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!
War is a flat circle in Dunkirk, writer/director Christopher Nolan's hypnotic account of the evacuation of 300,000 soldiers from the title commune in northern France over the course of nine days. This isn't so much a dramatization as three vignettes, playing out in tandem but at separate points prior to the event, in which Allied forces attempt to avoid the Axis forces while holed up in an open and vulnerable position along the French shoreline, waiting for warships that seem unlikely ever to make it to them without suffering defeat. The happy(ish) ending to the story - that far less than half of the Allied forces died and a good majority made it home safely - removes none of the considerable tension.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Writer/director Luc Besson offers another fantastical vision of a colorful and expansive universe in the form of space opera with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, an adaptation of a French graphic novel by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, but that universe is only the vessel of a familiar plot that concerns the search for a MacGuffin and a lot of business involving bureaucratic corruption. It's enough to make one wish the plot would shut up to allow the peculiarities this world to breathe. As soon as it shows us some fantastical sight, it seems in a rush to get to the next one.
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press confronts relevant subject matter - specifically, the importance of the institution of journalism as the Fourth Estate - without much grace. In fact, the denouement has a few of the interview subjects defining journalism in broad terms, which is an irony in the face of the film's clarion call for specificity in such terms. It takes us through the motions of a highly-publicized court case and a company buyout to make two distinctive points about the institution of journalism (that, because it is protected by the First Amendment, it is essentially unimpeachable and that it cannot be bought), and then there's the matter of the political backdrop.
War for the Planet of the Apes
Reader, there is a phrase that haunts the critic: Should he use it in a review, or will the decisive finality it denotes turn away an audience automatically suspicious of what the kids today call "hype?" That phrase consists of three simple words: "of all time." It implies ultimate coverage of the entirety of that art form, and it sparks the question of whether the critic's arrogance has led him to this moment. How, after all, can the critic invoke "of all time" unless there is a degree of certainty? And from where does the degree of certainty originate? Is it merely a gut feeling, or are there years of history for reference?
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.