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!
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Kingsman: The Golden Circle takes the problems that plagued its predecessor and simply shifts them a foot to the right. It featured a solid first half, establishing the characters and rules of the universe with laidback fun and an attention to details, but 2015's Kingsman: The Secret Service ultimately fell into the routine spy formula that it claimed to be parodying. There was also an off-putting glee with which it carried out some cartoonish and entirely gratuitous violence, and this first sequel, also written by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn, carries that attitude over.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie
What made its predecessors such surprising successes is missing from The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Where 2014's The LEGO Movie and the recent The LEGO Batman Movie grounded their rambunctiousness with an emotional component that was both welcome and unexpected, this third installment utilizing the toy building blocks of the title mostly offers only rambunctiousness. That the film has three directors and six credited screenwriters means the movie has an undeniably by-committee feel that constantly undermines its attempts to set itself apart from the kind of colorfully numbing, instantly forgettable fare that the other films so nimbly avoided.
The opening sequence of American Assassin seems, by the end, to be completely out-of-character with the rest of the movie. It is an idyllic day at the beach for our hero, who has just proposed (successfully) to his girlfriend. Minutes later, gunmen attack. Dozens are killed, including the man's now-fiancee. It reflects recent terror attacks in both the staging and execution of the event, yet the terrorists proceed to become the kind of faceless and generic threat that populates the espionage-flavored action thrillers of which this film is one. If you are anticipating a primary villain bent on mass-casualty destruction, that is what you will get, complete with a time-release bomb with a helpful digital readout.
Darren Aronofsky's mother! picks and pokes at the scab concealing its reason for existing until all that's left is the bleeding. This is a film with some nerve, hissing clues of and hinting with dead-eyed winks at its purpose, which is deeply connected to the method driving its madness. And there is a method to Aronofsky's abandonment of caution to the wind, although it's hard to detect until the pieces start falling into place. Much of the film takes place within the head space of the woman at its center - or does it? The film provides a concrete answer to that question by its final shot - or does 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.