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!

Cold Pursuit

There really isn't a reason for this remake of a Norwegian action thriller/black comedy hybrid - made four years ago and released in the United States two years after that - particularly when one realizes it is nearly a shot-for-shot remake. Nevertheless, Cold Pursuit is a slight improvement over 2016's In Order of Disappearance, and it's as if Hans Petter Moland, director of both films, was able to make some sense of the disparate tones being hybridized for this largely English-language reimagining. The filmmaker fixes some of the problems with the original movie, but it also, unfortunately, keeps the one major problem that made it so underwhelming.

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High Flying Bird

Now here is a sharply observant and entertaining study of clever but financially-strapped people attempting to escape the inaction of sitting still by the skin of their teeth. High Flying Bird takes place within the final days of a lockout in the National Basketball Association, but Tarell Alvin McCraney's screenplay could easily take place within any major organization that has seen unsuccessful, pay-related negotiations between the workers (here, the professional players of the game) and the management infrastructure (here, the team owners). At the same time, setting this action against the backdrop of the NBA offers a specificity that could be found nowhere else.

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The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

After 2014's The LEGO Movie was such a surprising success, with its absurdist streak and emotional resonance, perhaps the fact that the films following it have been less surprising or successful was an inevitability. A spin-off centered around Batman and a mostly unrelated franchise tie-in centered around ninjas followed: The former was a delightful take on the caped crusader, and the latter was increasingly underwhelming and, in its attempt to emulate its predecessors' emotional resonance, unconvincing. The key, it seemed, was a wraparound story that offered context to that first film's attitude toward childhood playtime.

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Velvet Buzzsaw

Everything about Velvet Buzzsaw - from its title to its premise, from its aesthetic to its dialogue - suggests a filmmaker trying hard to make a salient point about human connection to art and the dangers of profiting from it. For a while, it is clear that writer/director Dan Gilroy has crafted a canny satire about such concerns, featuring characters who fit into niche stereotypes and a conversational style that pays close attention to how empty the dialogue really is. Then the shift toward horror tropes occurs, and all of the salient points it is making are undermined by a surprisingly high body count.

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Miss Bala

The general set-up of the plot between Miss Bala and the original film of the same name is the same. Gerardo Naranjo's film, released in 2012, was the hypnotic study of a woman under duress in a world she neither fully understood nor could possibly control. The point of the character was that she had no agency, kept making unintentionally bad decisions in order to stay alive, and, by the end, couldn't quite escape the cycle of violence into which she was unceremoniously forced. Director Catherine Hardwicke, with this Americanized remake, takes steps to steer away from nearly everything about the original film beyond (until the climax) the general plot details.

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They Shall Not Grow Old

The cinematic experiment being performed in They Shall Not Grow Old sounds so insane and misguided that it's a wonder it works at all, let alone as effectively as it does. Footage of the First World War, curated and stored until recently by the Imperial War Museums of London, Manchester, and Cambridgeshire in England, has been edited into a short (at approximately 95 minutes without credits) but comprehensive portrait of the service experience for a few dozen soldiers in a handful of specific conflicts. The footage was then colorized and converted into 3-D. All this will sound ridiculous and, perhaps, sacrilegious to archivists, in particular, and laymen, in general, who might prefer the footage to be untampered.

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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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