Tag Archives: 2022

CAPSULE: THE PEOPLE’S JOKER (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Vera Drew

FEATURING: Vera Drew, Nathan Faustyn, Lynne Downey, Kane Distler, David Liebe Hart, Griffin Kramer

PLOT: While on the pathway to becoming an Anti-Comedienne extraordinaire, the People’s Joker confronts her troubled past and her chaotic present to attain self acceptance—and dethrone the domineering normies plaguing Gotham City.

COMMENTS: It possibly says something about me that, when Vera Drew mentions early in the film about her revelatory experience “seeing the world’s favorite orphan,” I immediately thought, “Annie?” But that doesn’t say what you might think. Because I have my particularities. So does Vera. So does everyone. This film is a personal anecdote, framed within a (veerrry) loose construct of plot. The specifics of the fictional battle are moot anyway, as whatever narrative through-line is there merely acts a metaphor. Do not misunderstand me, however: this is an effervescent experience, with swirling bubbles of pathos and confession perpetually subsumed with self-aware humor.

Vera Drew has made a stylish movie, and an all-too-uncommon one. Heavy use of CGI, saturation, and stop-motion—sections hark back to flash animation of yore—combine with trashy-classy costuming for the villains (comedians and misfits all), maintaining an unreal comic book tone from start to finish. We enter Harlequin the Joker’s (Vera Drew) world through a montage of fake, early-’90s-baked advertisements and talk show clips. Vera’s narration is with us throughout, as she provides her take on the tragic life she led until she became Vera Drew, or Joker the Harlequin, or, ultimately, just “the Harlequin”: an ambition vaguely sensed when first she saw a somewhat notorious superhero film.

The motley crew of disaffected snarks who assemble in “The Red Hood Playhouse” have their Anti-comedy acts (comedy proper, in this film’s world, has been outlawed), and Vera’s act evolves from rambling obtusities to huffing Smylex on stage and guffawing mercilessly as other performers recount their own tragic back stories. But this manages somehow not to be cruel, but instead self-deprecatory. She bonds through these confessions, as the film itself connects with the viewer as a confession of misery, and hope. Her awareness broadens—particularly when she begins her romantic involvement with Mr J, a trans-man—and as she copes, both diegetic and non-diegetically, we come to understand how she is able to look back with such a probing and smiling eye.

Among the many admissions in The People’s Joker, there’s a tiny, joking aside that struck me personally, but I shall keep that to myself. The larger point is that everyone has their own history, with their own desires forming and formed by it. Gotham is, of course, the real world, writ onscreen as a ian trash parade. Vera learns, slowly and painfully—but certainly—that we must deal with reality, starting with who we are ourselves.  Presuming someone is not harming others, you should accept how they wish to be; this can go a long way to preventing them from hurting themselves.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“a weird little movie that everyone’s talking about…very experimental and odd…”–Christy Lemine and Alonso Duralde, Breakfast All Day (contemporaneous, video review)

CAPSULE: GODARD CINEMA (2022)/TRAILER OF A FILM THAT WILL NEVER EXIST: PHONY WARS (2023)

 Godard, seul le cinéma/Film annonce du film qui n’existéra jamais: ‘Drôles de guerres’

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DIRECTED BY: Cyril Leuthy

FEATURING: (archival footage)

PLOT: A documentary overview of the career of nouvelle vague icon Jean-Luc Godard, programmed together with a sketch for the director’s final, unfinished film.

Title card from "phony wars trailer of a film that will never exist" (2023)

COMMENTS: There have been a number of director retrospective documentaries lately: Dario Argento Panico (2023), Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer (2022), Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist (2020). These affairs are typically hagiographies wherein talking heads (usually other directors) sit around complimenting their comrades. Godard Cinema, originally made for French television, digs a bit deeper into its subject, and isn’t afraid to expose a few of Godard’s warts (his habit of literally stealing to finance his early films, his troubled relationship with first wife , his “inexplicable” decision to go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao). If there is an ongoing theme to Leuthy’s portrait, it’s Godard’s ultimate unknowability: early on, he observes that there are no known boyhood pictures of young Jean-Luc. Although, by the end, we understand why this free spirit did not quite fit in with his bourgeois family, the absence of much childhood biography reinforces the idea of Godard as a sui generis being who arises spontaneously in response to his time in cinema history.

If there’s one complaint here, it’s that, as an examination of a man’s life, the the pacing feels wonky. You may find yourself wondering how the doc is going to fit in the majority of Godard’s five-decade career when it’s already at the midpoint, and they’re not even through 1967. They aren’t; the doc rushes through the final 45 years of Godard’s life, spending only about 15 minutes on the entirety of his output after 1985’s controversial comeback, Hail Mary. Godard Cinema follows the commonly-accepted dogma (which this writer also endorses) that Godard’s vital movies were all completed in his first eight years of filmmaking, and that his work falls off an ideological cliff after 1968. The front-loading makes sense if you consider the documentary as an essay on film history, but as a complete biography of Godard the man, it falls short. But perhaps that’s why it’s called Godard Cinema and not Godard.

The main selling point to Kino’s Godard Cinema release may not be the documentary itself, but the supplement: “Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars,” the auteur’s incomplete sketch for a final feature. The piece is a skeletal outline for a work that would be, by all appearances, a very loose adaptation of the novel “Faux Passeports” by Communist artist Charles Plisnier. What we get, mainly, are a series of photographic collages, with Godard’s enigmatic handwritten notes scrawled on some of them (e.g., one reads “it’s your business and not mine to reign over the absence of…” The next phrase is blotted out by magic marker). Much of it is silent; other segments are scored to dissonant classical music. There is almost a minute of actual film, studies of a young actress wandering around smoking, overdubbed with Godard giving some background on Plisnier; later on, we hear what seems to be a dialogue rehearsal, read in both French and Russian. It’s impossible to guess what the final film might have looked like—did Godard intend to flesh it out, using these stills as an outline, or was it always intended to be a longer version of the experimental abstraction we see onscreen? It’s hard to imagine anyone but the most dedicated Godard scholar watching this “trailer” more than once, but it is an interesting artifact, a peek into a master’s creative process, and therefore worth a gander.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Godard Cinema] provides an immersive exploration of his influence on both the celluloid world and broader cultural landscapes… TRAILER OF A FILM THAT WILL NEVER EXIST: PHONY WARS, the final work from Godard, emerges as a daring and inventive visual tapestry.”–Chris Jones, Overly Honest Reviews

Godard Cinema / Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars [Blu-ray]
  • An in-depth look at the career of revered French director Jean-Luc Godard
  • Includes Godard's final work, Trailer of a Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars

CAPSULE: STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS (2022)

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State of Consciousness is available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Marcus Stokes

FEATURING: Emile Hirsch, Tatjana Nardone, Kesia Elwin

PLOT: As part of a plea deal for a murder he claims he did not commit, Stephen undergoes a questionable medical procedure which leaves him uncertain what his past, and reality, actually are.

COMMENTS: Stokes’ mind-bendy-straw is dripping with competence. The editing is smooth or jagged, as appropriate; the performances are dismayed, vicious, or cold, as appropriate; the images are clear, the lighting never draws attention to itself, and the various twists embedded in State of Consciousness work just fine. I should take a moment, however, to admit something again here: when it comes to thrillers, I am an idiot. I never see what’s around the corner until the reveal. I easily get sucked into the story and turn off my thinking mind.

But at least I generally know when a movie is merely okay, like State of Consciousness. The credibility of the protagonist is shaky. Stephen (Emile Hirsch) is seemingly dropped into a “wrong man” scenario. Or so it seems. Sometimes, it seems otherwise, as he has a knack for survival and comfort with violence we probably wouldn’t expect from a more upright citizen—evidenced most forcefully by his casual execution of two individuals at the mental institution he’s been rescued by (or doomed to). The recurring “red pills” are an obvious nod to another, more famous reality-questioning film, twisting on that particular color scheme. (Another more famous film gets its nod in the form some social commentary about freedom of choice and rendering individuals fit for society.) Memories, reality, hallucination, electro-stimulation, all of it is not much layered or sequenced so much as smashed together and soldered until a narrative line—of sorts—runs from the opening, a jazzy sex thing, up through a final, unresolved encounter with the authority figure.

I have a soft spot for Emile Hirsch, so I enjoyed this more than most might expect to, and thus am able to trumpet State of Consciousness‘ one delightfully absurd sequence. Stephen and his long-suffering girlfriend are in the bedroom after he awakes from a nightmare (or what-have-you). The weather outside is thunderous, like the emotions in the boudoir. She is near the end of her tether; for his own reasons, Stephen is, as well. They make a peace together, a plan, and we hear an ominous metal creaking—and into this now-calm tumult smashes a “Last Stop” neon sign, to tragic effect.

Or so it seems.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The makers of State of Consciousness occasionally threaten to go somewhere darker and stranger, but they never get very far.” — Simon Abrams, RogerEbert.Com (contemporaneous)