“The Lighthouse”

Like its predecessor, the well executed “The Witch” the film “The Lighthouse” directed by Robert Eggers, which he co-wrote with his brother Max, is a period piece. Parts drama, fantasy, and horror, the film is set in 1890, and centers on two lighthouse keepers who are attempting to endure living on a remote island off of the coast of New England. Robert Pattinson (Twilight) portrays Ephraim Winslow, a quiet, former lumberjack who is seeking a fresh start in his life. His new beginning, is that of a lighthouse keeper. The job is such that the physical demands, which are numerous, take as heavy a toll on his body, as the relative isolation of living on the island where the lighthouse is located, will appear to play tricks on his mind. Winslow’s only companion is an unsavory curmudgeon, a former Navy sailor, named Thomas Wake, played by four time Oscar nominee William Dafoe (The Florida Project). Wake enjoys belittling Thomas, as well as partaking in some very strange nocturnal activities. He’s also very protective when it comes to the lighthouse. He insists on being the only one of the two who gets to handle the light at the top. He keeps the door to the top of the lighthouse locked, and he even sleeps with the key, to prevent Winslow from going up to the top of the lighthouse. Wake’s behavior, naturally, only serves to get the better of Winslow’s curiosity. Winslow wants to know what exactly is the secret that Wake is guarding? Additionally, he wants to know what it is that Wake does, when he goes up to the top of the lighthouse.

Pattinson and Dafoe’s characters play off of one another very well. There is an overriding tension that exists between the two men, virtually from the outset of their working relationship. The more time they are kept together on the island, the more palpable the tension becomes. After a night of drowning their sorrows, the two men realize that they have more in common than either initially believed possible. Their newly formed bond, however, is tenuous, thanks to a storm. The inclement weather prolongs the two men’s month long stay on the island, because the ship that was coming to resupply Wake and Winslow, and take Winslow from the island, is being kept away from shore; the conditions are simply too dangerous to try to land. (As an aside: The conditions shown on screen, were not the product of Hollywood special effects. The inclement weather that pounded Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia, where the film was being shot, pushed the cast and crew to their limits).

“The Lighthouse” is not a horror film in the traditional sense. There are no jump scares, nor are there crazed killers running wild while wielding knives or some other such weapons. What makes “The Lighthouse” impactful is the sense of psychological dread that prevails throughout the atmospheric film. The film takes its time to build toward the hallucinogenic nightmare that is at its core, or is it? What is real and what is the product of isolation comes heavily into play throughout its 109 minute runtime. For example, are mermaids real, or have they become the product of the characters’ imagination? Are ghosts really present on the island, or are they the product of the imagination of two men, who have lost touch with reality?

“The Lighthouse” premiered on May 19, 2019 at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a combination of: spot on cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, who was nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar for his work on “The Lighthouse;” wonderful editing done by Louise Ford (Wildlife); Mark Korven’s (The Terror) score which synchs up well with what is transpiring on screen; and the way the filmmakers capture the historical accuracy of the time period, everything from the way the actors were costumed, to the spoken dialogue.

I don’t want to go into any further detail and ruin the film for those of you who’ve yet to see it and want to. In a film of this nature, the less you know, or the less you think you know sitting down to watch it, the better. Suffice it to say, as a film lover, “The Lighthouse” was an excellent gem of a film, from a director, who I can only imagine will keep producing captivating work. I know, however, that my opinion will not be shared by everyone. The film will not be for everyone. Some viewers will more than likely be turned off by the lack of a straightforward story, that answers all of the questions by the film’s conclusion, and thus leaves them feeling frustrated. Other viewers, will more than likely enjoy piecing together what can come across as an ambiguous film, and attempt to solve the mystery of what they’ve just watched.

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“Jojo Rabbit”

A child having an imaginary friend is one thing, but for it to be the supreme leader of Nazi Germany’s Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, that is something else entirely. Of course, as with most anything, the context, in which this is taking place, plays an important role as to the why. Jojo Betzler portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Roman Griffin Davis, in his feature film debut, is a ten year old boy residing in Nazi Germany. When it gets right down to it, he’s a good child, but, like all children of German ethnicity of the time period, he’s been programmed since birth to despise everything that isn’t approved by the Reich. His bedroom walls are covered with Nazi propaganda posters; the way a child of today might cover their walls with posters of athletes and bands they love. In Jojo’s mind, the Nazis are the good guys in the world, and Hitler isn’t viewed as a murderous dictator, but instead as a hero, as Jojo has been taught since birth. When times are tough for Jojo, and his real best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) isn’t around, he turns to his imaginary friend the Führer.

“Jojo Rabbit”  was written and directed by Oscar nominee Taika Waititi (Two Cars, One Night) based off of the 2004 novel “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens. The film is heartfelt in places to be sure, as it emphasizes that compassion, love and a positive mindset are useful when combating those who have a slavish devotion to prejudice – in this instance, anti-Semitism. Waititi does a masterful job of balancing the comedic and dramatic aspects of the film. While the film is not about the Holocaust, the knowledge of what is happening to the Jews of Europe at the time, is not forgotten, thanks to several scenes that reinforce the utter hatred directed by the Nazis and their loyal followers at the Jews, however, as with most things in life, not all is bad. Jojo’s caring mother, Rosie, played by BAFTA winner Scarlett Johansson  (Lost in Translation), is a member of an anti-Nazi organization. Furthermore, she’s risking her life by hiding Elsa, portrayed by Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace), in one of the walls, in a second floor bedroom of her house. Elsa’s an intelligent and tough minded, Jewish teenage girl, who still has the ability, despite all of the horrors she’s been through since the Nazi’s took over, to show compassion, even toward someone who is supposed to be her hated enemy.

Jojo, comes to learn of Elsa’s presence in the house, and he has a serious decision to make. If he turns her over to the Gestapo, led by Deertz, played by three time BAFTA winner Stephen Merchant (Fighting with My Family), he’d be risking his mother being imprisoned, or worse, hung in the town square, as other perceived traitors have been. Another possibility, is letting Elsa’s whereabouts be known to his former Hitler Youth leader, Captain Klenzendorf, a role acted by Oscar winner Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Jojo’s love for his mother wins out over his devotion to Germany. Instead of exposing Elsa to the authorities, he opts to study her instead. He wants to be involved in the fight, but thanks to a mishap with a grenade at the Hitler Youth training camp, he’s relegated to non-combat status. Jojo, begins to compile a book on Elsa, learning everything he can about her, in order to, at first, get information on the enemy, which he eventually plans to share with Captain Klenzendorf.

Problems being to arise for the young Jojo. The more he talks to Elsa, the more he realizes that they’re not that different. With the passing of each day, and the more they get to know one another, Jojo begins to question all of the horrid things he’s been taught since birth about the Jews. In addition, he begins to become more actively aware of the horrors that are taking place around him, and that the so called ‘master race’ he belongs to, doesn’t seem like such a utopian existence.

Waititi has been called out, in certain circles, for portraying Hitler, in the manner in which he did, but I think its unjust criticism. Firstly, taking a step away from the film for a moment, Waititi is Jewish. Secondly, while his portrayal of Hitler is one of the oddest, in a good way, that I’ve ever seen, he never forgets that he’s portraying someone who is the embodiment of evil. While his version of Hitler starts off as a comedic caricature of one of the most despised people who ever lived, as the film moves forward, Waititi’s portryal of Hitler becomes more hate filled, especially when it comes to Hitler’s vile filled anti-Jewish rhetoric.

Is Elsa able to hide in Rosie’s house undetected until the end of the war? Is she discovered by the Gestapo and shipped off to a concentration camp? What will the punishment be for Rosie if Elsa is discovered hiding inside her house? What would become of Jojo? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the 108 minute film.

“Jojo Rabbit” premiered on September 8, 2019 at the Toronto International Film Festival, and since its premiere has garnered strong critical praise, including six Oscar nominations. In the hands of a less capable filmmaker, “Jojo Rabbit” could’ve wound up being a disaster, but Waititi was able to create just the right balance, so the film was neither too comedic for such a dark subject nor too dark for a film that needed moments of comic relief to break up the tension. There are just the right number of jokes, some wonderful one-liners, sight gags, and as I stated earlier in this post, the film’s heart is the right place. I didn’t think for one moment that the Nazis or Hitler were being glorified, instead, the viewer is taken on a funny, at times, but no less emotionally impactful journey by its two young leads, who play very well off of one another. The film attempts to show the horror of war from a child’s point of view, and succeeds.

 

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“The Peanut Butter Falcon”

In the film “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” Zack Gottsagen, in his film debut, portrays the character Zak; a young man, who has Down syndrome. He has no family to look after him, so therefore, as a ward of the state of North Carolina, he has been placed in an assisted living facility. Zak, understandably, dislikes where he is being forced to live, and is looking to break out of the place – literally. Zak’s immediate goal, upon escaping from the facility, is to meet up with his professional wrestling idol ‘The Salt Water Redneck,’ played in the film by Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church (Sideways). Zak has gained a confidence from watching the Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling videos and promos, upwards of ten times a day, according to his roommate and friend, Carl, played by two time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska). Zak, not only wants to meet his wrestling hero, but take lessons from him, and truly begin to live his life. (As an aside: Former professional wrestlers Mick Foley and Jake ‘the snake’ Roberts, appear in the movie).

The film follows a pair of runaways, Zak, as previously mentioned, and Tyler, portrayed by BAFTA winner Shia LeBeouf (Honey Boy).  LeBeouf, is seemingly, as of late, with this film and others, attempting to shed his turbulent personal past, and that’s a good thing; he’s a talented actor. The two men, might never have met, if not by a fluke: Zak sneaks onto Tyler’s boat, and isn’t discovered until Tyler, who is being chased by some men out to get him, hurriedly has to leave the dock area. Of course, with movies of this nature, Tyler at first tries to rid himself of Zak, but that doesn’t happen. Over the course of  the film, the two men form a bond, as they both seek out a more prosperous future.

Zak, as previously mentioned, entertains the idea of becoming a professional wrestler. Tyler, wants to move to a quiet fishing village in Florida to begin his life again. Trouble, however, is never lurking far behind: Eleanor, played by Golden Globe winner Dakota Johnson (The Social Network), is in charge of Zak’s care at the assisted living facility, and is seeking to bring him back where she feels he belongs. Tyler, is being pursued for the crimes of stealing crab pots and setting fire to supplies belonging to Duncan, a fellow crabber and rival, played by Oscar nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone). Aiding Duncan, in his pursuit of Tyler, is Ratboy (Yelawolf).

Critics of the film, might say that it is a bit on the predictable side, regarding what will happen to the respective characters, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. The film has a runtime of 97 minutes, so for me, it didn’t overstay its welcome. Focusing on the path to get to the end, as opposed to the resolution, is one of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed the most. The other was the acting. The three leads had terrific on-screen chemistry, and the connection between LeBeouf and Gottsagen, should especially keep viewers invested in the story.

Gottsagen, for me, as I am sure for many viewers, was the standout in the film, considering the journey he needed to go on, in order to even be in the movie. Once he got his opportunity, as evidenced by the performance he gave, he certainly made the most of it. As the story goes, Gottsagen was discovered by the filmmakers, when they went to shoot scenes at Zeno Mountain Farm, which is a year round organization that is funded entirely by donations and run by volunteer workers. Zeno Mountain Farm’s purpose is to host camps for people with or without disabilities. When Gottsagen met the creative team at the camp he was attending, he impressed them so much with his zeal of wanting to be in a film, even though he was told the odds where astronomically against him, that the screenwriter of the film decided to write the screenplay for “The Peanut Butter Falcon” with Gottsagen specifically in mind.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon”  premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival on March 9, 2019. The film marks the feature directorial debut for Tyler Nilson. The screenplay for the film was written by Michael Schwartz (The Moped Diaries). Co editors Nat Fuller (Stranger Things) and Oscar nominee Kevin Tent (The Descendants) did an excellent job editing the film, and keeping it moving at a good pace. Furthermore, the spot on cinematography by Nigel Bluck (True Detective) does a wonderful job of capturing the atmosphere of the outer banks. In addition, the soundtrack to the film, syncs up well with what is taking place on screen. Overall, for those of you looking for a gratifying and fun film, that should leave most viewers, after watching the movie, thinking that it was time well spent, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” in my opinion, delivers.

                            

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“The Irishman”

The beginning of the compelling and engrossing movie “The Irishman,” opens with a long tracking shot, through an assisted living facility, as the 1956 song “In the Still of the Night” by “The Five Satins” plays, before the camera focuses in on the narrator of the story. Frank Sheeran is the man who will be telling the viewer his life story. He is an elderly man, with white hair, what’s left of it anyway, and is wheelchair bound. Sheeran is portrayed by two time Oscar winner Robert De Niro (The Godfather: Part II), who gives a memorable performance. During the course of Sheeran’s life, “The Irishman” as he was called, was: a World War II combat veteran; a union truck driver; a hired gun for the Philadelphia Mafia; a union leader; as well as a close friend of Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa. If Frank can be believed, he has firsthand knowledge of, and was involved in, several assassinations, that have confounded conspiracy theorists for decades.

The movie covers several decades. In the beginning, Frank, as he puts it, was just another working stiff. He lives in Philadelphia, and works as a meat truck driver. He’s an exemplary employee, who hasn’t missed a day of work in over eight years, but he’s yearning for more out of life. Frank is always looking to make extra money, or make inroads toward impressing the right people. When he meets a Philadelphia mobster, Skinny Razor, played by two time Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire), he wants not only to make money, but impress the gangster. The first thing Frank does, is make sure a few sides of beef disappear off his truck, and are delivered to Skinny. Next, Frank makes sure that an entire shipment of meat goes undelivered. After the whole shipment of beef disappears, Frank is hauled into court by his employer. When Frank is questioned by his lawyer, he refuses to give names of his accomplices, in order to potentially save his job. By keeping his mouth shut, Frank not only beats the case, but he impresses the powers that be, that he’s someone who can be trusted.

Frank is introduced by his lawyer Bill Bufalino, played by three time Emmy winner Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), to Philadelphia Mafia power broker Russell Bufalino, portrayed by Oscar winner Joe Pesci (Goodfellas). Ironically, Frank and Russell had already met when Frank’s truck broke down, and Russell helped him fix it. Russell takes an instant liking to Frank, and begins to give him jobs to do. In turn, Russell’s boss, the head of the Philadelphia Mafia, Angelo Bruno, a role acted by Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs), also utilizes Frank’s services. Time and again, Frank demonstrates that he is a loyal soldier, who is not afraid to do what needs to be done at the behest of his employers. One of the most important tasks Frank is given, is to protect former Teamster president, Jimmy Hoffa. In the film, the role of Hoffa is played spot on by Oscar winner Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman). The two become friends and seem to genuinely care for one another. The movie asks, among other things, the question: Can someone like Frank, who kills seemingly without remorse, truly care about anyone?

People going into the film expecting another “Goodfellas” will be in for a disappointment. Unlike the movie’s predecessor, “The Irishman” never showcases any of the so called glitz and glamour of the mafia lifestyle. Frank isn’t out running around with a different woman every evening. He’s a married man, once divorced; the father of four daughters, one of whom, Peggy, is played, as an adult, by Oscar winner Anna Paquin (The Piano). She’s perhaps the one person Frank would be honest with, and whom he might truly love, and would never hurt, but she’s also the one person, who wants nothing to do with him. She learned early on what kind of man he is, and she’s never forgiven him for his lifestyle.  

The movie had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on September 27, 2019. On November 27th it was released worldwide on Netflix streaming services. Comprised of the genres of biography, crime, and drama, the movie has a runtime of 209 minutes. Directed by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese (The Departed), the movie was adapted by Oscar winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) from the 2004 book “I Heard You Paint Houses” written by former private investigator turned author, Charles Brandt. The cinematography by two time Oscar nominee Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street) is outstanding, so too, is the wonderful editing by three time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker (Raging Bull), which effortlessly transitions between distinct time periods. Furthermore, the mix of existing music, from a variety of artists, as well as an original score composed by two time Emmy nominee Robbie Robertson (The Color of Money) helps to set the right mood for what is transpiring on screen.

What might at first come across as yet another picture about life in the mafia is not the case with this movie. There are, of course, numerous elements, for example, betrayals and murders, found in most, if not all, mob themed films, but “The Irishman” expands beyond the usual. For movie fans, the cast is a dream come true, and better late than never. For fans of Scorsese, this is a must see. The director, in my opinion, still hasn’t lost a step, and this is yet another gem in his illustrious filmmaking career.

 

 

                                                                                           

 

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“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”

On September 29, 2013, the final episode of the critically praised, and arguably, one of the best television series of all time, “Breaking Bad,” ended its five season run with the episode “Felina.” In the closing minutes of the series finale, Walter White, a role completely embodied by Golden Globe winner Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), vanquishes a group of criminal, Neo-Nazis. Walter’s actions, not only gets revenge against the criminals, who took the majority of his money, but more importantly, it helps to free his partner, Jesse, portrayed by three time Emmy winner Aaron Paul (Westworld), who was being held prisoner by the Neo-Nazis, and forced to cook meth.

After an opening flashback scene, featuring Jesse, and Mike Ehrmantraut, played by “Breaking Bad,” and “Better Call Saul,” cast member, and six time Emmy nominee Jonathan Banks, “El Camino,” picks up again right where “Breaking Bad” ended. Jesse is seen driving off of the compound, into the dark of night, as he screams in jubilation, that he is free from where he’s been held prisoner. He doesn’t get very far, before he sees a long line of police and law enforcement vehicles headed in his direction. Managing to pull into a driveway, Jesse sits nervously, gun in hand, waiting for what might be his final moments on Earth to take place, but fortunately for him, all of the vehicles speed by him. From that moment forward, he knows, he’s a wanted man. He’s short on time, completely out of money, and needs to make a quick escape from New Mexico before the law catches up with him. The only people he can completely trust are his friends, Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones); both characters appeared in multiple episodes during the series run of “Breaking Bad.  Once he arrives at the house the two friends share, he is able to hide the El Camino, get a badly needed night’s sleep, and an equally needed shower, and begin to formulate a plan as to how he’s going to avoid being captured, and imprisoned for the second time.

Time has not been kind to Jesse. Fans of the series will immediately recognize that he’s not the same character he was during the series run, nor could he be, after the hellish ordeal he’s been through. His stay with the Neo-Nazis, and their inhumane treatment of him, where he was caged like an animal, has left Jesse scarred on both his face and back. The harsh life he led while their prisoner, also causes him to have painful flashbacks of the suffering he endured, both physically and psychologically, at the Neo-Nazis’ hands. Revealed to the viewer, via flashback, Todd, played by Emmy nominee Jesse Plemons (Fargo), is the person, from his time with the Neo-Nazis, that haunts Jesse the most. Ironically, it is Todd, who at Jesse’s desperate hour of need, might be the one person who can save Jesse, and give him the means to start a new life someplace else.    

While Jesse might have changed, the tone, look and sound of the series carries over into the movie thanks to the excellent cinematography work of Marshall Adams (Better Call Saul), and composer Dave Porter (The Blacklist). For example, one scene of interest, is when Jesse is tearing apart an apartment. The camera is facing down over the entire width of the apartment, and there appears to be multiple images of Jesse moving throughout the apartment at a brisk pace, while searching through each of the rooms. Additionally, and perhaps, most importantly to maintain continuity from the series, “Breaking Bad” creator, three time Emmy nominee Vince Gilligan (The X-Files) wrote and directed the movie which premiered on October 11, 2019 on Netflix streaming services. Furthermore, fans of the series will also recognize the time lapse photography to show the change of day into night, that was utilized throughout the series.

By his own admission, Vince Gilligan stated that: had “Better Call Saul” not been successful, the sequel movie, revealing what happened to Jesse, most likely, would not have been made. I don’t want to say too much more, because I don’t want to spoil it for those of you, who have yet to be able to watch the movie. Sadly, this was one of Oscar nominee Robert Foster’s (Jackie Brown) final films. He returns as Ed Galbraith, who is the owner of a vacuum repair and sales store, among some other things.

Will Jesse make it out alive? What does he need to do to ensure his escape? Where will he go if he can start over? All of the questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion. According to Aaron Paul, there are no planned sequels to the movie, so, Jesse’s story, by movie’s end, will be concluded.

 

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“Joker”

In the film “Joker,” Arthur Fleck, portrayed by Golden Globe winner Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here) is an unemployed, and mentally unbalanced man. He makes a living, and barely, at that, by performing as a clown at different events. He is both awkward and captivating to watch, which is thanks to Phoenix infusing his performance with a gamut of emotions, that are full of nuance. Fleck resides with, and is devoted to his ailing mother, played by Golden Globe winner Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), in a rundown building in the fictional Gotham City. The film takes place in 1981. In addition to trash being left uncollected on the streets, because of a sanitation workers strike, there is an out-of-control crime epidemic. Additionally, there is a wide gap between the wealthy, such as business man, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who is seeking to become Mayor, and the majority of the city’s residents. As it turns out, Arthur’s mother, was once employed by Wayne. She keeps writing him letters, in order to elicit his financial help, but he has yet to respond to her, and from what is divulged, it seems her letters have been going unanswered for a significant portion of time.

Arthur is on a series of medications, for a medical condition, which causes him to laugh at inappropriate things. In order to explain the condition, he carries with him a business card, which he can hand to a person, to let them know that there is something wrong with him, and he doesn’t mean anything wrong by his behavior. He has been meeting on a weekly basis, with a city appointed psychiatrist, but not long into the film, the funding for his treatment has been terminated, and he is on his own. Arthur is shown as someone who can easily be bullied, and doesn’t have the wherewithal, at least initially, to stand up for himself. There is a scene at the start of the film, where Arthur is performing as a clown, in front of a store; he is trying to promote the store’s sale. The sign he is holding, is taken from him by a group of young hoodlums, who to his credit, Arthur chases. The downside, is that when he catches up with the thugs, he gets beaten up, and left in a back alleyway.

One of the few pleasures Arthur seems to have in his life, is watching the Murray Franklin show, a late night talk show. In the role of Franklin is two time Oscar winner Robert De Niro (The Godfather: Part II). Arthur dreams of having interactions with Franklin,  while at the same time attempting to pursue a career in standup comedy. The only other glimmer of light, in Arthur’s life, is his relationship with Sophie, a character acted by Emmy nominee Zazie Beetz (Atlanta).  She is a single mother he is dating, who lives in his building. Their relationship, like that of his dreams about appearing on Franklin’s show, leave a viewer wondering, how much is real and how much is Arthur’s imagination.

The violence in the film, doesn’t occur often, but when it does, it is quick and graphic. There also isn’t a tremendous amount of action in “The Joker.”  The film is, after all, not a superhero movie; while the movie does contain a few scenes that feature a young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson), his persona, as Batman, Gotham’s caped crusader, is years away. Instead, the film is a character study of a complex man; an origin story, as to how, the most well known villain in all of Gotham City came to infamous prominence. The final straw, that puts Arthur on the path of no return, is when he is bullied by three stock brokers, on the subway. The actions they take against Arthur, and he against them, sets up the second part of the film.

Oscar nominee Todd Phillips (Borat), directed the disquieting and intense film, and co-wrote the screenplay with BAFTA nominee Scott Silver (The Fighter). The screenplay was written using characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. The film premiered on August 31, 2019 at the Venice Film Festival.  Parts crime, drama, and thriller, the film’s runtime is 122 minutes.

One of the most interesting aspects of “Joker,” is that as a viewer, it’s hard to know whether to despise him, or feel sorry for Arthur based on everything that is imparted to the viewer regarding his background. The filmmakers, I felt, wanted the audience to come to their own conclusion. In closing, in my opinion, “Joker” is a well-executed film that succeeds on all levels, but the main reason to watch the movie is for the brilliant performance given by Phoenix as the title character.

 

 

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“Friday the 13th – The Start of an Enduring Horror Franchise”

Alice (Adrienne King), Bill (Harry Crosby), Brenda (Laurie Bartram), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Ned (Mark Nelson), and Jack, played by Golden Globe winner Kevin Bacon (Taking Chance), are six counselors helping to reopen Camp Crystal Lake, a long dormant sleep away camp. In 1957, the camp suffered a tragedy, when a young boy, Jason Voorhees (Ari Lehman), who had a disability, was not being watched by camp staff and drowned. Jason was the son of the camp cook, Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), who suffered a mental break down after Jason’s death.

“Friday the 13th”  opens during the summer of 1958; two counselors leave a sing-a-long, and sneak off to be alone together. Their fun will not last long, because within a minute, they’re murdered by an unseen killer. Since that time, whenever someone has tried to open the camp, which is located in New Jersey, strange things have happened, and the camp closes, almost as quickly as it opens. The local town residents refer to the camp as ‘camp blood.’  During one scene in the beginning of the film, local resident, Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), as he’s known, warns the new camp cook, Annie (Robbi Morgan), that there is a death curse on the place. Annie ignores the ramblings of Crazy Ralph, and hitches a ride to the road that leads to the camp. Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), the new owner, has heard all of the same rumors, and has decided to ignore them as well. He doesn’t believe that the camp is cursed, and he has been working tirelessly, to try and get the grounds ready for campers who will be arriving in two weeks. (As an aside: “Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Blairstown, New Jersey, where the movie was filmed, is still in operation).”

Steve leaves his new counselors with a good deal of work to do, as he takes off for town to run some errands. Work is quickly forgotten, and the teens begin to explore where they’ll be staying for the next number of weeks. The teens, however, as the viewer knows, are not alone, they’re being watched. If that weren’t bad enough, Ned, the practical joker of the group, among several of his other antics, does something not at all funny. He pretends to drown. All he can hope to achieve with that stupid act, is to anger, who or what, is watching the counselors. Later that same evening, a bad thunderstorm forces everyone indoors. Jack and Marcie go off to a cabin to spend time alone; Ned wanders off by himself, and Alice, Bill, and Brenda play a game of strip monopoly. Throughout the night, however, a killer will strike repeatedly, in an attempt to once more cause enough mayhem, in order for Camp Crystal Lake to be closed. Those seeking help will of course find that the phone lines are not working, and all of the cars are having mechanical trouble. Who or what is disposing of the camp counselors? Will anyone survive the evening of horrors?

The original “Friday the 13th” is different, in a number of ways, from the films that would follow. Jason, for one, is linked, and rightfully so, to the franchise as a whole. He is the killer who wears the hockey mask, and wields a machete to vanquish those who are foolish enough to enter the camp grounds. During the 95 minute runtime of the original, he wasn’t the focal point. In fact, while his one appearance in the original is impactful, the filmmakers might’ve decided that the movie was a standalone. Of course, the money the film earned at the box office all but guaranteed a sequel. Imagine, however, if Jason had been relegated to that one scene he does appear in. Would the debate be, among horror film fans, as to his actual validity? Was Jason real, or was he merely the product of a nightmare?

Trivia buffs take note: The first person to ever die in a “Friday the 13th” film was actor Willie Adams; he played Barry, the camp counselor who sneaks off with his girlfriend during the opening scene. The working title of the script was called “Long Night at Camp Blood.”  Harry Crosby, who plays camp counselor Bill, is the son of the late, legendary Oscar winner Bing Crosby (Going My Way). Filming at the camp site lasted 28 days. In the evenings, most of the cast and crew, would return to their hotel rooms, however, Tom Savini and his special makeup effects assistant Taso N. Stavrakis (Dawn of the Dead)  would stay at the camp grounds. The two would alternate watching the same couple of movies on VHS, to pass the time. The score composed by Harry Manfredini (House), which is mainly comprised of ki ki ki ma ma ma is featured only when the killer is present, with the exception of the ending of the film. Two time Oscar winner Sally Field (Places in the Heart) auditioned, and was turned down for the role of Alice Hardy. In addition, Oscar winner Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde) was asked to play the part of Mrs. Voorhees, but politely declined. The role wound up being given to Betsy Palmer, who although she had made a number of appearances on television, “Friday the 13th” marked her first film role, since the 1959 film “The Last Angry Man.” (As an aside: I had the pleasure of meeting Betsy Palmer, at a horror fan film convention, and she couldn’t have been nicer. She answered a few questions I had for her, took a picture with me, and autographed a picture for me).   

The film was directed by Sean S. Cunningham (The Last House on the Left), admittedly, because he thought it would make him enough money to pay off his bills; he was right, and then some. “Friday the 13th” was budgeted for an estimated $550,000 and would proceed to gross approximately $40,000,000.  The  horror hit was written by three time Emmy winner Vic Miller (A Stranger Is Watching). Premiering on May 9, 1980, it launched a franchise that, as of the writing of this post, includes: nine sequels; one crossover film, where Jason squares off against fellow horror icon, Freddy Krueger; a 2009 remake of the original; as well as the two time Emmy nominated television series of the same name, which ran from October 3, 1987 through May 14, 1990.

“Friday the 13th,” when viewed today, is rather tame compared to contemporary horror films. The total body count during the film was ten people. Of that number, half of the deaths that occur, happen off screen, which helped to cut down on unnecessary excess, the type which the sequels would revel in. There is blood and gore, but not to the level of today’s films, or even film’s that have been produced in the past two decades. The kills that are shown on screen, were orchestrated by the outstanding, Tom Savini (Day of the Dead), and although dated, they still hold up well all these years later. For example, the demise of poor Kevin Bacon’s character Jack, should be especially pleasing to hardcore fans of the genre. The final edit of the film delivers a movie which is well paced, and maintains a level of suspense throughout its runtime, that, coupled with some genuine scares, drives the film forward toward its conclusion.

 

 

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