Editorial: My Top Five Star Wars Scenes (The Skywalker Saga)

5) I think I just blasted it

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In a sequence that lovingly embraces George Lucas’ infamous “Faster, more intense” direction: Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia find themselves trapped in a section of the Death Star, with Stormtroopers shooting from above and a slowly opening door of troops, behind them. With their only means of escape inaccessible, Luke tries to get Leia and himself safely across to the other side.

The short scene is an illustration of Star Wars at its purest, a thrilling Saturday Matinee adventure with a tense cliffhanger and soaring ending. The scene’s briskness and ending with Luke’s and Leia’s jump to the other side, (via rope) demonstrates why Star Wars is appealing to the child in all of us. At the same time, the short section encapsulates the dichotomy of Luke’s character. At this stage, he’s someone who sometimes acts without thinking, but can be relied upon for quickly thinking of a way to get out of a situation.

4) Too Many Losses

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The Last Jedi miraculously walks a tight rope between showing Leia at her strongest and most vulnerable. This brief scene between the aged General and Vice Admiral Holdo is pivotal for allowing the character to briefly mourn for all the loved ones she’s seen passed. Leia has always been the guiding light, who’s chosen to stay strong for others and the Rebel cause. However, this scene chips away at that strength to reveal someone who’s lost so much, that it’s beginning to weigh on her soul.

The exchange is also humorous and touching, with the proverbial “May the force be with you”, being acknowledged as a phrase that Leia has said too many times, and resonating as Holdo’s last words. The scene ends with the pair holding each other’s hands. The moment speaks to the franchise’s knack for portraying a sense of history with impressive visual power.

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George Lucas once said, “Star Wars films are basically silent movies.” While there’s been a lot of great sequences within the franchise to illustrate this aspect, few have been quite so stirring as the ending of The Force Awakens. With Luke’s lightsaber in tow, Rey makes her way across the mountainous terrains of Ahch-To, to persuade the wizened Jedi master to join the fight again. Watching the scene is akin to witnessing the start of a mythological journey, with Rey making the first of a thousand steps, to achieve a sense of belonging she’s always wanted.

The scene culminates in a series of closeups: Rey’s desperation (while holding out Skywalker’s lightsaber) and Luke’s haunted expression, looking at the lightsaber as though it’s a reminder of painful days gone by. In the film’s most postmodern moment, the characters are framed in a helicopter shot, overlooking a cliff. The moment is a literal cliffhanger and a reminder of the serials that have inspired the series.

2) A Sith Legend

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Honestly, I could do a whole blog post on this scene. It’s an effective exercise in atmospheric and riveting storytelling. On the face of it, Palpatine is attempting to seduce Anakin by offering him a way to save his wife (Padme) from dying. However, the scene plays like a lesson in the ways of the Sith. Initially, Palpatine attempts to blur the line between the Sith and Jedi by equating them both as groups who are afraid of losing power. Anakin retorts that the Sith think about themselves whereas the Jedi are selfless.

The scene then transitions into Palpatine telling Anakin about a Sith legend involving an old master named Darth Plagueis. He found a way of cheating death and in an ironic twist of fate, he could not save himself from being killed by his apprentice. The story is a perfect distillation of the Sith’s “Rule of Two”, wherein the master embodies power and their apprentice craves it, resulting in a persistently combative relationship.

The scene is a blend of interesting choices that combine to create a sense of foreboding. John Williams’ score comprised of low male choral chants gives the sense that we’re in the domain of evil. The use of lighting is striking with shadow partly covering Anakin’s face, signalling his flirtation and eventual transformation into darkness. Whereas Palpaltine’s face is in the light, illustrating the Sith no longer hide in the shadows and instead embrace being out in the open.

Above all, the scene is metatextual with Star Wars using its own mythic conventions to expose its central evil to the light.

1) A Certain Point of View

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Luke reflecting on Yoda’s death and his subsequent conversation with Ben Kenobi is Star Wars at its best. Featuring minimal Williams’ music and some arresting imagery, (especially the moment where Luke sees the light go out from Yoda’s hut), this scene always makes me feel the burden of Luke’s plight and his isolation in dealing with it.

Ben’s speech about “a certain point of view” is important for illustrating how the truths we come to are based upon our perception of events. Or in this instance, how Kenobi saw Anakin succumb to darkness. It’s crucial for knowing how he views his former apprentice, treating Vader and Anakin as distinct personalities that can never be reconciled.

This is in contrast to Luke who just sees conflict within Vader, believing he can play on this to bring him back to the light. This creates a fascinating generational conflict between the elders, who think evil can never be redeemed, and the younger sect, who think evil can be soothed through compassion. This is Star Wars at it’s most sublime, filtering lofty ideas of good and evil through the prism of family drama. In so doing, it presents the franchise’s archetypical storytelling at its most personal and emotional.

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Editorial: My Top Ten Films of the Decade

10) Gone Girl

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David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s popular novel twists the knife with its observations of the public and private perceptions of relationships, whilst also probing about how well we truly know our respective other. Featuring subtle direction, a haunting score and a fiendishly noir-inspired performance from Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl is a thriller for our social media age.

9) Blade Runner 2049

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On paper, this film should never have been made or worked. However, Denis Villeneuve’s visionary sequel proves to be as interesting as Ridley Scott’s original. Boasting expressionist imagery, Roger Deacons’ Oscar-winning cinematography and a melancholic turn from Harrison Ford: Blade Runner 2049 expands its thematic scope by asking whether a life with faux elements truly encapsulates the human experience?

8) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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In a decade where the comic book movie has risen to the mainstream, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stands tall. The movie fully embraces the conventions of the four-coloured medium, while also being a playful postmodern riff on Spidey’s movie franchise. At the same time, it’s the best response to Marvel’s Avengers; spinning a thrilling team-based film that never diminishes its central character’s search for identity.

7) This Is Not a Film

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This Is Not a Film is equal parts protest and manifesto on how the desire to tell stories can never be quashed. Stripped of the usual problems that plague a film production: filmmaker Jafar Panahi (via a series of video diaries) tells the story of his next script. He also reflects on his recent ban as director from the current Iranian regime. At the heart of the documentary is an act of courage and defiance that turns it from riveting to dizzyingly surreal.

6) Inside Llewyn Davis

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Much like the musical genre, it’s steeped in, Inside Llewyn Davis feels like a raw and occasionally offbeat folk song; depicting the persistent walls its titular character hits. Anchored by Oscar Issac’s prickly central performance and Bruno Delbonnel’s ghostly cinematography, the Coen Brothers’ film does not celebrate or denigrate folk music. Instead, it tells a story of someone who lives on the fringes of achieving fame within it.

5) Under the Skin

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By itself, Scarlett Johanson playing a nameless galactic being, who preys on men, whilst driving through the streets of Scotland is an intriguing premise. But Johnathan Glazer’s mix of docudrama with sparse science fiction imagery and Mica Levi’s evocative score makes Under the Skin one of the decade’s most audacious films.

4) Suspiria

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How do you remake Dario Argento’s seminal technicolour horror film? You mostly washout its colour, cast Tilda Swinton in three parts and make dancing the essential hook of the narrative. On the surface, this sounds disastrous. However, the film proves to be a captivating experience that often feels like a psychoanalysis of the nightmarish Argento original.

3) Mad Max: Fury Road

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In a decade where action films have been vehicles to test the boundaries of an actor’s willingness to do stupefying stunt sequences, Mad Max: Fury Road stands out as an impressive pariah. George Miller’s return to the mad capped, post-apocalyptic series is a future of diminishing resources and stitched-together cults (based on Viking religion and car iconography).

Conceptually, this seems like a zanier version of Miller’s second film- The Road Warrior. The remarkable difference is the chaos is seen through the eyes of Furiosa. She overtakes Max’s archetypical protagonist in carrying the film’s weight of pain, desperation and sheer determination.

2) The Great Gatsby

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Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is a pure cinematic fairy tale that manages to retain the novel’s roaring twenties excess and poignant spirit of an eluded dream. It also features a career-defining performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. He imbues Gatsby with a cool edge and quiet desperation, which threatens to chip away at his larger than life persona.

1) Django Unchained

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Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino at his sharpest, funniest and most observant. He uses the Django Western film series as a jumping-off point to tell the story of a freed slave, who puts on a persona of a slaver to save his wife. At the same time, Unchained is subtly subversive. It takes a historical subject that is usually portrayed in earnest drama and dresses it in genre clothing to mine newfound depth and meaning.

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Review: The Irishman (2019)

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Aside from his independent films in the 70s and 80s, Martin Scorsese has become a celebrated director for his reinvention of the gangster picture; turning them from smoky backroom family dramas to seedy, fast-moving and ultra-violent thrill rides. The Irishman is a return to mob movies for Scorsese and is a sobering rumination of the genre, as opposed to an electrifying rebirth.

Taking place over the course of fifty years and initially told within the span of a long car journey: The Irishman is about a second world war veteran, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). Initially, starting out as a delivery man for steaks, Sheeran finds himself involved with the Bufalino crime family, run by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and powerful union leader, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

In the context of Scorsese’s other genre work, The Irishman is a staggering departure. Aesthetically, Scorsese employs the usual long travelling shots and zippy musically driven montages, but their use is interesting. The opening long shot (set to the doo-op song- “In the Still of the Night” by The Five Satins) travels the full length of an upmarket retirement home before revealing an aged Sheeran. It feels like a lavish and haunting riff of the famous Steadicam shot in Goodfellas; emphasising the empty long term effects of the gangster’s life, as opposed to its hypnotic and immediate short-term social benefits.

It’s also fun to see Scorsese’s usual acting collaborators dressed in different clothing. In Goodfellas and Casino, Pesci’s characters were foul-mouthed chihuahuas whose quick temper and fiery penchant for violence was terrifying. As Bufalino, Pesci is a warm and paternal figure, whose gracious gestures and warm smiles make him an unassuming crime family boss. Likewise, it’s great to see Harvey Keitel in a hilarious cameo that pokes at his tough-talking screen persona. Pacino takes the spotlight in a big, brash barnstorming performance. He walks a fine line between being a charismatic leader and fiery meta commentator who occasionally dissects the conventions of the genre (particularly one frequent gag that mocks how every tough guy is called Tony).

But De Niro casts the biggest impression with a subdued, quiet and mostly internal central performance. Sheeran is a character who finds verbal communication difficult. So, in moments when he’s emotional, De Niro impresses with his facial expressions that are like a pendulum swing between caution and genuine emotion trying to seep out.

This conflict of expression in De Niro’s character encapsulates what The Irishman is about. It depicts a man who becomes a gangster, floats through American history and at the end of it all, does not have much to say for himself. In contrast to Casino and especially Goodfellas, Sheeran’s reasons for the lifestyle feel hollow and delusional in his justification of protecting his family.

These moments provide the film and Scorsese’s final bow to the genre with a tragic tinge. Despite it’s juggling of different eras, extensive and convincing visual effects for De Niro, Pacino and Pesci ageing: The Irishman defines itself in the small moments where Sheeran loses the grasp of those he holds dear and the casual dismissal of the moral nature of his day job (particularly one montage where he talks about every gangster throwing all their guns in the same river).

The final scene shows us a medium shot that is a distant glimpse of a vulnerable Sheeran through the prism of a slightly ajar door. In spirit, it evokes the last shot of John Ford’s The Searchers, where Ethan Edwards stood on the threshold of his family home. Similarly to Edwards, Sheeran now stands as the last man of his kind, waiting for the door to close on his life, akin to Scorsese himself closing the book on the entire genre.

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Review: Midsommar (2019)

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As far as cinematic debuts go, Hereditary was impressive; terrifying with the tensions of its familial angst and underhanded supernatural aspects. Ari Aster’s sophomore effort, Midsommar- is an ambitious and often engrossing experience. However, it’s marred by thematic confusion and the director’s ascetic intention often exceeding his reach. In this way, the film becomes the cinematic equivalent of the Icarus Myth, insofar as it flies too close to the sun of its cult plot and falls to the ground with a muddled sense of pathos.

Midsommar is about five students who travel to Sweden for a celebration in a remote commune. The five members are comprised of Psychology student- Dani (Florence Pugh), boyfriend- Christian (Jack Reynor), goofball- Mark (Will Poulter), studious- Mark (William Jackson Harper) and their guide/host- Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren).

Conceptually, Midsommar is about a young woman who tragically loses her family and through her experiences within Pelle’s ancestral communion, she gains a family (in a spiritual sense), who collectively attempt to empathise with her feelings of loss and betrayal.

However, in execution, the film is actually about the continual breakdown of Dani and Christian’s romantic relationship. While this is a semi engaging plotline in its own right, the attempts to convince us that it’s the same thing is ludicrous. In a key scene, Pelle consoles Dani by telling her about the virtues of being raised in a community. He then goes on to ask her if Christian evokes the same feeling, with the pivotal question- “Does he feel like home to you?”

At best, this is emotionally disingenuous, creating a false equivalency between romantic and familial love. To compound the problem, the film forgets about its stark opening. Dani’s bipolar sister acts out by killing her Mum, Dad and herself (via the release of carbon monoxide into the family home).

Pugh’s emotionally raw performance never makes us forget this aspect. But it does not really factor into much of Dani’s transformation from emotionally fragile to ruthlessly detached (opting for her boyfriend to be sacrificed after discovering his semi-public case of infidelity). Dani’s transformation is the film’s biggest cross to bear, never feeling believable or justified.

Much like Hereditary, Aster ascetically excels at framing his characters like pawns in the larger scheme of life. In Midsommar, this quality is achieved with some quite stunning birds-eye view shots where the characters appear like ants within the confines of the community. Aster also creates some quite startling imagery. One such moment is when one of the elders bows before a stone tablet and smears it with their bloody hands.

At times, the film does sometimes dangerously flirt with being camp. The horror of a deflowering is somewhat reduced by a sudden breaking into a song from one of the surrounding cult members. And the aftermath of the event is like a Bennie Hill sketch that’s had a head-on-collision with the climax of a standard Friday the 13th movie.

Despite this, Midsommar is a commendably odd film that staggers in what its trying to evoke and say. This is particularly evident in the superior Director’s Cut, which pushes Christian’s general emotional distance, in favour of opportunism to the forefront. This comes at the expense of Dani’s transformation that felt sketchily developed in the original version and glaringly odd in the longer cut. One new scene involving an argument with her and Christian, over leaving, after nearly witnessing a child sacrifice, begs the question of her later abiding by the cult’s archaic practices.

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Editorial: Interpreting Joker (2019)

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Whether you think Joker is a potent social parable for our times or a toxic slog, there’s no denying its power to linger and spark conversation (no matter what side of the debate you fall on). While the first viewing left me feeling quite stunned and impressed, I did also have some questions.

The political aspect was a contentious point for me, feeling rather empty, hollow and existing purely as an excuse for the Joker to reign supreme in chaos. On my second viewing, the political dimension was quite apparent to me. At times, it reminded me of Frank Miller’s handling of topical issues in The Dark Knight Returns (1986). In that story, the media is omnipresent, existing as a satirical Greek chorus that savagely takes downs pop psychology and impotent politicians. In Joker, the media is equally prevalent, whether through headlines in newspapers, radio bulletins or television reports.

In fact, news reports spin Arthur’s initial murder of three young men as a sentiment of the impoverished denizens of Gotham striking back against the rich. Thomas Wayne’s comment about these sort of people being clowns only adds fuel to the fire. In this way, the news almost becomes like a stand-in for social media, a sometimes overblown and escalating exercise in hyperbolic sentiment.

There’s also a curious scene later in the film where a good number of Gotham’s elite (including Thomas and Martha Wayne) are gathered to watch a charity screening of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. When Arthur sneaks in and catches a glimpse, they’re all laughing at Chaplin’s antics. In the brief scene we see, the tramp is blinding stumbling around on roller skates. This scene could be interpreted as the elite laughing at the poor, equating them with the Tramp insofar as like the character, they’re blind to the persistent circular nature of their plight.

On this viewing, the scene in which Arthur is told that the funding has been cut for the social service, including access to his medication, echoed the austerity cuts that the UK Conservative Government has been administrating since 2010. The ideological cuts that were pursued to keep the deficit down hit many public sectors and welfare payouts, including disability benefits and mental health trusts. When Arthur’s counsellor says “They don’t give a shit about people like you”, the line resonated with a chilling real-world truism.

The other fascinating aspect of the film is whether or not Arthur is the actual Joker or merely a man whose actions will one day inspire the Clown Prince of Crime to emerge. I think this is the real Joker. Crucially, the screenwriters opt to make Arthur a delusional man, something that’s in keeping with Joker’s character, particularly in The Killing Joke.

The way the film dances around the Batman mythos also lends credence to this point too. In the middle of the film, Arthur meets Bruce Wayne. Throughout their encounter, he attempts to make the young boy laugh and smile with various magic tricks. Wayne is suitably unimpressed. Arthur then resorts to making Bruce smile by shaping his cheeks and mouth into a grin. The scene is an interesting illustration of Joker’s persistent attempts to break Batman’s serious and sullen demeanour, filtered through a unique lens.

The ending of the film adds an interesting wrinkle to this theory too. While talking to his psychiatrist, Arthur says he’s just thought of a joke. The film then cuts to a scene of Bruce Wayne standing alone in the alley with his dead parents, who was gunned down by one of the clown protesters. When asked to deliver this joke, Arthur refuses because she won’t get it.

The whole film could be read as Joker imagining a situation in which he is indirectly responsible for creating Batman (hence why he says to his therapist that his joke is not funny). The joke is only funny to him because he knows who that little boy grows up to be.

The very last scene that depicts Arthur walking with bloody footprints across a room with Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” playing, seems like a Joker esque action, taking something innocent and twisting it to make it appear corrupt. In this instance, Sinatra’s cheery, life-affirming tune is used to cement to Joker’s full transformation. Even some of the lyrics fit Joker’s delusional state of mind- “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king.”

The final moments can also be read as a cap to Arthur’s character arc insofar as changing his mindset from looking at his life as a comedy as opposed to a tragedy. This is a point that Arthur is subtly trying to get throughout the film. When his counsellor looks at his joke book for any written thoughts, she is struck by one line. She repeats it out loud- “I hope my death will make more sense than my life.” In the book, the word sense is omitted in favour of cents, speaking to Arthur attempting to frame his life and mindset as a joke.

Joker is a potent creation of societal indifference, upper-class apathy and mental anguish. The film is about someone who’s not seen, heard and discounted at every turn. From that brew, a man emerges to be seen as one of society’s most dangerous individuals. In the Joker’s mind, that’s the greatest joke of all, and in ours, it’s a gut-wrenching tragedy.

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Review: Joker (2019)

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Joker is a genuinely startling experience. It’s the sort of film that’s been pitched and promised when most comic book movies are in development but never delivered. It doesn’t reinvent the mass popular sub-genre. Instead, it shows new colours the comic book movie can apply to its canvas.

Taking inspiration from two Martin Scorsese films (Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy) and graphic novel- The Killing Joke: Joker is about a down on his luck clown performer and aspiring comedian called Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Coping with chronic emotional incontinence (mostly taking the form of continual laughter) and violent attacks, the downtrodden Fleck tries to keep his sanity intact, when a series of personal revelations come to light.

Joker’s most remarkable feat is in filtering the usual aspects of the sub-genre through a unique lens. Rather than portraying numbing fantasy violence, its depiction of aggressive acts is delivered with the chilly suddenness of an ice pack to the head, never feeling sensualist or comical. In some moments, it feels even tougher then Christopher Nolan’s heightened reality interpretation. Likewise, the bleak portrait of its world and central character permeate the entire proceedings as opposed to being an act one set-up. Even Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score: comprised of slow haunting drums and whining cellos go against the usual bombast.

Joker is a true character study in the vein of Taxi Driver. Much like Robert De Niro’s blue-collar cabbie, Fleck is a man who is trying to find purpose, even if it comes through violent means. At the same time, they both share a sense that society has abandoned them, so they both decide to embrace their darker impulses to rattle their respective worlds.

Bickle was a disillusioned Vietnam veteran, whose violent acts could either be interpreted as targeting the political hypocrisy of his age or a knight in shining armour for conservative values. In contrast, Fleck’s motives are vainer. He seeks to fulfil a sense of satisfaction by letting people know he exists and that he no longer be mocked for being an outsider. In this way, Fleck is like a blood-soaked Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy. De Niro’s casting as an aged famous chat show host- Murray Franklin feels like a meta continuation of Pupkin finally gaining notoriety.

Phoenix is simply riveting as Fleck. While the actor’s trademark intensity is on full display (especially in his facial expressions that portray his excruciating attempts to contain his condition), Joker is a reminder of how much Phoenix is adept at portraying loss and woundedness. The character is like a child in a man’s body who does not quite know how to interact with the world. In fact, this childlike quality juxtaposed with his violent acts make for some of Joker’s most disturbing scenes, particularly in the last act.

Aesthetically, the film is thankfully not a Scorcese tribute act in clown makeup. Rather, director Todd Philips favours still and composed wide shots with lots of detail as opposed to fast-moving long takes. One particularly striking example is a scene where Fleck is frantically emptying his fridge, whilst his phone goes off in the background. Initially, starting out as a medium shot, Philips subtly widens the shot, giving the impression that we’re watching a piece of footage of an unhinged man, that’s just been captured.

The film’s central problem is in feeling politically empty. The beginning sets up a garbage strike via radio broadcast and some general impoverished versus rich rhetoric. Fleck’s first set of murders is in a clown suit, which results in the clown becoming a symbol. While this somewhat feels conceptually sound, the execution is maddening, almost as though the film becomes bored with presenting its views fully.

Crucially, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) in his speech calls the citizens of Gotham- clowns. However, this moment is remarked upon in a media report then shown in its proper context. The garbage strike is just a world-building flourish that does not have narrative significance. And the impoverished versus rich political dimension tends to feel deficient with the execution of its connective tissue of going from A to B.

Consequently, some of the imagery in the last act lacks the social/political potency that it’s aiming for and becomes lesser for it. In fact, Fleck is politically apathetic and even says in his chat show declaration that his murders were not intended to make a political point. Instead, it feels as though this aspect exists to illustrate the Joker’s trademark desire for mass chaos, rather than make genuine political points, other than the hollow rich vs poor dynamic.

Joker does keep one foot in its comic book character’s portrayal insofar as retaining the Clown Prince of Crime’s vague origin. In Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, Batman’s arch-nemesis says “If I were to have a past, I’d prefer it to be multiple choice.”

The film takes this mantra and uses it as a backbone in depicting Arthur Fleck as a delusional person, who makes up entire aspects of his story. This is particularly illustrated in his relationship with neighbour- Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz). The unreliable narrator aspect of the character mirrors the final moments of Taxi Driver insofar as Bickle’s violent actions lead to a positive sense of gratitude from society at large.

In Joker, this results in a tantalising ambiguity of whether the whole film is a fantasy of the character creating a chaotic society that leads to his arch nemesis’s creation, a flip on the usual theme of Batman’s presence resulting in the emergence of his rogue’s gallery.

But even stripped of this element, Joker is horrifying because it’s about a mentally broken and unstable person becoming the iconic DC Comics’ villain; turning the usual agent of chaos conception into something far more tragic and terrifying. This is not a Joker that warrants anti-hero adoration much like Heath Ledger’s portrait or Fight Club’s, Tyler Durden. Instead, it’s a cautionary tale to never leave behind the pitiable.

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Review: It Chapter Two (2019)

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It (2017) was a grown-up Amblin film that did not use the popular eighties studio ascetic as an excuse for a nostalgic harkening back of the era. Rather it was a film that blurred the line between the real-world fears of a group of adolescents, and the demons that plagued the darkest corners of their minds (via fantastical and nightmarish sequences). In this regard, the film had more in common with A Nightmare on Elm Street then ET. The film also effortlessly impressed with the impeccable chemistry of its young cast and riveting theatrical performance of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).

By comparison, It Chapter Two is an ambitious and sobering effort, weaving past and present with such beautiful elegance, that the film becomes the cinematic equivalent of group therapy.

The sequel picks up 27 years after the original film. The group once known as The Losers Club are mostly living separate lives far away from their childhood town- Derry. When a vicious attack is punctuated with the message of “Come Home”, the sole club member who remained in Derry, Mike Hanlon, (Isaiah Mustafa) enlists the help of his former friends to destroy the ancient creature they once defeated as kids.

The adult section of the It narrative has always been a hard pill to swallow. Strictly viewed through the 90s mini-series, it’s a melange of mockable imagery, plodding pacing and saccharine sentimentality. To its credit, It Chapter Two tries to tackle this challenge with its tongue firmly in its cheek. The de facto leader of the group- Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) grew up to become a novelist in the vein of the Stephen King and is frequently mocked for his endings (an allusion to the novel’s and miniseries’ ending) The mythologising is also relegated to the background and rendered pointless by the final confrontation.

If anything, the initial set up for the mythological quest is an excuse for the characters to confront their past selves and lives. These are the sequences that make It Chapter Two a unique horror film. Rather than indulging in the persistent cycle of setting up and scare, the sequel’s most horrifying moments are the characters realising how their fears illustrate their inhumanity. Whether its Denbrough confronting the reality that he could not save a kid (similar in age to his dead brother- Georgie) from Pennywise or Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) leaving his Mum to die, because he’s too scared to fight of a leper.

This speaks to the film’s central theme of how we can never truly just hold on to the pristine images of ourselves. We must confront and acknowledge that we are more than the identities painted by our memories.

During this stretch, there is a frequent amount of new footage involving the younger cast members, intercut with their grown counterparts’ current actions. Rather than becoming a visual crutch, the use of the footage reinforces the thin line between some of the characters younger and grown-up identities. They also function as memories with the present moments awakening the past and rippling into the future. Jason Ballantine’s editing ensures that the transitions between the two timelines are often poetic and meaningful. One such moment is when Beverly (Jessica Chastain) walks through her old house and remembers a painful memory of her Dad, reinforcing the somewhat meek person that Beverly grew up to be.

In most of her performances, Chastain has always been the toughest person in the room, never allowing her vulnerability to bubble to the surface. As Beverley, this dynamic is reversed. The actress’s most striking moments are when she’s sensitive. One moment that comes to mind is when the character is subtly conveying the hidden burden she must carry about a recent event.

Bill Skarsgard returns with a captivating performance as Pennywise, adding interesting colours to the role, particularly in his human- Robert “Bob” Gray manifestation. But Bill Hader steals the show as the grown-up Ritchie Tozier. While Hader gets a lot of comedic mileage out of his zapping one-liners, it’s the character’s silent and introspective moments where Hader excels, portraying a great deal of pathos and sweetness.

Director Andy Muschietti made It soar with a persistently moving camera. It painted an idyllic and horrifying picture of Derry. He also impressed with sequences that blurred the line between fantasy and reality with appearances from Pennywise in some of the kids’s activities. In Chapter Two, Muschietti adds depth to a lot of his sequences, whether it’s the use of a long shot in the tail-end end of the “Miss Kerch” sequence or the seemingly endless nature of the Hall of Mirrors. Both these sequences also impress with their framing and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score, particularly the latter with its whining musical strings and dreamlike sound of a slowed down carnival ride in its last throes. 

Despite its virtues, the sequel does feel like it’s wrestling with some of the more outlandish aspects of its source material. The tail end set piece in the Chinese restaurant is a reminder that King’s penchant for finding the horror in ordinary objects leads to some silly avenues.

There’s a sequence involving a Derry monument coming to life that sucks out all the horror of that scene and the central creature’s menace. While Pennywise’s final form is far better than that of the TV miniseries, his appearance is marred by the persistent disco esque lighting that clashes with the tension of the scene. But above all, the filmmakers do not quite know what note they want to end the picture on, so they decide to hit them all.

In spite of this, It Chapter Two is an engrossing and therapeutic horror movie. It never forgets the human element of the story and how fear can paint us in the worst possible way.

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