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New Escapist Column! On the Oscar Success of “Joker”…

I published a piece at Escapist Magazine earlier this week, looking at the success of Joker at this week’s Oscar nominations.

Joker is an interesting film, primarily because of the passion and enthusiasm that it generates on both sides of the debate. It is a film with a strong following and a very strong opposition, and it seems that every observer must pledge allegiance to one side or the other. This is ironic, because it’s arguably the most interesting thing about a film that is largely remarkable for how safe it plays most of its creative choices – the irony only enhanced by how that modesty seems almost dignified amid the cacophony around it.

As such, it’s easy to miss how successful Joker has been, and how it has positioned itself as an obvious choice for the Oscar-nominee frontrunner. Of course, the polarisation around the film makes it highly unlikely to actually win the prize, but any sensible assessment of the film – its performance, its influences, its pedigree, its impact – would concede that it is very much the definition of a slam dunk for the Oscar nominations. More than that, the fact that it swept up the Oscar nominations is arguably a good thing for the Academy Awards, a welcome a long overdue reminder that big and popular films can succeed.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! “Knives Out” and the Suggestion that the Rich are Not So Sharp…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This one covers something that I’ve wanted to talk about for a little while, which is the interesting aspect of this year’s recurring theme of class warfare that runs through works as diverse as Joker, HustlersReady or Not, Succession, Parasite and Knives Out.

To be fair, it is not unusual to see this sort of tension playing out on the big screen. After all, American cinema has long been fascinated by working class con men and hucksters getting one over on the wealthy establishment. However, what distinguishes the recent crop of media exploring this theme is the recurring suggestion that the wealthy are not especially sharp. Historically, the rich have been portrayed as canny and suave – often dangerous adversaries because of their ruthlessness and relentlessness. What is interesting about the class warfare dimension of this year’s films is the way in which money and success often seem to have coddled the wealthy leaving them surprisingly naive and foolish despite their arrogance and privilege.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“Someone Who Hides Behind a Mask.” “Joker”, Superheroes, Vigilantes, and Pulp Friction…

A lot of digital ink has been spilled about Joker.

This makes sense. After all, it entered the discussion as a source of moral panic. It then emerged as a box office smash. It is a potential awards contender. And it provides an interesting intersection of genre. It is a hybrid of the dominant genre at the contemporary blockbuster with more ambitious and abstract awards fare. As such, it is not a surprise that Joker has dominated public attention in the way that it has. It seems almost tailor-made to generate discussion and debate, even if that can occasionally feel deafening.

That said, one of the most interesting and frustrating aspects of Joker is the way in which the film deliberately and consciously avoids crossing any particularly provocative lines. The film sidesteps a lot of potentially thorny issues of race and gender, perhaps wary of the potential internet blow back. If the film is making a point about anything, it seems to be a self-aware acknowledgement of the desire to imbue objects with symbolic weight and meaning even when they have not been designed to bear the weight. “I’m not political,” Arthur Fleck asserts, as political meaning is imposed upon him.

That said, there is something very interesting at the heart of Joker, something that likely emerged almost entirely by accident. Joker provides an interesting genre hybrid of the seventies and eighties vigilante thriller with the contemporary superhero blockbuster. And, in doing so, suggests an interesting throughline. Joker suggests that the superhero blockbuster isn’t as far removed from these urban power fantasies as the audience might like to believe.

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New Escapist Column! “Joker” as a Perverted Superhero Origin Story…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine yesterday. Naturally, it tackled the big release of the moment, Todd Phillips’ Joker.

Joker has been the source of a lot of controversy and attention. However, one of the most interesting debates around it has been the discussion over whether it counts as a superhero story at all – director Todd Phillips and actor Marc Maron have been quick to distance the film from the genre. However, despite these claims, Joker actually works very well as a perversion of the archetypal superhero origin story. In doing so, it suggests something interesting about the state of the genre at the current cultural moment.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

150. Joker – This Just In (#9)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This week, Todd Phillips’ Joker.

In eighties Gotham, a failed clown descends into madness as the city breaks down around him. Garbage builds up in the streets as violence lurks in the alleyways. What kind of a man can survive such a world?

At time of recording, it was ranked 9th on the Internet Movie Database’s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: Joker

The most interesting parts of Joker are inevitably going to be drowned out in shout matches about the least interesting parts of Joker.

Before the film was released, it seemed to have a totemic power. Critics (especially American critics) seemed tied up in how “dangerous” this cinematic origin story of a killer clown could be. Entertainment Weekly refused to assign the film a simple letter grade. Vulture ruminated on whether mainstream audiences were ready for a film that combined the moral ambiguity and grit of seventies cinema with the trappings of superhero blockbusters. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and director Todd Phillips did his bit to stir the pot by complaining about the “far left” or “woke” culture.

All of which seems to combine to suggest that Joker is a film of the moment, to imbue the live action R-rated autumnal release about Batman’s arch enemy with a powerful cultural resonance. Joker seemed to exist as a Rorschach test, even before anybody arguing about it had actually watched a full scene of footage from it. Listening to the chatter, reading the churn of the internet, it seemed like Joker had to mean something. Even if the film refused to provide a simple meaning, that meaning would be imposed on it. Joker was to be the best and worst of the current moment. It was to be a film that spoke to the “now.”

As such, it is almost a relief how stridently Joker refuses to actually say anything particularly insightful, and to trollishly chide the conversation around it for trying to force meaning upon it. In one of the film’s most absurdly on-the-nose moments, the camera passes over a demonstration outside a city opera house as protestors wave signs in the air. “We’re all clowns,” the sign proclaims. Amid the cacophony around it, how right Joker is.

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“… You Wanna Get Nuts?” The Unique Legacy of Tim Burton’s “Batman”…

Tim Burton’s Batman is thirty years old this year, having opened in Irish cinemas thirty years ago this weekend. It leaves a complicated and underappreciated legacy.

To be fair, at least part of that is down to how the series ended. Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin count among the worst blockbusters of the nineties and the worst comic book movies ever made. Taken together, they were responsible for killing not only that iteration of the cinematic Batman franchise, but also for effectively killing the superhero as a blockbuster genre until the triple whammy of Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man kick-started it again at the turn of the millennium.

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