Joker (dir. Todd Phillips, 2019) – Aspiring comic Arthur Fleck descends into a life of violent crime as he comes to terms with his inner darkness.
Conceptually, a new take on the Joker screams bad idea. Once driven mad by chemicals in the vat, the villain has since evolved into a more complex character and a powerful emblem of the chaos that he creates. His very mystery and absence of reasoning had made him all the more unpredictable and terrifying.
Rewriting him as a troubled social misfit seems too obvious an origin story, which might just undo the good work that Jonah and Christopher Nolan had done. Besides, another Batman reboot? Even the most avid fan has to be tired of watching Thomas and Martha Wayne get shot in the alleyway.
But the man who laughed this time, is not the same Clown Prince we have seen before. The layered character study justifies his on-screen existence, ironically with the help of Martin Scorsese, who had so recently confessed his disdain for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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Ad Astra (dir. James Gray, 2019) – Astronaut Roy McBride goes on a deep space expedition to uncover the truth about his missing father, whose mission now threatens the Earth.
A meditative and thoughtful space odyssey, Ad Astra is beauty to behold on the surface and within.
Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) steps out of his spacecraft, and perches on a towering antenna on a regular maintenance mission. All appears to go well. Then, a power surge strikes with sudden force. He floats to a neighbouring rig, attempting to shut off the voltage, but the damage is done. His pulse remains steady. He looks down at the majesty of the Earth beneath.
It is a heart-stopping opening that does well to introduce the man of the hour in Ad Astra. His stoicism wavers not even in face of death, revealing a hardened heart of a difficult past.
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Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2019) – Star Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth navigate the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Quentin Tarantino pays tribute to the golden decade of Hollywood with excessive enthusiasm, spinning a contemplative and poignant fairy tale out of tragic history.
Years following the end of Bounty Law, actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is now struggling with his alcoholism and fading Hollywood career. He spends most days on the road with his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), whose reputation, too, grants him little luck in the business.
This is their story, as much as it is of their neighbours. Living next door to the pair is successful director-actor couple, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). In 1969, how their lives may intertwine invites dread of what is to come, as history pages would show.
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Yesterday (dir. Danny Boyle, 2019) – Following a road accident, musician Jack Malik wakes up to find himself in an alternate timeline, where the Beatles do not exist.
Leaving the cultural legacy of the Beatles to the sidelines, Yesterday serves up its charming romance with a disappointing side of missed opportunities.
Imagine there’s no Beatles. What would the world be without Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Yellow Submarine? Who, if anyone, would have led the cultural revolution in place of the Fab Four?What of the myriad bands influenced by John, Paul, George, and Ringo to begin playing music in the first place?
Oddly enough, no major changes occur in this alternate timeline of Yesterday. That is at least in the aspect of music, which continues to thrive with the gaping hole in cultural history. The whimsical concept remains uninterested in exploring the lasting legacy of the Beatles, operating on arbitrary rules of logic.
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The Dead Don’t Die (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2019) – Zombies rise in the quiet town of Centerville, pitting its citizens against an unexpected apocalypse.
Auteur Jim Jarmusch lets none of his dark wit obscure what his latest film truly is – a tragic ode to the quiet death of humanity.
Calamity befalls the once peaceful Centerville, where farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) has reported his poultry missing. Police trio Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray), Ronnie Petersen (Adam Driver), and Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) soon discover two mutilated corpses at the town’s diner, then two open graves at the cemetery.
“This is all gonna end badly,” Petersen mutters as he identifies the responsible culprits in no time – zombies. He repeats the words, convinced that the town’s destruction is but inevitable.
Consider his mantra a big, pessimistic hint at what Jim Jarmusch may just be saying with his latest elegiac work. Indeed, The Dead Don’t Die is far from the typical cautionary tale. It is an irate, bitter rebuke against the hordes of us, responsible for the mess that is the world today.
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Parasite / Gisaengchung (dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2019) – An unemployed family takes interest in the wealthy Parks and goes down a dangerous road of fraud.
Genre-bending masterwork Parasite dives into the intimate lives of two families, forcing an introspective look into the difficult subject of the world’s growing social divide.
Bong Joon-ho is anything but a conventional filmmaker. Undeterred by controversy, his string of masterworks never steer away from sharp critiques on politics and capitalistic greed. The Host, Memories of Murder, and Mother; few have made movies as resonant as his, earning deserving acclaim for their layered reflection on South Korean society.
Recent years saw him reach English-speaking audiences with genetically-engineered pigs ripe for slaughter (Okja), and a brewing revolution aboard an analogous train (Showpiercer). The commentaries on class divisions again hit home for many, especially during this politically trying decade.
Back on home grounds, the South Korean director continues to transcend borders with his latest social satire on economic inequality. More akin to his former all-Korean productions, Parasite roots itself back in harsh reality, homing in on two families of different worlds.
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