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!


The monster has appeared on the streets and in the skyline of bustling Seoul, South Korea, destroying everything in its path, though thankfully leaving no real casualties beyond injuries. The woman has entered a drunken state after a night in her old friend's bar, and stupid things have been done in the interim. She, as with most hangovers, remembers nothing of the night before. How these two threads connect is at the heart of Colossal, a clever and troubling mixture of comedy and drama that attempts to merge the two warring tones and fumbles the attempt. The film still works, though, because of the truly bonkers nature of this premise. It seems prudent to dance around the meat of that premise, as director Nacho Vigalondo's screenplay has a lot of surprises in store. Not all of those surprises are good, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

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Free Fire

The set-up is remarkably simple: Twelve people meet in an abandoned warehouse to transact a gun deal. The kicker, though, is that the film isn't simplistic. This isn't just any group of people. Some are strangers to others in the group. Some are longtime business partners. Some have coincidental connections to each other. The entire deal hinges upon the disparate personalities of its participants. Some of these people are psychopaths. Others simply want their money and to leave peacefully. None of them anticipates the wrench thrown in the works.

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Their Finest

A portrait of the English film industry of the early 1940s is painted in Their Finest, a surprisingly enjoyable period piece that also offers a unique view of wartime heroism. The film isn't based upon a specific event in history but seemingly upon any such production that took place in this era of British filmmaking designed to fight against Adolf Hitler. The primary characters are the trio of writers hired to fit the film in production into a specific mold. The primary setting is London, which is under attack from German bombers. Explosions rock the streets day and night. Anyone, at any time, could die, and that pall of death grounds what is otherwise an acrid and perceptive comedy about egos clashing.

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The Void

The Void comes out of the gate surprisingly strong, and so that might be why it is equally surprising that, as the film grows sillier, it also becomes less interesting. The reason for this is a bit complicated, because this is material that should, by all means, work. The film is a throwback to the heyday of outlaw sci-fi of the 1980s (Think of the films directed by John Carpenter or even David Cronenberg). It features really strong, practical effects in an era that has been overrun by digital effects that often look rubbery and indistinctive. Indeed, one can kind of detect that, if the filmmakers had gone down that route, the outcome would have been laughable. The decision to use practical effects is a refreshing one, but unfortunately that's the only thing the feels fresh in writers/directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski's film.

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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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