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!
Justice League at least assembles its ragtag team of superheroes with a certain level of enthusiasm at the start, but the film could afford a little more of that by positioning them against a more convincing threat. The villain here is the kind of generic Big Bad that gives generic Big Bads the qualifier: He-s an effects creation - a poor one - who wants to seek a series of objects that will give him ultimate power. As often as the screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon tries to explain these objects, it's never clear what they do or what their significance is. "They do not contain power," explains one of the heroes to another; "They are power." That explanation doesn't really help.
Anger boils beneath the surface of Mudbound, a literate period drama about generational and sociological collision between two families in post-WWII Mississippi within the twenty years or so between that and the Civil Rights era. The screenplay by Virgil Williams and director Dee Rees (based on Hillary Jordan's novel of the same name) is ambitious in its intentions to explore systemic racism on a microcosmic scale within an era that was, very slowly but surely, starting to see an enlightenment within the younger generation and that has just seen a world war. Both families have had sons return from that war, and both sons returned with a reshaped worldview.
Cook Off! has the stench upon it of falling into the unfortunate trap of being improvised to death. Nothing about the screenplay (by Wendi McLendon-Covey, W. Bruce Cameron, and co-director Cathryn Michon and based on Michon's book The Grrl Genius Guide to Life) feels as if it was written down or typed onto a document by human hands. The actors, a lot of whom are genuinely talented, simply mug for the camera for 98 minutes. Not one of the characters is sympathetic. The story is told in the mockumentary style of cooking-themed reality programs like "Chopped" or "Top Chef." The behind-closed-doors baggage of a movie rarely matters, but let us say that it is not surprising that the film, shot in 2006 for a planned 2007 release, has been shelved for a decade.
The idea of preferred names runs through the beating heart of Lady Bird. It comes to a head in a scene early on, as our protagonist and her best friend in the known world sign a sign-up sheet for an activity at their school. Christine - who would like to be called "Lady Bird," thank you very much - places the given name ("It's given to me by me," she clarifies to the easily confused) between her birth name and surname in the same quotations I just used. Her friend does the same thing with a shorthand of her name ("Julie" from "Julianne"). It is not, Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) argues, the same thing at all. Julie (Beanie Feldstein), who later adopts another shorthand by which to be referred, disagrees.
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.