FlixChatter Review: LUCY IN THE SKY (2019)

You may have heard about a newsworthy story back in 2007, when an a NASA astronaut drove from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida (roughly 900 miles) in record time to (and allegedly wearing an adult diaper the whole way) in order to confront and kidnap a fellow female NASA astronaut who was involved in a sexual relationship with a fellow male NASA astronaut, whom the first NASA astronaut was also having an affair with. To put it bluntly, NASA was entangled in an “Astronaut Love Triangle,” which put a dark stain on the seemingly perfect life of NASA astronauts and also led NASA to create its first astronaut Code of Conduct. And more importantly for this review, it led to co-writer and director Noah Hawley to come up with the screenplay for Lucy In The Sky, which is also marks the directorial debut for Hawley and is loosely based and inspired by the “Astronaut Love Triangle” from 2007.

Lucy In The Sky stars Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, a NASA astronaut who has just returned from a space mission aboard one of NASA’s now-retired space shuttles. During the opening credits, we see her outside the space shuttle, starring deeply into the atmosphere and onto the lights of the world’s cities that shine brightly from outer space. As she returns home, her husband Drew Cola (Dan Stevens) tells her that her teenaged niece Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson) was dropped off at their house to be cared for due to her absent parents. Being childless, Lucy and Drew, both employed by NASA, are used to his as they often have to look after her. Drew is a frail soul, and can’t open jars without his wife Lucy’s help. The family is also devout Christians, giving thanks to Jesus before starting their meals. Portman delivers lines in a thick southern accent, the way a lifelong Texan would, and sports a haircut resembling professional ice skater Dorothy Hamill. Lucy has spent her entire life to be the best in school, not having an Ivy League education, and overcoming other challenges, including the type of household she was brought up in (more on that later).

After returning from the out-of-this-world mission to space, Lucy returns to daily life at NASA, running laps, doing carpool and continuing to train for her next mission. The movie’s director shows us this less-than-exciting life style by cutting the aspect ratio of the on-screen frame to a “square-ish” 4:3 from the original and glorious 2.35:1 widescreen space scenes show just minutes prior. This leads Lucy to find alternate way to fill the void of leading an exciting astronaut lifestyle so she beings to have an extramarital affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), who has also had a profound experience in space and is also looking to rebound on his single lifestyle and use his newly acquired title as space astronaut to satisfy his love life. The problem is that Mark is not only involved with the married Lucy but also with another younger and more attractive single astronaut Erin Eccles (amazing actress Zazie Beetz, who is fresh off her minor and insignificant role in Joker).

While not being involved in an extramarital affair with her fellow astronaut, Lucy Cola also has to take care of her grandmother Nana Holbrook (Ellen Burstyn, who literally steals the show right under Portman and Hamm), an ailing old woman who smokes, swears a bunch and packs a pistol in her purse to boot. A typical opinionated Texas granny, Burstyn isn’t afraid to tackle this role head on, providing some much needed comedic relief while the movie screens are dragging on. “I’m back” says Lucy to her Nana. “Oh, did you go somewhere?” asks Nana, seeming unimpressed with her astronaut granddaughter’s most recent trip to space. “Up and down,” replies Lucy as she remembers her trip into outer space aboard the space shuttle. There is also somewhat of a running theme that includes a butterfly being born out of a cocoon. After her nana passes away, things are set into motion that leads Lucy to take Blue Iris on a trip across the country to intercept the astronaut pair of Goodwin and Eccles. In the end, its Lucy’s niece that saves the day and has the brightest future, having learned from her aunt that she can do something different than her deadbeat parents did – change the course of her own life.

Natalie Portman is spectacular in the title role of Lucy Cola, but she also dragged down by a slow-paced and lackluster screenplay. Even the likes of Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz and Ellen Burstyn can’t save this film from its own factual inaccuracies and over-the-top climax. While the story of an astronaut gone crazy or full of lust can seem appealing at first, the sensationalism portrayed in the film does not make it more exciting or climactic. In fact, it does the opposite – making it seem that the director just decided to tell the story as close to what may or may have not happed as possible, without exploring why Lucy snapped the way she did. Was it a desire to get back into space and retaliating at those who were trying to prevent it, or was it that she just that her desire to be the best at everything suddenly overcame her rationale and her ability to made correct decisions? Regardless of the answer, we are left to wonder what the real human experience of Lucy Cola might have been. Even the close-up scenes of Natalie Portman in space can’t make up for the overall lackluster of the film.


Have you seen Lucy In The Sky? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: JOKER (2019)

There seems to be a sudden influx of villains getting their big screen treatment lately (there’s Venom last year, Birds of Prey trailer is just released highlighting Joker’s own girlfriend Harley Quinn, and Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil opens two weeks after Joker). But the again, antiheroes have always made such intriguing protagonists.

In case you’re not aware of this, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker character is NOT based on the comics. It’s an origin story of man named Arthur Fleck who would later become the DC super-villain, and so exists in the same universe as his future arch nemesis Batman in a decaying Gotham City. But writer/director Todd Phillips (who co-wrote the script with Scott Silver) sets the film in the 70s and 80s, an alternate timeline where it can stand alone and wouldn’t disrupt the current (and future) DC superhero movies.

The film opens with Arthur preparing to work as a street clown, holding a sign for a furniture store promoting liquidation sale. He’s suddenly attacked by a bunch of teenage punks who break his sign and beat him up in an alley. To say Arthur is a down-on-his-luck guy would be an understatement. Calamity seems to constantly befallen him as he struggles from paycheck-to-paycheck while living in a cramped apartment with his frail mother Penny (Frances Conroy) with her own delusions of grandeur. “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” He asks a social worker. From his visit here, it’s revealed that he’s once admitted to a psychiatric department and is now on seven different medications, none of which help his distorted mind which in his own words is ‘always filled with negative thoughts.’ The first act of the movie pretty much follows Arthur encountering one bad day after another, which initially was captivating, even hypnotic, thanks to Phoenix’s committed performance.

I feel that the movie works largely because of Phoenix’s no-holds-barred approach to the role. He lost so much weight (apparently losing 53 pounds, a la former Batman Christian Bale for The Machinist)–using his physicality practically within an inch of its life. Phoenix also methodically researched patients suffering from Pathological Laughing Disorder that causes them to laugh uncontrollably, and the result is eerie. One can’t help but wince (in both pity and horror) watching him laugh maniacally, as he struggles to contain himself. As mesmerizing as Joaquin is in the role however, his magnetic quality soon wears out thanks to Phillips’ overbearing direction. There are countless scenes of him baring his skeletal frame as he descends into madness, and a plethora of extreme close-ups of his face makes me feel claustrophobic. Even in superhero films like Batman or Superman, there are moments where the hero is off-screen so you can spend time with supporting characters that helps tell one cohesive, layered story. But Philips seems as obsessed with his antihero as much as Arthur worships his idol, TV personality Murray Franklin (a somewhat brilliantly meta casting of Robert De Niro, given the heavy influences of his 70s/80s crime dramas).

But despite having such a strong supporting cast here, all of them are basically reduced to cameos. There’s no room for depth whatsoever for any of them, as the focus is always solely on Arthur. Joaquin is literally in every. single. frame. of the film… all the extreme close ups are almost suffocating, it made me wonder afterwards if perhaps it’s to hide the banality and shallowness of the plot? There are moments that are truly gripping, the stand-up scene at a comedy club (which becomes the catalyst for the final act) comes to mind, but there are also plenty of slow, tedious moments where my mind wander a bit. It doesn’t help that the soundtrack by Hildur Guðnadóttir is often distracting in many scenes that would benefit a quieter music, creating an ominous cacophony that unnecessarily heightens the film’s bleak, joyless tone.

Stylistically, the film is impeccable. The 70s/80s setting is an homage to Phillips’ favorite gritty crime dramas such as Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, which style/tone he heavily borrowed. Even the first violent scene in the subway harkens back memory of The French Connection. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is stunning despite the decidedly grimy environment, while costume designer Mark Bridges creates a unique look that’s colorful yet dark/ominous at the same time. I also have to give props to the Makeup department team, a crucial area considering the protagonist’s reliance on face mask. Yet the makeup makes the most of Joaquin’s features without hampering an actor’s most important tool, his expressions.

Narratively however, I’m just not too impressed with. While I appreciate that the movie grounds itself in reality–at least showing a semblance of real world as opposed to something fantastical, while also toying with what’s real and what’s not, in the end it’s not as complex as it thinks it is. I believe the fact that Phillips leverages such an iconic comic-book character with such a huge appeal makes the film inherently intriguing. If the film had been called Arthur Fleck and all the Batman references taken out, I’m not sure if the reception would’ve been as strong. That said, those expecting a strong connection with the Dark Knight would be disappointed, as Bruce is just a young boy here. There is a memorable encounter between Arthur and Thomas Wayne however, and the script even toys with a preposterous idea SPOILER ALERT! [highlight to read] that Arthur could be his illegitimate child (thus making him future Batman’s half brother!!), which made me go ‘whoa!’ END SPOILER.

The ending makes it hard not to feel that the filmmakers glorify evil and his abhorrent deeds (something the studio, director and lead actor have denied vehemently). But as Arthur was ‘saved’ by a bunch of hoodlums in clown masks, having been provoked/energized by what he did LIVE on national tv, he suddenly becomes a hero for the marginalized and those ignored by society. It may not be the filmmakers’ intention to hold this character up as a hero, but it sure appears as exactly that in the finale. I find it hard to refute that notion seeing Arthur, which by then has taken up the Joker identity, dressed in full Joker’s colorful regalia and iconic bloody smile, dancing euphorically on top of a car, as throngs of clown-masked men cheer him on.

If there was a commentary about the haves and the have-nots in Gotham, it’s only mentioned fleetingly, there’s no compelling sociopolitical message to be found here. Despite his utter disdain for the wealthy, how has Arthur himself care for or support the have-nots? He’s too busy wallowing in self pity, filled with rage and hell-bent on violent revenge. He fantasizes about his crush Sophie (Zazie Beetz) down the hall, but doesn’t give a hoot the fact that she is a single mother and also barely scraping by. The filmmaker doesn’t seem to care for the likes of her either, other than for the purpose of advancing his character’s narrative. Ultimately, Arthur lives in his own bubble, trapped by his narcissistic mind that he can’t possibly see the suffering of others. Thus, it’s rather incredulous that a fraught-minded person like Arthur would become someone who could inspire the masses in this way. Thus, that final scene seems to come out of nowhere, it doesn’t feel earned nor arrives at organically.

While one could argue that Joaquin is as phenomenal as Joker as Heath Ledger was (though I wouldn’t say he topped Ledger’s performance), I’d say that the fact that Christopher Nolan chose NOT to give the Joker an origin story in The Dark Knight actually makes him more effective. He’s a true agent of chaos, as Alfred Pennyworth says he’s the kind of man who, ‘can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with… a man who just wants to see the world burn.’ There’s a calculating, sly, even sophistication in Ledger’s Joker’s megalomaniacal ways, who’s always in control and two steps ahead of his adversaries.

Arthur’s Joker however, is a tragic character… a mentally-unstable loner who supposedly becomes evil because of circumstances. This film blatantly connects his homicidal urges and violent retributions to the fact that society wronged him, i.e. being bullied, unable to get meds due to social services getting cut, etc. It’s as if the film skirts responsibility and steers the blame away from Arthur, no matter how heinous his crime, painting him more as a victim than perpetrator. One would be hard-pressed not to see the danger that such notion could be used as an excuse for certain people inciting chaos and revenge on those they deem as ‘deserving the violence,’ hence the US military issuing warning against possible shooting at Joker screenings. There’s even extra beefed-up security at the press screening, which I think is warranted.

One might argue the number of violent scenes here is actually not as much as those depicted on cable tv these days. But given the character’s sheer unpredictability, the heavy sense of dread makes it feel like it’s more vicious. I definitely discourage parents from bringing their kids to see this, not even young teens. This film earns a hard R for a reason. Now, it’s always debatable whether art incites violence, and I for one thinks it’s a slippery slope whenever there’s a call for art censorship. By the same token, every content creator must be at least being mindful of how its creation could be interpreted as, and in this case, how it could inspire something that causes harm or be used to justify vigilantism.

Setting all that aside, the big question is, did the movie live up to the hype–even my own given my excitement when the first Joker trailer was released? Well, it certainly turns out to be a chilling origin story of a tragic character, but more so because of Phoenix’s performance than the film’s direction. Yet I find it tough to root for his character, despite initially feeling sympathy towards him. It’s an unrelentingly grim and utterly bleak affair from start to finish, it’d be tough to put on a happy face after you watch it. The irony isn’t lost on me that a movie featuring a character who thinks his purpose is ‘to bring laughter and joy to the world’ turns out to mostly devoid of either. In terms of re-watchability, this is not one of those films I’m keen on revisiting.


Have you seen JOKER? I’d love to hear what you think!

Trailer Spotlight: JOKER (2019) starring Joaquin Phoenix

Once in a while, a trailer pops up that’s too good NOT to blog about. In a time crowded with superhero movies and shows, it’s refreshing to see films that present an origin story of a villain. Now, I’m not saying I welcome films that glorify violence, but stories about flawed people are inherently more interesting.

Check it out…

A failed stand-up comedian is driven insane and becomes a psychopathic murderer.


I always thought it’d be hard to top Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. I thought Jared Leto was absolutely rubbish in the Suicide Squad, his interpretation is showy but lacking substance. More annoying than actual menace.

But Joaquin Phoenix… WOW. Judging from this trailer alone, this film looks poised to be a chilling origin story of a tragic character… This is NOT the Joker I’m familiar with. Here he’s a failed stand-up comedian who’s driven insane and becomes a psychopathic murderer. This is actually the first Todd Phillips movie I’m really looking forward too, and no, I haven’t seen any of the Hangover movies.

Before I go on about the trailer, can I say I LOVE this poster? The protagonist in a mask looking up at the gritty, dusty-looking letters that make up the title, followed up with ‘put on a happy face’ tagline makes for a stunning and highly evocative first impression. Hard to tell if the smudges are makeup or blood, which makes it all the more disturbing.

This is one eerie, evocative, affecting trailer that I’ve watched half a dozen times today. The use of Jimmy Durante‘s version of the classic song SMILE is particularly effective. Anachronistic elements can work to great effect when use properly and it certainly makes me think of the song in a whole new way (I’ve actually only heard the Nat King Cole’s version).

The trailer shows Arthur in his happier (normal) times, dancing with his ailing mother, even going on a date.

But as life dealt him one one bad blow after another, he slowly descends into madness. Interesting that the film shows him aspiring to be a standup comedian before he becomes y’know, the psychotic murderer that terrorizes Gotham City.

Speaking of Gotham, I have to say the cinematography looks absolutely gorgeous!! DP Lawrence Sher is definitely one to watch. The colors, the grittiness, and how he lights each scene… exquisite!

But the main draw for me here for me is Joaquin’s performance, which already sends chills down my spine. He’s definitely one of the best actors working today and hey, if Heath Ledger got a posthumous Oscar for playing The Joker in The Dark Knight, perhaps Joaquin has a shot? His performance seems worthy of such kudos.

Casting wise, I like seeing Brian Tyree Henry (love him in Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk, Hotel Artemis) and Zazie Beetz (who’s awesome in Deadpool 2) as part of the cast.  I almost didn’t recognize Robert De Niro in the trailer until I saw he’s listed on IMDb.

Oh and speaking of Gotham’s other famous resident… well you might’ve spot Thomas Wayne speaking on TV about Joker as ‘someone who hides behind a mask’ (ahah just like his own son who becomes the caped crusader!) Here young Bruce Wayne is also shown in this rather ominous scene… which means the Joker is much older than Batman in this version.

Ok I think I’ve said enough. Can’t wait to see this. October 4 is quite a long wait!!


What did YOU think of this trailer?

The Flixlist: 10 reasons ‘Deadpool 2’ won us over… again

Post by Vitali Gueron

In February 2016, our own Ruth wrote a review of the movie Deadpool by titling her post “10 reasons Deadpool movie won me over” and she made a top 10 list praising the movie. I went ahead and re-read her post, and then I realized – almost everything she listed in her post applies to the sequel. Deadpool 2 is all that but there are even more laughs and there is even more thought behind its writing.

Here’s my take of Ruth’s top 10 list…

Here are 10 reasons why the Deadpool 2 won me over:

1. The self-deprecating humor

Yes, there is plenty of that in Deadpool 2. Ryan Reynolds, as Deadpool, continues to relentlessly poke fun at himself, the actor playing him, and even the studio that made it. But many things have happened since 2016. Deadpool was very successful for the studio – it shattered the box office record with $150 million domestic gross and $264 million worldwide (not as impressive for 2018 with Avengers: Infinity War topping $500 million in just 15 days domestically). Then 20th Century Fox came out with the another very successful movie Logan in 2017, where the X-Men character Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) dies and was said to be Jackman’s final portrayal of the character on-screen.

The ‘original’ Deadpool w/ Wolverine in X-Men Origins (2009)

That fact is not lost of Reynolds, who co-wrote the script of this movie alongside the first Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. There are many references to the X-Men franchise, the character of Wolverine and living in the Xavier Mansion. Be on the lookout for a hilarious Logan-inspired “musical ballerina” in the first part of the movie.

2. The retro throwback to 80s pop culture

While the first Deadpool relied heavily on 80s pop culture music, including George Michael’s Careless Whisper and You’re the Inspiration by Chicago, the sequel instead brought out heavy-hitter Celine Dion with her new power ballad Ashes, played during the movie’s opening credits.

Just as in the first Deadpool, where Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning is featured during the hilariously memorable title credits, Celine Dion’s Ashes is featured as Deadpool 2 opens. In the opening scene, Deadpool decides to kill himself by blowing up his apartment while lying atop of several barrels of explosives. Cue Celine Dion!

3. That it IS a love story

Yes, Morena Baccarin returns as Vanessa Carlysle, Deadpool’s fiancée. Unfortunately, she is not featured as much in this movie as she was in the first Deadpool, but when we do see her – she makes it count!

There are other relationships explored in Deadpool 2; Brianna Hildebrand returns to play Negasonic Teenage Warhead and this time she has a girlfriend Yukio, a female ninja of Japanese origin and a member of the X-Men. Deadpool really likes and respects Yukio and clearly lets us know about it. This leads us to number four…

4. There are some bad ass women in this movie

Having already mentioned Morena Baccarin and Brianna Hildebrand, I want to focus on the other bad ass women in this movie – namely Zazie Beetz as Domino, a mercenary with the mutant ability to manipulate luck, who joins Deadpool’s X-Force team. Beetz is a fantastic addition to the movie and could easily start her own franchise if she wanted to – she is that good.

The other is Leslie Uggams, who returns from the first film as Deadpool’s elderly roommate Blind Al. Uggams is hilarious as Blind Al and continue to play the smart-ass, feisty roommate who isn’t afraid to point a gun – even if it does point in the wrong direction.

5.  I actually care about Wade Wilson

Yes, in the first movie we realized why Deadpool is a character worth caring about. But in Deadpool 2, there is another character that is worth caring about – the same character Deadpool teases during the first movie’s post-credit scene, about him being in the sequel – his name is Cable.

The Cable character (Josh Brolin) is a time traveling cybernetic mutant soldier, who returns to this exact date and time from the future to kill Russell (played by Julian Dennison), a young mutant who Deadpool tries to save. This mutant, Firefist, is portrayed as a teenager who possesses fire controlling ability. And he is the key to the storyline in this movie between Cable, Deadpool and Vanessa Carlysle.

6. The awesome opening credit

Having already talked a bit about the opening credit scene, I won’t spot it for you any further. Instead, I will focus on the post-credit scene. While I won’t tell you what it is about, let me just say that yes, it does live up to the hype – and it actually occurs during mid-credits! As previously mentioned in the self-deprecating humor section, Ryan Reynolds isn’t afraid to go after himself or any other X-Men characters.

7. Hilarious supporting characters

Having already mentioned some, there are other new and returning supporting characters that make Deadpool 2 worthwhile. First are returning characters Dopinder, the Indian cab driver (played by Karan Soni) and Weasel, Deadpool’s best friend (played by T.J. Miller).

Both help Deadpool as he recruits for his X-Force team. The other parts of that team are the aforementioned Domino, Zeitgeist (played by Bill Skarsgård), a mutant who can spew acidic vomit from his mouth, and Bedlam (played by Terry Crews), a mutant can generate a bio-EM field that wreaks havoc with electrical and certain mechanical systems. Also returning is Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić), an experienced member of the X-Men with the mutant ability to transform his entire body into organic steel. All supporting characters add a new dimension to Deadpool and make him realize he is part of a team, whether it’s called X-Force of not.

8. Biting wit delivered with fun action sequences

Certainly the protagonist of the first movie – the one who is constantly wise-cracking as he shoots and makes human kabobs out of people – is back. Although director Tim Miller, who helmed the first film didn’t return, director David Leitch (John Wick with Chad Stahelski, Atomic Blonde) does use his experience as a stunt coordinator to deliver some stylish action sequences, as did Tim Miller in the first movie. Also with Reynolds as one of three credited writers, he takes more creative control with the sequel. And he makes good points about the mindless punching and grating of dubstep music cues.

9. Ryan Reynolds is perfect in the role

Ah yes, as much as it was true in the first movie, it’s even more obvious in this movie. While in the first movie we saw what Ryan Reynolds does best — showcase his comedy, Deadpool 2’s greatest strength is its restraint. As co-writer, Reynolds has less of an impulse to go for the obvious joke all the time. That being said, this sequel is funnier and filthier than the first film, and it capitalizes on its plot and supporting characters that make Reynolds shine.

10. The fact that it turns the conventional superhero formula on its head

If you can make the case that the first Deadpool was a raunchy superhero movie, Deadpool 2 is its more refined, more R-rated older brother. The film makes it a point for not taking itself or its humor too seriously, which can be harder than it looks. As Ruth said in her original review:

I think the fact that the movie IS relentlessly hilarious means the humor hits the mark. The “breaking the fourth wall” style also works well for the movie, which apparently is loyal to the comics.

Deadpool 2 continues that tradition of “breaking the fourth wall” and does it even better than the first one. Fans of the first Deadpool will not be disappointed with the sequel and by the looks of it, we have at least several more Deadpool movies to look forward to.

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A quick note from Ruth:

Having seen this last Saturday night, I definitely agree the sequel is even funnier than the original! I thought the humor would be derivative and his constant fourth-wall breaking and self-deprecating humor would annoy me but I’m glad I was genuinely tickled the entire time. The opening credits was just as hilarious as the first one, too! I like the kinetic action sequences by David Leitch (who gave us the super fun John Wick!) and so fun seeing Julian Dennison who was terrific in Hunt for the Wilderpeople (which I recently rewatched). I wonder if Reynolds even consulted w/ Taika Waititi as Julian’s character referenced some of the humor from that movie.

I also really LOVE Zazie Beetz‘s Domino! The German-African actress lives up to her über-cool name as Domino is so fun to watch and spin-off worthy! I gotta mention another new character that made me laugh: Peter (Rob Delaney) whose lack of superpower is more than made up by sheer enthusiasm! And you know what, despite all the meta zany-ness, the plot actually holds up, imagine that!

Of course, if you’re not a fan of the Merc with a mouth and his raunchy brand of humor to begin with, I’m not sure this one will change your mind.


So, what do you think of Deadpool 2?

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