy did I have thoughts, comments, and questions, which I tried not to yell too loudly because: spoilers.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck in a totally new but not entirely unfamiliar way. He works as a professional clown (semi-professional, maybe? – he gets sent to hospitals or going out of business sales by a central booking agency that employs many other clowns besides) but dreams of becoming a stand-up comic. He’s not a great clown – he gets complaints a lot. Maybe it’s because he breaks clown rules with the way he does his makeup. Real clowns prefer to paint in large circles because pointy-ended makeup gives kids a subliminal fright. As you can see, Arthur paints both eyes and mouth with sharp ends, normally prohibited in the clown community. But there was another rule-breaker, historically. His name was John Wayne Gacy, and Joker’s makeup is likely a subtle nod toward this man, a serial killer who entertained kids on the side as Pogo the clown. He raped, tortured and murdered at least 33 teenage boys during the 1970s.
Arthur has a complicated relationship with his mother (Frances Conroy), with whom he lives. She’s not well, and depends on his support, meager as it is. She may be somewhat delusional because she writes long-winded letters about her poor living conditions to one-time employer Thomas Wayne, hoping his outrage will be enough to improve their circumstances. Until such a time, mother and son alleviate their suffering by cuddling up every night to watch their favourite late night talk show, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro).
Arthur is dangerously thin, but people aren’t just uncomfortable about his physical self. There’s also the laughing. He laughs often, and inappropriately. It’s a neurological condition, and he hands out cards to strangers to ease their discomfort when his laughing goes on just a little too long. Still, it gets him into trouble. Joker’s laugh is iconic, and Phoenix taps into something so deranged, so haunting, it’ll nail your feet to the floor. The laugh alone justifies casting him. It is at distinctive, different, perfect. Unforgettable. Scary as hell. It sounds almost painful for Phoenix and it sent shivers down my spine.
Meanwhile, Gotham City is a total shit show. Garbage is piling up everywhere, home to super rats that terrorize the city. It’s never explicitly stated, but I’m guessing it’s 1981. The clothes are very late 70s/early 80s, you can still smoke indoors, and both Blow Out and Zorro The Gay Blade are playing at the movies. People are starting to agitate. The city’s becoming increasingly dangerous. There’s an undercurrent of discontent. It isn’t safe. Arthur gets robbed, jumped, beaten. There’s a certain electricity in the air. We all know Joker to be a villain, but the way things are going, these people may see him as more of a hero. Kill the rich – that’s their slogan. Not a great time to be the Wayne family. But is Joker the symbol this rebellion needs?
Arthur Fleck is nobody’s idea of a hero. He’s a mentally unstable man. He’s been in psych wards. He takes 7 different kinds of meds but still feels bad all the time. He keeps a joke diary filled with suicidal thoughts. “The worst part of having a mental illness,” he writes, “is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” I’ve lost count of how many Jokers we’ve seen on screen now (feel free to help me out in the comments section if you can), but it truly feels like Phoenix doesn’t fuck with any of them. Truly, he and writers Todd Phillips and Scott Silver have created Arthur/Joker from the ground up. He is an amalgam of childhood trauma, torment, debasement. You really get the sense that if anything had gone even just a fraction differently, you’d end up with a different guy. Arthur’s natural reaction to the world isn’t insanity or violence or evil. He genuinely seems to want to bring joy to the world. He wants to make the people laugh. He is searching for a way in. He is searching, I suppose, for identity. For something that makes him real, makes him feel like there’s a reason why he exists. But for one reason or another, this guy just keeps slipping through the cracks. There’s nobody to help him. If one person had reached out when he needed it, this would be a very different story. And I suppose that’s why this movie is so good. It doesn’t feel like a comic book movie, it feels more like Taxi Driver. It’s a character study. This man feels unpredictable, and yet we know his ending. There is a surprising amount of tension for a movie that can really only end one way. But director Todd Phillips creates this constant sense of swirling stress and anxiety, this emotional tautness by repeatedly having Arthur reach out. He doesn’t want to be a weirdo, or a loner. He wants that same connection that we all do. But society is keeping its distance. He’s isolated. He’s forgotten and ignored. We have countless opportunities to save the world from the Joker but we never do – we fail Arthur Fleck. Does the film show empathy toward him? I suppose it does, in many ways. Or at least to people who fall through the cracks, who get left behind. Personally, I had a hard time feeling empathy toward his first victims. Arthur is a complex man living in some complex times. There is no single reason that tips him over into villainy. There are just an awful lot of cracks in the pavement. A chasm is bound to open up, which is maybe the scariest way to look at it. There is no vat of acid. Joker’s descent into madness, or crime, or evil, or whatever you want to call it – it’s grounded in reality.
Comic books and super hero movies tend to deal in quite general archetypes of good and evil. This makes the characters instantly recognizable as hero or villain, but it also serves to put a distance between audience and character because there is little to relate to. Todd Phillips’ Joker is much more layered, which means at times you’ll root for him, and other times you’ll be disgusted by him. It’s a push-pull that few actors could pull off, and it’s why Joaquin Phoenix, already one of this generation’s biggest and truest talents, deserves an Oscar nomination, and as of right now, I’d say even the win.
Joker, however, is not just a great performance. It’s a wonderful, thoughtful film, a send up to gritty character studies of another era. Todd Phillips has said “The goal was never to introduce Joaquin Phoenix into the comic book movie universe. The goal was to introduce comic book movies into the Joaquin Phoenix universe.” Goddamn I love that quote. I think it shows great appreciation for Phoenix’s body of work. This isn’t just another origin story, this is a deep dive into a man’s psyche. Phoenix tends to gravitate toward the broken and tormented, but they’re not one-dimensional. They are faceted individuals. Different actors have interpreted Joker in many ways: a fiend, a terrorist, a thug, a psychopath. But Joaquin Phoenix goes with something else: human.
So I wrote all of that last month, after seeing Joker at TIFF. Since then, certain media outlets have tried to whip up a story about possible violence at Joker screenings and whether this movie sends a terrible message. I have wondered whether I should contribute to that noise at all but find that I do have something to say about it. Feel free to debate.
- Does the movie treat the Joker too sympathetically? In a word: no. This is not the Joker from Batman comics. That Joker doesn’t exist yet. Arthur Fleck is a sad man with mental health problems. When he kills, he has a reason. None that justify the violence of course, but it’s not senseless or diabolical or insane.
- Is Joker gratuitously violent? Actually, no. There is some violence, of course, but compared to other films, relatively little – in fact, probably relatively little even compared to other Batman movies. This is primarily a character study, so a lot of the interesting stuff is introspective, in his head, as his character transforms.
- Is the film inviting violence from incels? Of course not. An incel, if you haven’t heard, is a man who believes himself to be INvoluntarily CELibate – ie, no one will sleep with him, and he blames it on some big female conspiracy. Incels have found each other in chat rooms and encourage each other to be nasty and wrong and gross, and angry toward women generally, and perhaps even violent toward them. They somehow think they are owed sex and even more confusingly, plot revenge for all the sex they aren’t getting. And somehow no one stops to think: this is why. This is why no one wants to date me. I am a creep. Women get a creep vibe from me, and they stay away because they sense I am an angry, dangerous dude. Maybe I should try…being nice? But the situation in the Joker movie doesn’t apply. There’s a woman he fixates on but even a criminally insane Arthur Fleck doesn’t blame her for his failures. He’s not an incel and I don’t think they even tread into that territory, so people trying to associate that with the movie are just being deliberately inflammatory.
- Let’s remember that this movie is only the Joker’s birth. He’s a Joker fetus. He isn’t a criminal mastermind. There is no Batman yet; Bruce is still just a boy and Arthur is just a man finding his identity on the dark side. Where society has rejected him, the underbelly accepts him and raises him up. Of course it’s intoxicating. And of course it’s wrong. But if we’re talking body count, he’s responsible for only a fraction of Blade, or The Bride, or Rambo, or Walter White’s. And if we don’t protest every instance of violence, why are we targeting Joker? Especially when we could instead read it as a plea for early intervention, as a workbook for reaching out to the Arthur Flecks instead of merely condemning the Jokers.