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!
Hearts Beat Loud
Music connects everyone and everything in Hearts Beat Loud, a drama/comedy hybrid in which a father and his daughter rediscover what it means to live years after the death of their wife and mother, respectively. The father is facing the closure of his business. The daughter is a prospective medical student. Their lives have entered a kind of emotional rut, and now everything is on the precipice of changing forever. Screenwriters Brett Haley (who also directed) and Marc Basch have provided us with characters capable of great compassion and also of great pain. The treatment very much tips in the favor of that former trait.
The passage of a considerable amount of time hits Pixar Studios with a 14-year-delayed, long-gestating sequel to The Incredibles, which comes out in a superhero market that looks a lot different than it did then. In 2004, there were no brand-based, so-called "cinematic universes" or even, it seemed, the demand for one until the box-office successes of the first film's live-action contemporaries of the period made it clear that more superhero movies were on the menu. The movie, then, felt a bit radical, in that it was less about its characters' heroics than about a familial unit in distress.
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Like a wool blanket or, perhaps, a comfy sweater zipped up about halfway, Won't You Be My Neighbor? reflects its subject's personality with such warmth and understanding that the act of watching it is tangibly comforting. This is no surprise, given that the weekly act of watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" (with its routine of a welcoming song, the feeding of the fish, the switcheroo of the shoes, etc.) had a similar effect. That was, of course, deliberate on the part of its creator, Fred Rogers, the ordained Presbyterian minister and registered Republican who discovered television and was so appalled at the state of children's entertainment that he decided to get in on the action by disrupting it.
Now, here is a premise with a lot of promise and more than a few curious (to say the least) implications. In Every Day, a metaphysical being latches its soul onto a random person at midnight every night. It calls itself "A," and in a telling moment that sums up this being's existence, it answers "yes" to the question, "Do you consider yourself a boy or a girl?" The screenplay by Jesse Andrews (based on the novel by David Levithan) doesn't exactly introduce us to this character by way of its finest moment: It has inhabited the body of the boyfriend of our young protagonist.
In the Fade
In the Fade is not quite as morally challenging as its filmmakers would like to believe. In it, a woman loses her husband and son in what turns out to be a politically motivated attack. Thankfully, the screenplay by Hark Bohm and director Fatih Akin doesn't shift wildly into a violent revenge drama - at least, not until a point from which there is no return (as in, just before the cut to credits). Instead, we are provided with a courtroom drama, in which the motivation behind the attack and the kind of prejudice that led to it in the first place are litigated in a semi-public forum.
Supercon is a movie that hates its characters, its setting, and, most importantly, its audience. Co-writer/director Zak Knutson's film is a heist comedy in which there are no people worthy of good faith. The "heroes" are all detestable, the "villain" is only seen as any worse because the screenwriters have positioned him as the villain of the piece, and the pacing is punishingly sluggish. Its only saving grace is that it works - entirely unintentionally, mind you - as a cautionary tale about the toxic environment of conventions built around fandom.
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.