The correct Martin Scorsese analog to Joker is not Taxi Driver but The Last Temptation of Christ—an aggressive deconstruction of a widely-known character prone to constant media re-imaginings. In both films, we are asked to believe that our squirrelly weirdo protagonist will ultimately become the larger-than-life figure we know so well. Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix largely succeed in creating something more cinema than theme park, though the Last Temptation comparison ends there.
There’s a great irony in Arrival that screenwriter Eric Heisserer left on the table. The film is ostensibly a story about communication and trust, and—spoiler—at its conclusion the protagonist declines to trust her lover and communicate with him that any child they have together will die before high school.
This could make for a great dark irony that explores why cowardice and selfishness can reduce us, in spite of our intelligence or convictions, to become nothing more than vermin scuttering around in the dark cannibalizing each other. But nothing about the script or the direction suggest that anyone involved is even aware this conflict of message exists. Banks’ decision to “keep” a doomed child is treated as something to be celebrated, outright ignoring the horrendous immorality of hiding the child’s inevitable death from her prospective father. Most writing about the film celebrates it as an especially timely message of hope, comforting Americans who don’t know what to expect from the idiot they elected to lead them. And that is fucking insane, and could explain why we’re stupid enough to have elected a schmuck like Trump to the presidency in the first place.
Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson
“Oh, shall I have chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of FUCKING TEA?” I think about this quote a lot. It’s a line from “The Tandem Story” which made its rounds in the late ’90s, when the Internet was in its infancy and genderized humor was still riding a Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus high. Sent primarily via email forwards with the subject line FW: FW: FW: TOO FUNNY!!!! it purported to be a real assignment wherein a male and female student take turns writing paragraphs with the goal to create a unified story. How it plays out is that the woman wants the story to be about mulling over lost love while drinking tea, and the man keeps trying to veer it into an exciting space combat adventure. You can read it here, or you can just watch Nocturnal Animals, which is kind of the same thing.
Arrival is terrible. I don’t want any confusion on this point. It’s sitting on a 90+% fresh rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and that is a shocking failure of the film criticism community. If you look through the positive reviews for this film, you’ll find a common theme: it gets lauded for being “cerebral” or “intellect-stroking” or some other nonsense. Which essentially means critics will feel their intellect is validated by praising a movie that is, on its surface, about linguistics. (Noam Chomsky is a linguist, isn’t he? And he’s smart as hell!) In reality, Arrival is exactly as devoid of character, plot, or narrative logic as any summer blockbuster garbage that critics trip over each other to condemn. But it’s slow and boring and scored with sad string music, so critics that don’t deserve their jobs will tell the public it’s “smart sci-fi.”
Logan aka “Wolverine 3” aka “the last X-Men movie anyone anywhere will want to watch” is Hugh Jackman’s last ride as The Man With No Bones himself. How will this stack up to the X-Men days of our future and past? Breaking Hard Men protocol, I venture some solid prognostication on this in-development film, tentatively arguing this hot take: it could be good or it could be bad, for a variety of reasons. Those reasons are as follows.
I’m not sure what meaning there is in “remaking” The Magnificent Seven, given that the Seven Samurai template has been such a well-worn plot device in the past 60 years. In a time when The Force Awakens is essentially an uncommented-upon remake of a movie in the same film series, Antoine Fuqua could have delivered nearly the same final cut under a different name and he wouldn’t even need to acknowledge the comparison. It would have made it a little easier to view each component of his film on its own and not in comparison to its 1960 predecessor, but this year’s The Magnificent Seven doesn’t completely suffer for the comparison. Only mostly.
Written by Matt Hansen
Starring Alison Pill, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mariana Ximenes
I sometimes get hung up on a movie’s core concept and weigh the entire film based on how much it lives up to its premise. I was disappointed in both Reservoir Dogs and The Departed at first—despite being well-directed, well-acted movies that tell an engaging story well, I was left wanting more tense cat-and-mouse games of an undercover cop evading suspicion, like you get in Donnie Brasco. Zoom leaves me with the same sense of want, and I’m not sure if that’s another miss on my part or not.