A Work in Progress

My website it currently undergoing a pretty major design overhaul. Please bear with me as progress continues. All of the links should still work, but you may find yourself on a page that still has the old design.

Coming soon to Joel on Film: Joel on Oscars! I'm making changes, some cosmetic and others a bit more necessary, to the front page of this website and various others throughout (Pardon my dust as I clean up around here), and that includes tackling the awards season. Yes, this will be a permanent fixture at the site now, updated every two weeks from October to broadcast. Just keep an eye on the top of the page for that soon!

Mortal Engines

At a certain point in Mortal Engines, all of the dictated information, which has since been iterated and reiterated to death, pretty much becomes as irrelevant to the filmmakers as to the audience. The former bring everything together in a noisy, clunky, visually drab action scene that essentially peters off into the credits after half-heartedly tying up all the loose ends. The latter will have lost the thread of the plot - not to mention the ability to care - long before this happens, perhaps right around the time that plot starts to open up to other parts of the fascinating world it has created visually.

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The opening shot is a static one: We look at a stretch of tile floor as the title and credits play over it. Then there is the sound of splashing water, and eventually, the water, sudsy with soap, enters the frame. Someone is washing this stretch of tile, which - we find out - is part of the floor of a garage, and while we eventually turn away from that tile to find the person who is cleaning it, this opening shot sets the tone and pace of Roma in tangible, lingering ways. With this extended shot of our protagonist cleaning this floor, on which so much happens over the course of his story, writer/director/cinematographer/co-editor Alfonso Cuaron is establishing a necessary patience.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

By the end of this film, fans of the friendly neighborhood web-slinger of the surtitle will have gotten the fourth big-screen iteration of this superhero. There was Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker of 2002's Spider-Man and its two sequels, Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker of 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man and its first (and only) follow-up in an intended franchise, and Tom Holland's Peter Parker of 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, which was the character's first foray into a shared cinematic universe beyond himself. There is a name in common among those three iterations, and indeed, it is the young man who was driven to vigilantism by the death of his uncle and the bite of a radioactive spider.

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Shirkers was to be a foothold for Singapore's emergence in the world of independently produced feature films. It was the oddball creation of director Sandi Tan, an aspiring filmmaker who was raised by her grandparents and sought to cut out some place for herself in a climate that easily could have forgotten her. She would not have this, and so she set out to make a film. It was a pretty silly thing - a movie about a killer simply named "S," played by Tan herself, who does something-or-other that involved zombies and some magical realism. The plot, inscrutable as it was, didn't really matter. The place from which it came did.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Each of the stories in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has something valuable to say about the impatience of mortality. There are six stories here, tied together by a simple framing device: Some unknown person, whose hand turns the pages of a book that shares the title of the film and the first story, is leading us through these tales of tragic irony and ironic futility. In something of a rarity, writers/directors Ethan and Joel Coen's anthology film features only great vignettes. Picking a "favorite," then is a risky business, as it might single out one tale at the expense of other great examples of short-form storytelling.

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Creed II

Straight out of the gate, Creed II establishes its plot as, perhaps, an unnecessary addendum to the events of 2015's Creed. Below the surface of that plot, though, is a tough but tender exploration of letting go of the past. If its predecessor was about living up to the legacy of one's family, this sequel is about pushing past it to create one's own. In theory, the idea behind this movie is incredibly silly: A fight from the past informs a fight in the present, and the staging of the latter is an act of petty machismo. The key to the screenplay by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone is that every character recognizes this.

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Classic Cinema Corner
Classic Corner

Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

Even today, "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope" is relentless in its pacing and highly effective in its relaying of the hero's journey, told through the prism of an oddball space western never expected to succeed by writer/director George Lucas. It's amusing now, seeing the film as a fairly straightforward study of good vs. evil, to consider that it was mocked by those contemporary filmmakers who thought Lucas foolish to take on such fringe genre material. This is a story of light and dark, of a force that binds the galaxy together, and of three ragtag antiheroes forced into a conflict that seems to have spanned decades.

There is the young man whose past dictates his future and his fate and who dreams of better things off in the space outside his planet that includes two suns to the west. There is the young woman, a member of her planet's royal family but far more headstrong and willful than that implies, who simply wants peace for her people. There is the scoundrel, whose gruffness is as lovable as his ruthlessness is disarming (He kills another smuggler out of both self-defense and self-preservation). There is the main heavy, a villain of real menace whose connection to the hero is the fuel for a classic revenge story and who has the physical presence necessary for the job of villain.

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