JOKER – Giving in to Sin

MV5BNGVjNWI4ZGUtNzE0MS00YTJmLWE0ZDctN2ZiYTk2YmI3NTYyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_It has been said that a hero is nothing without a good villain. Lacking a proper antagonist to stand in the way of the hero’s journey, the hero’s eventual triumph isn’t as satisfying. Modern myth has produced many gripping hero/villain conflicts, but few match the intensity and poeticism of the ongoing battle between the iconic DC Comics hero Batman and his arch-nemesis, the Joker.

The Batman/Joker conflict has been explored, remade, revamped, and picked apart for years – and is still entertaining and compelling today (read more about it here in an article I wrote back in 2015 for the Joker’s 75th anniversary).

Director Todd Phillips adds another interesting facet to this decades-old conflict with his newest film, Joker – an intense character study that delves into the dark origins of the Clown Prince of Crime. Intended as a stand-alone film created outside of the current DC Extended Universe continuity, the film is an emotional tour-de-force that sucks the audience in almost immediately and never lets go until the very last frame.

Well-crafted and acted, Joker also has a lot to say spiritually. Gotham City is a terrible place and a reminder of our own individual relationship with sin.

SPOILERS AHEAD…NO JOKE!

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HOBBS & SHAW – The Human Factor

HS PosterI enjoy the Fast & Furious franchise, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Oh sure, some highbrow film fans may look down their noses at this series, but these movies are fun and seldom disappoint when it comes to well-shot action sequences and a charismatic cast that is wonderful to watch work together.

After eight (yes, eight) films, the Fast & Furious franchise has produced its very first spin-off, starring two of the series’ most interesting side characters: the one-liner machine Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the villain-turned-antihero Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).

Based on the action pedigree of the two leads alone, Hobbs & Shaw should be an entertaining romp. And it is…for the most part. The cast is impeccable and fun to watch interact with one another. The action is outstanding and ridiculous (in a good way). And the themes that the series is known for are being carried on – albeit on some serious steroids.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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THE LION KING – All Roar, No Heart

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My relationship with the 1994 Disney animated classic The Lion King has been rather tumultuous over the years. I knew it was a great film, but that fact was often overshadowed by its overplay in the public consciousness to the point where there didn’t seem to be anywhere in the cultural sphere that the film didn’t permeate.

That my sister, who was seven years old at the time, played The Lion King on a seemingly endless loop in our house also contributed to my ambivalence toward the film.

In preparation for this review, I rewatched the original film the day before seeing the new “live-action” remake. I found myself rediscovering why The Lion King has the staying power it does and why the film is truly timeless. The 1994 film is an animation masterpiece on par with what was done by Walt Disney himself and his original set of genius master animators. The Lion King has a wonderful mix of drama, comedy, music, charm, and a story that is both epic in scope and intimate enough to be relatable.

The same cannot be said for this “new” version of The Lion King. Oh sure, it goes through the beats of the story, and the animation is impressive enough, but this film had no heart and no soul. The charm was gone, and it left me asking the question, “Why does this film exist at all when the 1994 original is vastly superior?” Then I saw the box office news and it all made sense.

Disney’s recent string of live-action remakes of its classic animated features has been hit-and-miss. I’ve enjoyed a few of them (Cinderella in particular) and really disdained others (Beauty and the Beast). My feelings for the latter category stem from a frustration with the Disney talent pool’s refusing to do something new or interesting with these properties while still maintaining the spirit of the original. And The Lion King (2019) was probably the worst of these.

I WOULD SAY “SPOILERS AHEAD,” BUT…

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APOLLO 11 – Miracle on the Moon

Apollo 11 PosterFew events defined the modern age quite like when Neil Armstrong set foot upon the moon and declared his one small step “one giant leap for mankind.” At that moment, the world was unified and celebrated a truly amazing human achievement. Americans, in particular, were extremely proud of their country and what the nation’s best and brightest minds were able to accomplish.

50 years later, the Apollo 11 mission still fascinates historians, scientists, and regular folks alike – be it the aforementioned brainpower that dreamed and designed the larger-than-life rockets and spaceships or the spirit of the American people and will of the nation’s leadership to shoot for the stars – literally. This spirit and fascination are perfectly captured in the new documentary, Apollo 11.

This film was outstanding in almost every measure. Partially created from newfound 70 mm footage of the titular mission, Apollo 11 soared with amazing visuals that captivated the viewer and filled them with a sense of excitement and emotion that probably mimics what all of America and the world felt during those few days in July of 1969.

Apollo 11 also reminded me of an axiom of human nature, and how our own perceptions affect our belief in the occurrence of real historical events.

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TOY STORY 4 – A Purpose-Driven Plaything

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There have been few movie series so perfectly ended as Pixar Animation Studios’ Toy Story Trilogy. The third entry tied up all the loose ends, pulled at our heartstrings almost to the breaking point (that furnace scene…), and left all our favorite characters in a great spot where they would be taken care of and happy.

But I suppose that, given how well Toy Story 3 fared at the box office, there was no way Pixar, and its parent company Disney, would leave that money-making potential alone. There would eventually be a fourth entry in this venerable series. And now, it’s here.

Toy Story 4 reunited us with all our favorite toy friends that we’ve grown to love in the past 25 years and took them on a new adventure that indeed had its moments that were genuine and heartfelt. But ultimately, this movie seemed unnecessary and even hindered the legacy of the previous films. Perhaps Pixar should have just left well enough alone.

Despite its superfluousness, Toy Story 4 had a strong, quality thematic core to it that made it one of the deepest Pixar films to date – containing questions about the very nature of existence and what we are here to accomplish. Thankfully, we have a Creator who gave each of us a reason for being.

SPOILERS AHEAD

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