The Joker

It's rare for a film to achieve full memetic status when it's first released. It usually takes quite a while, sometimes years, for many different layers of expression and commentary to reveal themselves within a truly memetic movie.

Not so with Joker.

Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of rage, despair and insanity is both uncomfortable to endure and yet completely enthralling. Watching Arthur Fleck choke on the uncontrollable, maniacal laughter he tries to suppress is mesmerising as we witness two personalities battling for supremacy inside the same tortured mind. Trapped in a hopeless cycle of stupefying medication, vapid counselling and grinding despair, it's only a matter of time before Arthur finally snaps and the monster within can no longer be contained. Indeed, it is Fleck's acceptance of the Joker as his true identity which is one of the deepest and most disturbing aspects of the entire screenplay. Arthur Fleck has known nothing but despair, exploitation and alienation; while the Joker is a carefree, brutal and remorseless predator.

Joker is both the creation and a reflection of the oily, grimy and despairing city that Fleck and the other residents of Gotham are forced to endure day in and day out; with each cycle of decay, promised renewal and abandonment worse than the last. Arthur Fleck is ground under by the grey, garbage filled despair of his surroundings while the Joker is perfectly adapted to his environment; finding joy in every grimy puddle and wreaking his vengeance on a world that first conceived, then abandoned him. The psychotically violent clown is unsettlingly familiar as this troubled nobody is finally driven over the edge by a world of medicated conformity and vicious social stratification.

User Rating: 5 / 5

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Reboots everywhere

In an age of franchise fatigue and cash-grabbing reboots, it was something of an anomaly to witness multiple screenings and a crowded cinema a full fortnight after Toy Story 4's initial release date. That was my overall impression as I settled down to watch the next instalment of this hugely popular series.

The movie was everything it should have been. It was a funny, poignant and witty joyride of madcap chases, endless peril and lovable characters.

At a time when once indestructible franchises are alienating huge numbers of their own fans, seemingly on purpose, I got to wondering how Toy Story 4 had managed to buck this frustrating trend. It didn't take me long to figure it out because the answer was right in front of me, in Dolby of course.

To put it in a nutshell, Toy Story 4 is just, well...a heart warming Toy Story film. It's an entertaining, charming and expertly executed movie about the adventures of a bunch of toys who we know and love already. All our old favourites are back in action, with some new creations to mix things up just a little. This effortless balance of old and new enables Toy Story 4 to tap into the reservoirs of affection the audience feels before they've even sat down. After all, what is Toy Story without Woody, Buzz and all the others?

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It was right in everyone's face, Tyler and I just made it visible. It was on the tip of everyone's tongue, Tyler and I just gave it a name.”

That incredibly prescient line from the multi-faceted Fight Club (1999) succinctly captures an embryonic cultural revolt which had already been gestating for years by the time Brad Pitt and Edward Norton took to the screen. The brilliance of Jim Uhls' far-sighted scripting lies in the way it captures an underlying idea which was not fully formed at the turn of the millennium. Whether wittingly or otherwise, his dramatisation of a fictional revolt against every aspect of our pearl clutching cultural norms gave us a glimpse over the horizon and into the 21st century. Indeed, the fundamental cultural questions Fight Club explores are still far from settled, although we now at least have some idea of what the future might look like.

If Fight Club had simply been a movie about a bunch of guys being blokeish and hiding from society's disapproving gaze, then it still would've been pretty entertaining. However, what elevates this film to a near mythical and certainly memetic category is how the fighting is merely one expression of a far deeper, over-arching and more profound existential rebellion. Throughout the movie, that insurgency grows into a philosophy or creed of sorts as the instigators of Project Mayhem take revenge on a society which sees the servicing of consumer debt as sufficient reason for a man's existence.

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Grant and McGann

As the dark winter months are softened by our own seasonal excess, it seems only right to raise a glass to Bruce Robinson's boozy tale of two down-and-out actors struggling with poverty, existential angst and an ill-judged country break in the rain-lashed Cumbrian hills. With Richard E Grant and Paul McGann heading up a very capable cast, Withnail and I continues to be a firm favourite more than three decades since its first release.

As the swinging sixties draw to a close, our anti-heroes begin to wonder if there's more to life than booze, drugs and waiting for the next acting job, so they flee London's drizzling grime in search of a simpler, more wholesome slice of life. Alas, what they find is perpetual rain, unfriendly locals and Withnail's upper crust Uncle Monty lurking in the shadows, hell bent on indulging his own sexual desires far from London society's prying eyes.

With hugely entertaining characters and a scintillating script, Withnail and I is easily one of the most memorable, hilarious, strangely profound and oddly poignant British films ever made. The mere mention of this movie (especially in a pub) releases a barrage of unsolicited quotes, quips and comebacks that can keep a large group laughing long past closing time.

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Caine and Olivier

Taking the top spot as my all-time favourite British film is Anthony Shaffer's brilliant, labyrinthine tale of a country house, the Lord of the Manor and the pretender to the throne. Shaffer's razor-sharp pen guts and cannibalises the pre-war detective genre in much the same way that Wes Craven carved up and then feasted on the slasher movie in the 1990s. Although this is no ghost story or grisly horror, Sleuth's tongue in cheek approach to costume, design and soundtrack steeps the whole movie in a strange kind of broken-dolly creepiness as the action lurches from quirky, through witty, before descending into something altogether darker.

Based around the simple idea of a staged burglary at a remote manor house, the storyline starts quite conventionally before taking a sharp detour into hidden agendas, psychological torture, humiliation and revenge as the characters are locked together in a battle of wits that has no beginning, no end and no clear rules.

Originally written as a stage play, it's a testament to Shaffer's scripting genius that he can hold the viewer's attention for over two hours while only ever employing a maximum of two characters on screen at any given time. In fact, there are only three live characters in the whole movie, but I don't want to spoil the plot for anyone who hasn't seen it.

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From the pen of the late, great Anthony Shaffer comes one of the most chilling, iconic and original films in all of movie history. Set on the fictitious Scottish island of Summerisle, the Wicker Man features superb performances by Edward Woodward as police Sergeant Howie and Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle. Woodward has said that Howie was the best part he ever played, while Lee maintained that the Wicker Man was his finest film.

Supported by a deep bench of quirky and accomplished character actors, director Robin Hardy follows the increasingly labyrinthine twists and turns of Sergeant Howie's investigation into the apparent disappearance of a young girl. Every step Howie takes into that remote community's strange rites and customs brings him closer to his own carefully planned and agonisingly awful demise.

Hardy skilfully exploits Shaffer's slow but relentless ratchet-turning writing to build a richly detailed, absorbing and thoroughly grounded society in which the hapless Howie quickly becomes lost, flounders and is ultimately destroyed. With a memorable music score and some excellent cinematography typical of the era, the Wicker Man is one of many films that disprove the idea that only a big budget production with aggressive marketing can stand the test of time.

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