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!
Alien: Covenant, the second in a series of prequels to the films that followed 1979's Alien and a direct sequel to 2012's Prometheus, splits its time evenly between more of the thoughtful confrontation of the origins of mankind shared by its immediate predecessor and the gruesome body horror of its spiritual forebears. It's not exactly a new creation, but the return to the basics is quite effective, with screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper relishing the opportunity to ask the Important Questions and director Ridley Scott clearly having a blast with returning to the iconography of a franchise he helped to create.
The Lovers (2017)
The couple at the center of The Lovers has each been bored with the other for, it seems, years. We aren't sure what brought them to that point, but we can faintly see it in how they regard each other. He usually approaches her slowly, whether it be right before bed or in the living room with a glass of wine. She expresses surprise at almost everything he does, and there's a hint of resignation there, too. We hear from one of them late in the film that their initial romantic feelings for each other were from an age past, and maybe that's our window into this dynamic: They've known each other for too long, and they've perhaps never truly known each other.
A Quiet Passion
Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion approaches the life of poet Emily Dickinson with an astonishing sense of understanding its subject. Dickinson was, famously, guarded about her personal life, so that sense of understanding is a coup for the writer/director. The character speaks in her real-life counterpart's typically witty and philosophical barbs. Dickinson was one of the more outspoken feminist voices of her time, righteously obsessed with ideas of agency and independence in a time when the patriarchal society frowned upon such activities. For a while, Davies' film rejects the usual biographical elements that accompany a period piece about an historical figure, and even when the film must confront the events that led both to Dickinson's late-life reclusion from outward society and ultimate death in 1886, the film never settles.
The man just wants what's best for his daughter. The crux of Graduation is as simple as that, but this is not a movie about simple desires for what's right. The morality of the characters in writer/director Cristian Mungiu's film is relative to each one of them, a troubling fact that haunts our protagonist in every step he takes toward what he believes to be - and what others reassure him is - true justice. This is not a revenge thriller, although one can sense vaguely the pieces for such a genre effort somewhere beneath the quiet, sad surface of Mungiu's screenplay. It's a morality tale, built from melodramatic pieces but more reliant on these characters than on the situation in which they find themselves.
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.