Written and directed by Kevin Smith, “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” is a comedy sequel to 2001’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back!”, but it’s also an update of sorts on the whole View Askew Universe of films that the “Clerks” movies originated back in the early 1990’s. This time around, infamous ne’er-do-wells Jay and Silent Bob are roped into traveling cross-country from New Jersey to Hollywood so they can stop the reboot of “Bluntman V Chronic” from using their likenesses (again). If that plot sounds overly familiar to “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” then you’ve got an idea where the comedy in this film is forged from.
Having been a fan of Kevin Smith’s work for some time now, I knew walking into the theater that “Reboot” would most likely be a funny self-aware jab at Hollywood’s never-ending remixing of popular IPs, maybe a few fun celebrity cameos, at least of those who could tolerate the cavalcade of genitalia jokes that comes with the territory. What I did not expect was that there was legitimate heart at the core of the movie, I won’t spoil it, but it was a nice surprise. Comedies like these typically work for me, but I happen to appreciate silly, dumb, immature humor, and crass wordplay and I’m well aware of all of the View Askew universe’s little easter eggs (Like Ralph Garman’s quick cameo, Smith’s podcast partner for “Hollywood Babble-On”), I think I even spotted Andy McElfresh from “Edumacation” in the background of one scene. Anyways, my point being that I fundamentally understand if these movies don’t work for you, but Kevin Smith is a personal hero to me in the filmmaking world, I may not always love everything he makes, but god damn does he go for the gold and he just never gives up.
What I found most fascinating about the film was the third act in particular. Smith may not have always been a consumer of marijuana when writing these characters in the past- but this is the first View Askew film since he’s began partaking in the herb- and the difference in depiction is notable. It was as if he took the whole of his crafted universe and meshed it all together, giving updates on everything from the aftermath of “Dogma” (My favorite Kevin Smith film) to tying up loose ends from “Chasing Amy” and nods to the “Clerks” films, even “Mallrats”. This addition to the View Askew universe felt right at home with previous films and yet expanded on these characters’ emotional depth, the sway of nostalgia, and a subtle sense of maturity emerging from those you expect least.
Oh, and holy guacamole the cameos! If you thought “Strikes Back” had a surprising amount of celebrity cameos, then this one will really blow your hair back. I won’t reveal any because spotting them and enjoying the ride are some of the best aspects of the movie. I’m happy to see Kevin Smith getting another film out there, and this is one of his best in years, in my opinion. I sincerely hope this film does well enough for him to gain leverage to finally make his “Clerks 3”, I need that film- No, America needs that film!
Written by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce and directed by David Leitch, “Hobbs and Shaw” is an action film spinoff from the Fast and Furious films chronicling the over-the-top antics of the Fast franchise’s two most memorable antagonists. Forced to work together to save the world from a MacGuffin that could inexplicably kill us all, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) must put their differences aside to track down the deadly super-soldier Brixton (Idris Elba) and stop him from implementing this nefarious plan. Once the duo are on the hunt they run into Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 agent on the trail of the very same viral MacGuffin and ends up injecting it in her own body to get away with the super-weapon. As you might expect, the movie is a loud, dumb, and highly entertaining series of action set-pieces with some vehicular mayhem thrown in for good measure.
Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are the reason to see this movie. Period. Their charisma, banter, and one-liners are pitch perfect and thoroughly entertaining throughout the whole runtime, no matter how massively stupid the plot or action sequences get (and trust me, they get VERY stupid). Vanessa Kirby was a pleasantly surprising addition to the cast offering, providing some solid action performing and that touch of heart you may need to remind you that you’re still human while watching this one. Though, admittedly, Hobbs’ scenes with his daughter (Eliana Sua) are damn cute, if fleeting. Charisma and Machismo are the fuel for this movie and everybody knows that, which is why I was overjoyed that Idris Elba let his performance as Brixton go so far over the top that it seemed appropriately cartoonish at times. Which is apt- this movie is an adult cartoon essentially, these super spies and international security agents are not men- but super heroes in suits and leather jackets. At least the movie is evidently self aware of it’s own absurdity- which forgives a LOT of it’s flaws and faults, for me anyways.
While the paper-thin (what are they doing again?) plot to save the world from imminent destruction may not be the most engaging, that’s not why anyone came to see this movie- at least it shouldn’t be. It’s all about the spectacle, set-pieces, and humor. If you enjoyed the older, but equally absurd, action movies of the 1980’s like “Commando”, “Rambo: First Blood Part 2”, “Robocop”, or “Top Gun” then you’ll likely get a kick out of this one. However, I must note that even a few of those movies I referenced have plotlines that are smarter than this one. There’s also a few fun surprise cameos that I won’t ruin for you, but they were delightful and perfect additions to this series.
The final act is a a complete mess when it comes to any kind of continuity. The final fight in Samoa has sequences of abject darkness in the early morning, to a raging storm, or a sunny day depending on the emotion they’re trying to convey for the shot. I have to say it’s absolutely ridiculous, but by this point they’ve earned the complete disregard of all reality. Whatever, I have no expectations of logic or physics at this point in the film series, I just want to be entertained with this completely fun and dumb guilty pleasure. While this film resides within the larger framework of “The Fast and Furious” world, I wouldn’t be surprised if this pairing became a franchise itself- I’d certainly go see a few more outings with these two powerhouse stars. There’s even rumors that Keanu Reeves may join a sequel if one musters up enough interest, and to that possibility I say, bring it on.
Written by Ethan Gross and James Gray and directed by Gray, “Ad Astra” is a sci-fi drama set in a not-so-far-off future that follows Brad Pitt as Roy McBride, the son of legendary astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Major Roy McBride is a member of Space Command, a N.A.S.A. inspired international organization that’s investigating a series of increasingly catastrophic power surges that have been rippling throughout the solar system. Early on in the film Roy is nearly killed by one of the surges while attending to some routine maintenance on the colossal space antenna. It’s a thrilling sequence as Roy falls from the heights of the atmosphere and calmly calculates how to survive the scenario, its a sequence of cold logic paired with intense visuals. The rest of the film may be slower over all, but its peppered with sequences that may catch you off-guard, and that’s part of the joy I found with “Ad Astra”. Yes, it’s a heady sci-fi with a huge amount of narration set mostly in space, but it’s also one that injects some compelling action and thrilling sequences throughout the course of the movie.
After surviving the fall Space-Com brings the dutiful former soldier in for what seems like a debriefing for the space antenna explosion, but is in reality a far more somber and urgent preamble. The brass at Space-Com inform Roy that they believe the source of the power surges fracturing the solar system to be originating from Project Lima, the exploratory vessel that his father Clifford captained out to Neptune’s orbit some years ago. It is a mission of utmost secrecy with deadly implications for Humanity if Roy fails to contact the potentially rogue Clifford- if he’s still alive. At every step of the journey Roy must take scheduled Psychological evaluation tests required by Space-Com, which act as strange confessionals that determine if he’s stable enough to journey farther. The mission, clearly a last ditch effort by Space-Com, is to send Roy to the Mars facility that houses the strongest signal generator left operational from the surges- to send a personal message to his father in the hopes of making contact with The Lima Project and her crew.
With this film and the summer’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”, this has become an excellent year for Brad Pitt performances. The two characters, Cliff Booth and Roy McBride, could hardly be more different though. While both are equally cool under pressure, Roy is a far more reserved character. He’s clinically cold to others and heavily contemplates his choices, actions, and past while on his journey. Which is why I so appreciated the efficient use of narration from Roy’s perspective, it can be tough to get narration down correctly without it over-staying its welcome, while also avoiding narrative redundancy. Here the narration serves to add depth, paired with Pitt’s minimalist performance, the film benefits from understanding how the character operates, especially as the story becomes intensely personal over time. The film excels at merging grand, expansive, visuals and score with a more intimate rumination on morality, duty, and the meaning of it all (i.e. Life). Which makes perfect sense as the film is almost wholly about duality and it’s many variations sprinkled throughout the runtime; faith and science, hope and despair, to name a few.
While “Ad Astra” may remind you of other films based on structure (Apocalypse Now), or visuals (Interstellar), it does a lot to make itself unique among fellow sci-fi or journey-based tales. The pacing may require a bit of patience at times and the supporting cast may not be used to their full potential (Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, and Liv Tyler), however if you’re a fan of a good space travel film or just enjoy similarly cerebral sci-fi like the “Blade Runner” movies, then I highly recommend giving this film a chance.
Written by Scott Silver and Todd Phillips, and directed by Phillips, “Joker” is a tragedy (comedy?) about how a lethal combination of society’s ills, neglect, and hatred toward’s one another can cause something truly evil to erupt. So, after months of national dialogue about how this film could be considered “dangerous” and “incendiary“, and now that the film has opened to a wide release, we can discuss the merits of those talking points and whether or not they hold any water. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the titular Joker, a character whose hidden beneath the peeled back layers of one Arthur Fleck. If you have any knowledge of one of the comic-book character’s more infamous storylines, “The Killing Joke” in which the Joker tries to prove to Batman that anyone is just “One Bad Day” away from becoming a violently unhinged and gleeful nihilist such as himself, then you’ll have a good idea of where the film ultimately winds up. The film is a challenging one at times, and it does inspire conversation- but something wholly different than what eighty-percent of the hubbub has been about.
First, however, we must take a moment or two to praise the work and care star Joaquin Phoenix put into this performance. Its a staggering amount of quiet subtleties paired with explosively grandiose swings that have been ground down into a portrayal that constantly evolves over the course of the two hour film. I’m not sure if it’s the “best” performance of an actor that I’ve seen in 2019, but it IS the most memorable for now. There’s a lot of legwork done to make the audience sympathize with the super-villain early on and it was effective in how that empathy was crafted. Arthur Fleck is a man that’s been battered by a world that is heartless and cold towards anyone that’s not wealthy or famous, and not a single person seems to understand him. Eventually, this empathy wanes and frays as Fleck crosses line after socially acceptable line until you can no longer feel good for once rooting for the character. Touched by hopelessness and tragedy, Arthur Fleck is Bruce Wayne and vice versa- what makes them different is how they each respond to such tragedies.
Before we get into a dialogue about the controversy surrounding the film, let’s take a moment to examine the craft put into the film aside from the performances. Gotham has never looked better in my opinion, this was truly a cinematic and believable depiction of the crime ridden and trash buried city that felt lifted directly off the comic’s pages. This Gotham is what I picture when I think of the fantastical city, Nolan’s Gotham never felt this realized to me. For all the successes of those Dark Knight films, this Gotham is my stylized preference for the look and tangibility of the infamous city. Speaking of the comic books, there are some direct nods and scenes dealing with the ever looming Wayne family, but they’re not too distracting from Arthur’s narrative. A couple of shots and moments feel a bit too connected to the Wayne family’s heir and future protector of Gotham, but this IS a film residing in Gotham City, so it is to be expected. The score was a perfect combination of overwhelming cellos and bellowing low notes all evocative of the sadness, dread, anger, and confidence relating to Arthur at any given scene. Though, there was a curious choice to use what can only be described as one of those “Jock Jams” stadium-anthems used at a particularly important moment for the character and its one of the most questionable score/song insert choices since “IT Chapter 2”- it just felt very out-of-place within the greater context of the film.
The scenes where Arthur is keenly aware of how he doesn’t fit in with crowds were particularly insightful to his world view. In the crowd of a comedy club he jots down notes while laughing at the wrong beats of a comedian’s stand-up set completely out of sync with the audience, or when he’s dancing in his living room to prep for going onstage, meticulously studying how people should behave in such scenarios; I appreciate these scenes within the context of this film and the superhero genre as a whole- but Art-house this is not. Which brings me to the crux of criticism for this film, it’s a deeper dive into the psychology of a character than what most films within this sub-genre of cinema will commit to, but this is more of a case of “Popcorn Psychology“, for lack of a better term, than an actual analysis of the character of Arthur Fleck or the Joker. The film asks you to indulge in how society’s abject apathy about people over profits can turn a broken man against said system, but it offers no answers, coyly rejecting any semblance of a political stance or a morality check on how we’ve failed the common man and what we could do to avoid such a fate. That being said, adapting a structured plot around a character such as the Joker, of Chaos incarnate, I understand that the difficulties of adapting such a character without Batman and Bruce Wayne to juxtapose against Arthur would be demanding to say the least.
Considering the hysteria surrounding the release of this film, after walking out of the theater, I have to say I was surprised that we were even having this discussion at all. I thought we were over blaming entertainment for violence, but apparently some issues never fully evaporate. The idea that this film would inspire another mass shooting in America (of which we have about 1 per day give or take a few data points) seems like an exaggeration by media outlets. Sure, this movie has some violent scenes, but the argument that this film in particular is dangerous enough to inspire people to acts of violence says more about our own society’s issues than the film’s issues. This film does not glorify violence, and anyone that would be inspired by this to take up arms probably wasn’t all that level-headed to begin with. Was there an outbreak of killings after the debut of “American Psycho”? How about “Drive”? What about “Breaking Bad”? These films and television shows focused on “loner” white males with questionable morality that take up arms, and none of these examples (among countless others) caused a violent uprising. “Joker” is just a movie, not a movement. It’s a thoughtful character study about how we forge tomorrow’s villains with the choices we make today. The moral that I took away from this film was “Be nicer to people”. When we look past our problems and ignore them, they fester into something capable of evil. This movie should make you consider your fellow man, any good film generates good conversation and this one certainly does that. So go see “Joker” for yourself and forge your own opinion, it’s a decently entertaining film and one that I highly recommend even if only for Joaquin Phoenix’s stellar performance.