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!
A Cure for Wellness
At the center of A Cure for Wellness is an intricate puzzle to be solved, and as with any puzzle, two questions must be asked. The first is obvious: Are the pieces of the puzzle intriguing enough to warrant interest in the protagonist's solving of it? The second, which will be addressed later in this review, is whether the solution is worthy of the maze that leads to it. Justin Haythe's screenplay is, for a time anyway, built upon the stuff of great horror literature, with events folding in upon themselves, sympathies shifting ominously, and characters consistently being redefined by the twists of an elaborate narrative that is fascinating to watch as it unfolds and the characters unravel. The whole thing is very much like observing a scientific experiment overseen by a trained puppeteer.
The Great Wall (2017)
The Great Wall features sequences of balletic action and a thrilling use of color and texture. It tells of an epic legend surrounding the titular wonder of the world, positioned in China because, according to this story, of monsters that could penetrate the kingdom and wipe the planet of its population. A man from the West, a foreigner, winds up being their only protection against these ravaging monsters. It's the "white savior" narrative writ large, but that's only a problem that can be tied to the legend itself. The film doesn't quite dig deep enough into characters who need more development than screenwriters Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, and Tony Gilroy are willing or able to give them with this patchwork narrative. It rushes through the introduction of its characters, through the set-up of its central premise, and through the build-up to and pay-off of its conflict.
John Wick, Chapter 2
Efficiency was the mode of operation in 2014's John Wick, and it worked in the film's favor: Its hero was a man of few words and with a violent past that tied into a cult of sorts that left him with a particular set of skills. It also opened shortly after his wife's death, and then the men came and killed his dog, which was her final gift to him. It was a proficient sort of premise that Chad Stahelski and David Leitch approached with a sleek visual style. Stahelski has returned to direct John Wick, Chapter 2 alone this time, and here is a well-mounted sequel that attempts to get to the substance of the titular character. He has a new dog, which is thankfully spared this time around, although the opening act of Derek Kolstad's screenplay rids him of the home he shared with his wife and a car that has sentimental value in its own right.
The Best 10 Movies of 2016
Taking inventory of a year in film is always a difficult prospect, but with 2016, I saw a very specific thematic constant forming: empathetic storytelling. Many among my top ten -- and, indeed, beyond -- were marvels of empathy, much needed in the year with that Presidential outcome and the political trash fire that proceeded and has succeeded it. I did not see everything, of course. That seems increasingly impossible as the number of high-profile gems rises. But I did see some stuff, and what follows was the best of it.
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.