Categories
3 Stars Movies

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

The key ingredient that made 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok one of the MCU’s most entertaining entries was it’s director Taika Waititi. The first two Thor films (mainly the second one) should almost be embarrassed when compared to the third, because the character was given a big injection of the unique semi-quirky humor that Waititi is known for.

 Five years (and one Infinity War) later, the director has returned with Thor: Love and Thunder. It has the director’s touch, but it is lacking some of his magic.

Categories
4 1/2 Stars Movies

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Of all sports, car racing is easily the one I have had the least knowledge or interest in. That is not to say I hate the sport, just that various factors in my life have made me unmoved by the idea of fast car driving. The same can be said for me about cars in general (when ever people ask me what type of car I drive, my immediate reaction is “Silver”). Up until seeing Ford v. Ferrari, I did not even consider that race cars would be equipped with windshield wipers. Aside from names like Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, the most I know about racing was that the cars did not shoot off red turtle shells or banana peels.

Like all good sports movies, Ford v Ferrari is about much more than just the sport. It is about the drama (and sometimes comedy) behind the scenes. In 1966, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides to put all that the company has to making a new car that kids today would like. After failing to merge with the Ferrari company and having his character insulted (“he called you fat, sir”), he vows to beat Ferrari at the 24 hour le mans in France. Enter retired race car driver/car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon). He brings in his long time friend Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as the lead driver, though some at the corporate office do not like Ken’s attitude.

I have yet to mention the rest of the stellar cast, all of whom fill their roles perfectly. Two of the key roles of the film are Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) and Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), both assistants to Mr. Ford. It was Iacocca who initially came up with the idea for the Ford company to have a new racing program, though Beebe was against it. As an actor, Bernthal has been known for playing really tough guy roles (he was The Punisher on Netflix, as well as Shane in AMC’s The Walking Dead). Here, it is a rather subdued, kinder performance, and rather impressive at that. Lucas, on the other hand, is nothing short of a brownnoser. He is sneaky, slimey, and so believable you want to have someone just punch him in the face.

There is also nice work from Caitriona Balfe as Ken’s wife Mollie and the very talented young actor Noah Jupe (who was the son in A Quiet Place) as Ken’s son Peter.

Undoubtedly, the key component that keeps the film afloat is the on screen chemistry bromance of Damon and Bale. Damon has always had star quality (sorry if you are reading this, Jimmy Kimmel), and Bale has yet to show me a bad performance. Each are struggling with their own personal demons (Shelby had to quit racing for health reasons and Miles is having IRS issues). They truly have moments of sharpening one another (bringing Proverbs 27:17 to mind). One of the more comical scenes of the film comes when Carroll tries to apologize to Ken, only to get a good sock in the nose. Soon, they are both wrestling each other (as Mollie brings a chair out to watch). In other words, it is not two enemies duking it out, but each friend unleashing inner feelings at each other.

Another key scene to the film involves Carroll and Ford, in which Ford suddenly breaks down in tears. At first, this seems really funny, only to realize it is somewhat symbolic to the Ford dynasty. It is rather brilliant done by Letts.

Perhaps the film’s stand out star is the director, James Mangold. Some of his previous work includes the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line (with Joaquin Phoenix), 2007’s underrated Western 3:10 to Yuma (with Bale and Russell Crowe), and 2016’s Logan, which gave us an uncanny swan song performance by Hugh Jackman. There are hardly any current directors who can make films like he does that display real authentic grit (sometimes literally) and poetic backbone. 

As is the case with all great directors, he knows that action sequences are only part of the movie, not the main part. That is not at all to say that the racing scenes are sub par. In fact, they are nothing short of riveting.

Parents, the film is rightly rated as PG-13. While there is plenty of drama, the rating is mainly due to swearing, but nothing that a typical middle schooler would not hear in the hallways. There are no sex scenes of any kind.

I have never seen a 24 hour le mans event (or any car race for that matter), but I can imagine it has a sense of surrealism. The same can be said about this film, which is indeed long at two and a half hours. Still, the movie reminds us that races are not always about who gets to the end first, but the trip taken there in the first place.

Overall:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Categories
4 1/2 Stars Movies

Joker (2019)

One of the key aspects of the clown prince of crime was that we never really knew his backstory, which is why I was very hesitant (as I am sure others also were) to here we would be getting an origin story on a character that is possibly the greatest comic book villain ever (certainly the most popular).

In a sort of preparation for Director Todd Phillips’ (known for R rated comedies like 2009’s The Hangover) new Joker film,  I decided to revisit two films: one that was an inspiration to this current film and another that was one of the very first to galvanize the character in general. The former was Martin Scoresese’s 1976 classic Taxi Driver, about a man (played by Robert De Niro) who is basically shunned by the public despite wanting to “clean up” the garbage of the city. The second (and lesser known) was the 1928 silent german film The Man who Laughs, a story (from Victor Hugo) that tells about a man who has been surgically disfigured to always be smiling (I recently posted a picture of Conrad Veidt, the actor in the titular role,  to social media, and I still got friends saying that it is eerie, even over nine decades later).

The film opens in Gotham, where we meet a struggling Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). He works on the side as a clown, as he keeps his dream somewhat alive of trying to be a stand up comic, like his hero, talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Arthur is indeed a kind man, but troubled to the core. We learn right away he has a certain disease (somewhat like tourettes) where he can’t stop laughing. It is clear that this laughter is desperately trying to hide unimaginable pain. Despite some nice co-workers, the only guiding light in Arthur’s life is his mother Penny (Frances Conroy), and the potential to go talk more with his crush in the apartment down the hall, single mother Sophie (Zazie Beetz).

The plot of the film is light and easy to follow, as Penny is trying to get Arthur to help her get a hold of her former boss, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who is currently running for Gotham Mayor. Yet the film is not about plot so much as it is about witnessing an tragic life event. In this case, it is the clear descent into madness that Arthur undertakes. The film will require more than one viewing, but the first viewing will undoubtedly be (as it was in my case) focused on one thing: the performance by Joaquin Phoenix.

The role of the Joker has been played by many actors over the years: Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill (voice only, but still brilliant), Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto. Of those, Ledger is the one who has probably had the most impact (he won a posthumous Oscar for the role he had in 2008’s The Dark Knight). It is a role that demands to have an actor who is has the ability to be give a chameleon effect in their approach, and make us realize that we are not watching an actor (think of actors like Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, and my personal favorite, Daniel Day-Lewis).

Phoenix also qualifies, and is simply astounding in this film. He even is given more work to do than Ledger had. Ledger’s Joker was already past the point of redemption, and was a sociopathic madman. When we first meet Phoenix, we can’t help but sympathize with him at times, as someone who has been shunned from society and left to the wolves.

Parents, this is not a movie for kids. While there is mild nudity (the joke book that Arthur keeps is filled with some cut outs of naked models from magazines), it more than makes up for it in the swearing and violence. That is not to mention the exuberant dark tone the film even after you left the theater. High School and above.

There is no clear cut answer to what type of mental issues that Fleck/Joker has (though it is safe to say there are many). The real question is how we react to someone with these issues. I am not trying to excuse the actions he exhibits, but trying to understand why he does them in the first place. At the core of it all, Arthur just wants some guidance, a soul to connect with (Sophie is one example). When we push those who are “different” from us away, it damages them in ways we can’t imagine.

Most of the scenes do work, but some that fail (not sure we needed another rendition of the outcome of Bruce’s parents). One that caught me off guard was when Fleck goes to try and talk to Thomas Wayne, and encounters his young son Bruce (Dante Pereira-Olson). The jury is still out for me on this scene, but I would be lying if I said it did not give me goosebumps. I am sure there are a lot of people who will find this movie to speak out to them in some political way, but I was not looking at that. I was simply watching what happens when we forget to love our neighbor.

That, and one of the year’s best performances.

Send in the awards.

Overall:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.