"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Parasite: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A fantastically original film, gloriously directed and acted, that is both dramatically potent and politically insighftul.

Parasite, directed and co-written by Bong Joon-Ho, is the story of the Kim family, who live at the bottom rung of Korean society and try to connive their way out of poverty. The film stars Song Kang-ho as father Ki-taek, Jang Hye-jin as mother Chung-sook, Choi Woo-shik as son Ki-woo and Park So-dam as daugher Ki-jong.

Parasite is an exquisitely crafted film that, although it is in Korean with English subtitles, speaks as eloquently and insighftully about the perils of American capitalism and the growing resentment and rage born out of astronomical wealth disparity, as any film in recent memory. In this way Parasite is reminiscent of last year’s Shoplifters and this year’s big movie Joker. All three of these movies tap into the pulsating dissatisfaction of the working poor who are being left further and further behind, and growing angrier and angrier about it, with every passing day.

Whenever certain themes recur in films that capture either the critical or commercial imagination (or both), my antenna stand on end because as my studies have shown, cinema can be prophecy, and these films are red flags as to what is percolating just beneath the surface in the collective sub-conscious. One look around America, and the world, gives credance to the theory that these films, all of which give voice to the emotional pull of populist uprisings, are trying to warn us of what lies ahead.

Parasite is a brilliant examination of the frustration and fury that accompanies being at the bottom of the social rung in a corrupt and rigged capitalist system. The only way to get ahead and get out of the prison of debt, and it is a prison, is to lie, scheme and cheat. If that means throwing other poor people under the bus, then so be it.

Director Bong Joon-ho has tapped into these ideas of class struggle before, most notably in his film Snowpiercer (which starred Chris Evans aka Captain America), which was a remarkably innovative and original film. Bong’s class consciousness in both Parasite and Snowpiercer is fueled by anger and fear… namely, fear for what will result when the anger from below is righteously unleashed upon those at the top when the house of cards crumbles. Bong, either consciously or unconsciously, understands that the current world order sits atop a super volcano that is growing more and more unstable and combustible, and his film’s reflect the emotional and political fragility of our time.

In Parasite, the poor are vermin, roaches, who are either being pissed on or drowned, as poverty is a deluge that imposes upon them indignity after indignity until it suffocates them. The poor are forced to stay in their place and warned not to “cross the line” into familiarity with the rich. The prison of poverty has walls, both real and imagined, that are impenetrable…even when you repeatedly bang your head against them…like Arthur Fleck does in Joker (wink).

The rich family in Parasite, the Parks, are the picture of decadence, detached from the ability to see the poor as even human. The Parks are repulsed by the poor, who they see as more akin to animals than people, as evidenced by their disgust at the literal smell of poverty. The Park’s revulsion at the poor does not stop them from fetishizing poverty, much like Americans fetishize Native Americans but make sure they stay on the reservation (wink)…just one more way for the rich to exploit the poor for their personal gain.

Parasite’s politics and psychology are as insightful as its drama is enrapturing. The film never shies from the difficult or the desperate, nor does it wallow in it. Instead Bong Joon-ho has made a socially relevant, dramatically explosive film that is deliriously entertaining in every single way.

Bong’s direction of Paradise is fantastic, as the film’s dramatic and physical geometry is spectacular. His use of straight lines, differing levels (symbolic of class status) and long journeys upward and downward (very similar to Joker, where Arthur Fleck makes those trudging journeys up the long flight of stairs, and the victorious dance down it) is proof of a master craftsman and artist at work.

Bong’s ability to meld together comedy, suspense, elements of thriller, as well as social commentary is extraordinary. I never knew what was coming next in Paradise and was always surprised, sometimes shocked and never disappointed.

The cast of Paradise are outstanding. Song Kang-ho in particular gives a dynamic performance that is consistently rich and layered. And both Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam do stellar work that is both magnetic and subtle. Park in particular has a charm and presence about her that is intriguing and compelling.

Parasite is one of the very best film’s of the year and most certainly will garner an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Picture, if not a win, and may even sneak in a Best Picture nod. The film is expertly made, wonderfully acted, politically prescient and dramatically potent, for these reasons, Parasite is required viewing for cinephiles and regular folk alike. My recommendation is to go as quickly as you can to the art house and see Parasite…it is that good. And after that, head to the cineplex to see Joker…again, and then when you get home watch Shoplifters (I see it is now available on the streaming service HULU)…because they are that good too. If you want to know what is coming for America and the world, and why, go watch those three movies. But make sure you go see Parasite as quickly as you can…it is truly a fantastic film and well worth you time and money.

©2019

Joker: A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE. IT. NOW.

Joker, directed by Todd Phillips and written by Phillips and Scott Silver, is the story of Arthur Fleck, a mentally-ill, down on his luck clown-for-hire and stand up comedian, who transforms into Batman’s arch-nemesis, the super-villain Joker. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Fleck, with supporting turns from Robert DeNiro, Frances Conroy and Zazie Beetz.

Early Thursday night I put my life in my hands and made the dangerous trek to the local art house to see Joker in 70mm. Thankfully, no angry white incels were laying in wait for me, so I lived to tell the tale of my Joker cinematic experience…here it is.

I went to Joker with very high hopes, but paradoxically, because I had such high hopes, I assumed I’d be disappointed by the film. My bottom line regarding Joker is this…it is a brilliant film of remarkable depth and insight, a gritty masterpiece that is a total game-changer for the comic book genre, and a staggering cinematic achievement for director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix.

Joker is the cinematic bastard son of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece of 1970’s New Hollywood, Taxi Driver. Beyond being an homage, it is more an updated bookend to that classic, engineered for the corporatized Hollywood of the 21st century.

The film’s Taxi Driver lineage is hiding in plain sight, as it has similar music, shots, camera angles and even re-purposes the famed finger gun to the head move. Joker’s Gotham, is eerily reminiscent of Taxi Driver’s New York City of the 1970’s, which Travis Bickle aptly describes as “sick and venal”. I couldn’t help but think of my Los Angeles neighborhood when seeing Joker’s dilapidated Gotham, with its garbage piled high on every sidewalk and a layer of filth covering the city. In “sick and venal” Los Angeles, we are much too evolved to have garbage piled high on our sidewalks, no, out here in La La Land, even in million dollar neighborhoods, people are disposable and so we we have them piled high on the sidewalks instead, as homelessness is epidemic. Joker’s Gotham, Bickle’s New York and my Los Angeles also share a deep coating of grime as well as a thriving rat population that is disease-ridden and increasingly bold, both in and out of public office.

Joker’s depiction of Gotham as a Bickle-esque New York is fascinating bit of sub-text, as it is a throwback to a time before Manhattan was Disney-fied and Times Square turned from degenerate porn hub to hub of capitalism porn. Joker is also a throwback to a time before cinema was corporatized/Disney-fied, a pre-Heaven’s Gate age, when filmmakers like Scorsese could flourish and make movies like Taxi Driver, unhindered by suits blind to everything but the bottom line.

Joker ‘s genius is also because it is a “real movie”, a Taxi Driver/The King of Comedy covertly wrapped in the corporate cloak of superhero intellectual property. Unlike the sterile Marvel movie behemoths, which Scorsese himself recently described as “not cinema" and which are more akin to amusement park rides than movies, Joker is, at its heart, a down and dirty 1970’s dramatic character study, for this reason alone the film is brilliantly subversive and a stake into the heart of the Disney Goliath.

It is astonishing that Todd Phillips, whose previous films are the comedies Old School and The Hangover trilogies, was able to conceive of, and execute, Joker with such artistic precision and commitment. Phillip’s success with Joker is reminiscent of Adam McKay’s astounding direction of The Big Short (2015). Previous to The Big Short, McKay had basically been Will Ferrell’s caddie, making silly movies well, but they were still silly movies. McKay’s long term film making prowess is still in question, as is Phillip’s, but that does not diminish their mastery on The Big Short and Joker.

Phillip’s direction really is fantastic, but he is also greatly benefited by having the greatest actor working in cinema as his leading man. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker is an astonishing feat. Phoenix famously (or infamously depending on your perspective) lost a great deal of weight to play the role, and his wiry, sinewy frame at times seems like a marionette possessed by a demon outcast from American bandstand or Soul Train. Fleck/Joker’s madness is seemingly chaotic, but Phoenix gives it an internal logic and order, that makes it emotionally coherent.

Phoenix is a master at connecting to a volatile emotionality within his characters, and of giving his character’s a distinct and very specific physicality. What is often overlooked with Phoenix is his level of meticulousness and superior craftsmanship in his work. Joker is no exception as his exquisite skill is on full display right alongside his compellingly volcanic unpredictability. Phoenix’s subtle use of breath, his hands, as well as his attention and focus are miraculous.

Phoenix is a revolutionary actor. He is so good, so skilled, so talented, that he is reinventing the art form. His work as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012) was a landmark in the art form, and his performance in Joker is equally earth shattering. If he does not win an Best Actor Oscar for Joker, whoever does win the award should be ashamed of themselves for stealing the statuette from its rightful recipient.

Contrary to establishment media critical opinion, Phoenix does not make Arthur a sympathetic character, but he does make him an empathetic one, and one with which we empathize. We don’t feel sorry for Arthur, we feel kinship with him as he struggles to maintain some semblance of dignity in a society allergic to compassion.

Joker was described by its detractors as being “dangerous”, and I can attest that the film is indeed dangerous, but not for the reasons laid out by its critics. Joker is dangerous because it dares to do something that corporate controlled art has long since deemed anathema…it tells the very ugly truth.

Joker has the artistic audacity to peel back the scab of modern America and reveal the maggot infested, infected wound pulsating in agony just beneath our civilized veneer. Joker’s chaotic madness is a perfect reflection of the sickness of our time. Think Joker is too “nihilistic” or “negative”? Turn on a television, read a newspaper or take a cross-country flight, and you’ll see that the nihilism and negativity of Joker are nothing compared to the madhouse in which we currently live.

Arthur Fleck is America, as the country, populated by narcissists, neanderthals and ne’er do wells, has devolved and self-destructed, rotting from the inside out after decades of decadence, delusion and depravity. America is rapidly degrading and devolving, and that devolution is mirrored by Arthur Fleck has he transforms into Joker.

Joker is unnerving to mainstream media critics because it shines the spotlight on the disaffected and dissatisfied in America, who are legion, growing in numbers and getting angrier by the hour. As I have witnessed in my own life, the rage, resentment and violent mental instability among the populace in America is like a hurricane out in the Atlantic, gaining more power and force as every day passes, and inevitably heading right toward landfall and a collision with highly populated urban centers that will inevitably result in a conflagration of epic proportions.

Joker, the consummate trickster, is devoid of politics and ideology and exists only to feed and satiate his own voracious madness. Fleck is an empty vessel and the Joker archetype co-opts and animates him. Fleck, born again as Joker, is adopted as a symbol for the struggles of the angry and the desperate, in other words, Joker is the archetype of our times, a Trumpian figure, who unintentionally inspires others, friend and foe alike, to release their inhibitions and unleash their inner demons. Joker is dangerous because he is an avatar for the rage, resentment and desperation of millions upon millions of Americans who have been forgotten and left behind and are utterly despised by the elite. Joker is both apolitical and all political. The populist Joker is both Antifa and the Alt-Right. Joker is everything and nothing to everyone and nobody all at once. The media in the movie, and in real life, make Joker into a monster, an icon and an iconic monster for the dispossessed, elevating him in the eyes of those desperately seeking a savior.

In a perverted and brilliant way, Phillips and Phoenix make Fleck into a Jesus figure, who as he transforms into Joker, becomes an unwitting Christ/anti-Christ. The line between messiah and madman is a thin one, and depends almost entirely on projection and perspective.

Arthur Fleck, like Jesus, is literally someone who is repeatedly kicked when he is down. Like Jesus, society ignores and despises him. Like Jesus he is berated, belittled and beaten…and yet all he wants to do is make people smile. Like Jesus, Fleck’s birth story is convoluted and lacks coherence.

What makes Phoenix’s portrayal so chilling is that his Fleck earnestly desires to bring joy to the world just like Jesus…and just as Jesus is actually a good magician/miracle worker, Fleck is actually a good clown, filled with energy and purpose. But Arthur soon realizes that there are two jokes at play in the universe…the one where he is the punchline, and the one in his head, of which he is self-aware enough to realize regular people “won’t get it”. Jesus makes the same sort of discovery during his temptations, he hears a “joke” in his head too, but it is the voice of God, and he comes to realize no one else will “get it” either. Fleck and Jesus are presented the same two paths, Jesus takes the one of self-sacrifice and becomes the Christ, and Fleck takes the road of human sacrifice, and becomes The Joker/Satan.

At its core Joker is a character study, and so there is not a lot of heavy lifting among the cast besides Joaquin Phoenix. That said, Frances Conroy, Robert DeNiro and Zazie Beets all do solid work with the material they have.

The film is shot with an exquisite grittiness by Lawrence Sher. Sher pays adoring homage to Taxi Driver by using certain specific camera shots and angles throughout the film. Sher also uses shadow and light really well to convey Fleck’s/Joker’s perspective and his tenuous grasp on reality. Sher, like Phillips, does not have a resume that would make you think he was capable of doing such substantial work, but in the case of these two men past was not prologue.

Joker is one of those movies that reminds you why cinema matters, as it uses the tired and worn comic book genre to draw viewers in, and then sticks the knife of brutal cultural commentary deep into their chests.

Joker has been at the center of of a cultural storm ever since it premiered to a raucous ovation at the Venice Film Festival in September. The film won the Golden Lion (Best Picture) at Venice and was quickly catapulted into the Oscar discussion, which created a fierce backlash against the film from certain American critics and woke twitter. The common refrain from those critics who saw it at Venice, and those who hadn’t, was that the film was “dangerous” because it would incite disaffected white men to become violent. In researching an article I recently wrote about the controversy, I came across a stunning number of articles with the imploring and weak-kneed headline, “Joker is Not the Movie We Need Right Now”. Of course, the converse is true because Joker is exactly the movie we need right now.

The critical opinion of Joker, especially among the critics at influential media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New Yorker and Time, is aggressively negative and dismissive, riddled with a belittling and condescending commentary. The criticisms leveled at the film from these effete establishment critics are obviously contrived, petty, personal, political and entirely predetermined. The amount of intentional obtuseness on display about Joker, its cinematic sophistication and its artistic merits, by these supposed important critics is stunning and revealing.

The critical malevolence toward Joker is undoubtedly fueled by a need to virtue signal and pander to woke culture, and is born out of personal contempt for the filmmaker (who dared defend himself against “woke culture”) and manufactured anger at the subject matter. The poor reviews of Joker by these American critics says considerably more about those critics, their dishonesty and lack of integrity, than it does about Joker. Make no mistake, Joker is a masterpiece in its own depraved way, and the critics who succumb to the myopic social pressure and cultural politics of the moment by reflexively trashing the movie as immoral and artistically and cinematically unworthy, will be judged extremely harshly by history.

In looking at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Joker currently has a critical score of 69 and an audience score of 91. The disconnect between critics and audience on Joker is similar to the disconnect on display regarding Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix stand up special Sticks and Stones. Chappelle’s show was pilloried by critics who were horrified by the comedian’s “unwoke” and decidedly politically incorrect take on the world, as the critical score is currently at 35, while the audience score is a resounding 99. It would seem that in our current age, bubble-dwelling, group-thinking critics in the mainstream media, are no longer interested in artistic merit, cinematic worthiness, skill, craftsmanship or talent, but rather in personal politics, woke ideology, political correctness and conformity, and are dishonest brokers when it comes to judging art and entertainment.

Joker is a watershed for the comic book genre. In the future film historians will look back on this time and say that there comic book films pre-Joker and comic book films post-Joker. There is no going back for the genre. That does not mean that Marvel will immediately crumble and fall into the sea, but it does mean that the genie is out of the bottle, and there is no getting it back in. Jason Concepcion and Sean Fennessy at The Ringer recently pondered if Joker is to the superhero genre what The Wild Bunch was to westerns back in 1969. They are not so sure, but I certainly think is as genre redefining or killing as The Wild Bunch. The Disney/Marvel model, post-Endgame and post-Joker, will only see diminishing cultural resonance and relevance, as well as financial returns, from this point forward. The superhero genre will not disappear overnight, but it has begun its long retreat from its apex, and God only knows what will eventually replace it.

In conclusion, Joker is a mirror, and it reflects the degeneracy, depravity and sheer madness that is engulfing America. Joker is an extremely dark film, but that is because America is an extremely dark place at the moment. Joker is unquestionably one of the very best films of the year and should be, but probably won’t be, an Oscar front-runner for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. I highly recommend you go see Joker in theatres as soon as you possibly can, as it is must-see viewing for anyone interested in cinema, art or in understanding what is rapidly coming for America.

©2019

'Patron Saint of Incels'? Woke Outrage over Joker is a Bad Joke

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes 47 seconds

Critics and woke people are up in arms over Joker because they think “evil” white men will like it and be inspired to kill.

It used to be that it was right-wingers who would get outraged over movies they deemed “dangerous” because they offended their delicate sensibilities, Last Temptation of Christ and Brokeback Mountain being prime examples. Now it is left-wing scolds who reflexively denounce movies they find “problematic”, with the highly anticipated Joker having raised their self-righteous ire.

Joker opens on October 4th and is directed by Todd Phillips and stars Joaquin Phoenix. The highly anticipated movie is inspired by Martin Scorsese’s films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy and is thought to be a breath of fresh air in the comic book genre and the antithesis of the corporate Marvel movies. Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a disaffected white man who eventually becomes Batman’s nemesis, the super villain Joker.

Fleck being white has ignited a moral panic over Joker, because according to woke twitter, white men are inherently violent, and so Joker is dangerous as it will act as a pied piper leading lonely white men to commit Joker-esque mass shootings.

The criticisms of Joker on twitter are stunning for the shameless level of scorn and hatred brazenly heaped upon white men.

Tweets saying “I don’t want to be around any of the lonely white boys who relate to it”, and “Joker movie is starting to look like a sympathetic tale of a ‘wronged by society’ white dude and their entitlement to violence” and “in a time of increasing violence perpetrated by disaffected white men, is it really the best thing to keep making movies that portray disaffected white men doing violence as sympathetic?”, highlight the racial animus animating the Joker moral panic. It is inconceivable that such venom would be acceptable against any other racial group, such as African-Americans or Muslims.

The Joker panic has spread like a contagion from twitter to the real world, where police have vowed to increase their presence at theatres, and some cinemas are banning ticket holders who wear costumes.

The US Army and the FBI have issued a warning that some “incels” or involuntary celibates, may violently target screenings of Joker.

Family members of victims of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting, have even written a letter to Warner Brothers, conveying their concerns over Joker and imploring the studio to support anti-gun causes. This is puzzling as the Aurora tragedy was during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, which didn’t feature the Joker, and while some early reports claimed the shooter dressed like the Joker and declared,  “I am the Joker”, those reports have been thoroughly debunked. This conflating of Joker with Aurora reveals the vacuity of the frenzy.

The hysteria around Joker has infected American film critics as well. When Joker premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival it received a twenty-minute ovation and won the coveted Golden Lion for best picture. The last two Golden Lion winners, Roma and The Shape of Water, went on to be nominated for twenty-three Oscars combined, winning seven. Joker’s reception at Venice would seem to be indicative of the film’s artistic bona fides, but American critics, who are more interested in pretentious pandering and virtue signaling, strongly disagree.

Stephanie Zacharek of Time, said of Joker, “the aggressive and possibly irresponsible idiocy of Joker is his (director Phillips) alone to answer for”.

Zacharek goes on to state that Arthur Fleck, “could easily be adopted as the patron saint of incels.”

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker opined, “I happen to dislike the film as heartily as anything I’ve seen in the past decade…”

David Edelstein of Vulture, described the film as “morally blech”, then went full on Godwin’s law in his review when he declared, “As Hannah Arendt saw banality in the supposed evil of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, I see in Joker an attempt to elevate nerdy revenge to the plane of myth.”

Film critics getting the vapors over a movie is nothing new, as cinema history is riddled with fraught hyperbole over “dangerous” movies.

In 1955 New York Times critic Bosley Crowther bemoaned Rebel Without a Cause because “it is a violent, brutal and disturbing picture.”

In 1971 esteemed critic Pauline Kael decried A Clockwork Orange, denouncing the film as “corrupt” and describing director Stanley Kubrick as “a pornographer”.

In 1989, Joe Klein, a critic for New York wrote an infamous piece on Spike Lee’s iconic film Do the Right Thing. Klein wrote, “If Lee does hook large black audiences, there’s a good chance the message they take from the film will increase racial tensions…if they react violently – which can’t be ruled out…”

Klein went on to write that the sole message black teens would take from the film was “The police are your enemy” and “White people are your enemy”.

In a great example of the intoxicating power of the Joker moral panic, Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr wrote an article about Joker where he references Klein’s historically embarrassing take on Do the Right Thing, but instead of using Klein’s egregiously myopic article as a cautionary tale, Burr instead embraces the reflexive emotionalism of the Joker moral panic.

Burr declares of Joker, ““Is it “reckless”? Honestly, in my opinion, yeah, and if that makes me this year’s Joe Klein, so be it. To release into this America at this time a power fantasy that celebrates — that’s right, Warner Bros., celebrates — a mocked loner turned locked-and-loaded avenging angel is an act of willful corporate naivete at best, complicity at worst, and blindness in the middle”

As Burr concedes in his article, there is no causal link between violent movies or video games and mass shootings, and yet because Burr “feels” uneasy, he deems Joker guilty of being “dangerous”.

The bottom line is this, there have been shootings before Joker, and unfortunately, there will certainly be shootings after Joker, but Joker will not “cause” anyone to kill people. Human beings will be violent not because of movies but because they are human beings. As Kubrick so eloquently showed us in 2001: A Space Odyssey, evolution has not removed our violent impulse, only given us better weapons.

The purpose of art is to, sometimes uncomfortably, examine humanity and reflect the world in which it exists, and by examining and reflecting, hopefully give the audience a deeper insight and understanding of themselves, their fellow humans and the world in which they inhabit. I have not seen Joker, so I don’t know if it does those things well, but from the plethora of negative reviews I’ve read from American critics, their problem with Joker is that it does those things all too well.

These critics, both professional and amateur, prefer not to examine the origins of the isolation, alienation and rage felt by disaffected white working class males who are inundated with messages from the media and the education system that stigmatize and/or criminalize whiteness and traditional masculinity.

They want to ignore or malign these men, particularly those in middle age, even though they are dying from deaths of despair (suicide, drug overdose or alcoholism) at alarming rates that have more than doubled over the last twenty years.

Joker is not a clarion call to white male violence, it is a desperate attempt at a diagnosis of the pandemic that is killing white men and will eventually kill America.

Joker’s effete and effeminate critics, the eunuchs sprawled on fainting couches at the thought of having to bear a cinematic meditation on the heart of darkness at the center of an iconic super villain, are a bad joke. Their insidiously overwrought outrage and moral panic over Joker exposes their egregious unworthiness as thinkers and critics, and frankly, the vapid unseriousness of our culture.

 A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON OCTOBER 1, 2019 AT RT.

© 2019