Joker (2019)

Watched in: 4K/HDR, 5.1 Dolby Digital

Joke (2019) at IMDb

It’s always enjoyable to look deeper into the Batman world, so many themes can be explored: dystopia, greed, crime, mental illness, vengeance and family/friends and colleagues. There’s also a lot of opportunity for comedy. I highly recommend the Lego Batman films for comedic value, which recalls the weird 1960s Batman (“I don’t know what was going on there”, Albert) and explores the symbiotic relationship between Batman and Joker.

This film covers the genesis of Joker, or Arthur Flick, and how he became hell-bent on crime, greed and control. Through a failed comedy career, Arthur is beaten up both physically and mentally and failed by multiple support networds: social services, his family and his employer. His declining mental health is on full display, so it’s no wonder how he became the psychopath he’s known to be.

I hope my death makes more cents than my life

Arthur Flick, Joker

It’s clear throughout that there is a feeling that he’s finding himself and trying to discover the greater thing he could yet be. It’s a fascinating insight into his mental condition, too. Though the line in his journal, “the worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t”, was a little too much exposition. The film is exceptionally good – recalling The Taxi Driver, the script, the direction, the photography, the sound; so why try and make it even more obvious what was happening?

Quentin Tarantino raises an excellent point about the powers of film, where they subvert the audience into thinking – or expecting – a scene to go a particular way. That’s epic Directing: the film is directed to direct the audience. Tarantino interview at IGN

Ad Astra (2019)

Just climb into the bottom of a live rocket during launch on a hostile planet. Then murder everyone on board, because those people were obviously superfluous to requirements. (Why send one when you can send 4?) Fly by planets in close proximity so we know where you are and pass derelict spacecraft by chance in the vastness of space. “The Sins of the father are visited on the soon” indeed. He’s not Brad Pitt, he’s James Bond.

Small Axe (2020)

Small Axe (2020) on IMDb

How society has and continues to view Black people and its culture has been of particular interest and concern in this last year. Between rioting under Trump following brutality and murder by the Police to massive inequalities in responding to the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen inequality and hatred made clear and accepted through mainstream politics. Watching this brings it home how hard it could be presuming guilt based on just your skin colour by people who should be protecting you.

Steve McQueen has created a series of shorts for the BBC, “Small Axe”, that puts the historical inequalities of the Black community under the spotlight. Thought provoking and disappointing. It’s difficult to accept we’re members of the same society that created (and continues to do so) this inequality.

Mangrove (Episode 1) covers the case of the Mangrove Nine, accused in 1970 for “riot and affray”. The Mangrove is a new West Indian restaurant in Notting Hill struggling alongside an institutionally racist Police force. The restaurateur Frank is faced with Police brutality and victimisation and wants to avoid any trouble by The Black Panthers’ help. Ultimately ending at The Old Bailey.

“The thing about the black man is they’ve got to know their place and if they step out of it, they need to be nudged back in.”

PC Frank Pulley, Small Axe, Episode 1

Lovers Rock (Episode 2) is set in a house party with some funk, soul and early disco where we see rejection, dancers pairing off and sweating walls. At one point the music is cut and we hear the dancers singing, lost, underlining the meaning of the song (Silly Games by Janet Kay). Some epic music and dancing, you can appreciate the true origins of disco and house music and dance and the euphoria music can bring. It’s an epic DJ set with bits of story attached.

Red White and Blue (Episode 3) stars John Boyega of Star Wars fame, in an attempt to prove that Star Wars is no longer just white men in spaceships. Leroy leaves science and research and joins the Police to try and effect change from within, removing the racism that saw his dad beaten up by coppers. Family conflicts and paternal disappointment

I don’t suppose you get many people from my background – science – thought I’d be the first.

Leroy Logan, Small Axe, Episode 3

Alex Wheatle (Episode 4) is the true story of the successful author who grew threw a challenging childhood and youth amidst racism and rioting. Alex imbibes from multiple cultures (drugs, music) and attempts to integrate with his Surrey-Englishness whilst he understands where he’s from and where he’s finding himself to be. Eventually, putting himself to achieving significant literary success.

“If you don’t know your past, then you won’t know your future”

Rastafari, Small Axe, Episode 4

Education (Episode 5) reveals the inequalities in education and how Black people were segregated into “special schools” in the guise of their providing appropriate education and improving the opportunities for their white contemporaries. Kingsley wants to be an astronaut but is struggling in his education. His family are proud and difficult to help and expose the schools for what they really are, for the “educationally sub-normal”.

“You can’t have a black man in space, who told you that?”

School pupil, Small Axe, Episode 5

Brüno (2009)

Brüno (2009) at IMDb

Stomach cramping through awkwardness and laughter. Lots of easy targets but that’s because American culture makes it so easy. Between racism, homophobia, celebrity culture, fundamental Christians and Rednecks, they make easy pickings.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles are genius. I love anything from Larry anyway (Seinfeld, Dilbert, Curb Your Enthusiasm). Loving Snoop Dogg, too. Typically underplayed.

Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary (2018) on IMDb

Gabrielle Byrne plays an incredibly patient husband as the awesome wife Toni Collette has a breakdown and becomes drawn to Spiritualism and the true destiny of her son.

Creepy and homely. You never know when a witch is walking amongst you.

Really neat cut between day and night over the landscape. What’s a horror film without either a distressed young girl in a shower or a quick flick through a book about Spiritualism for a bit of exposition?


Sputnik (2020) at IMDb

Not a fantastic fantasy/horror and it would be ideal for low anxiety/turn off brain at the end of a day watching if it weren’t for the intense concentration on the subtitles from the original Russian. I have no problems with subtitles but my gosh do they speak fast. Separating speech and facial expressions from words really does expose the skill of the actor.

Ex Machina

Nathan is instantly unlikeable and perhaps unworthy of trust. It can’t be healthy for anyone to exist in the remoteness like he does. What’s more incredible is not how much he has achieved for himself, his wealth and creature comforts, but how he has managed to obtain all that with very little actual work. Never does he “nip out” for a quick bit of work. No meetings. No distractions. Just beer.

Definitely interesting, testing the testers and a brilliant spin at the end.

What we should have learnt from lockdown

Before we start, let me preface this with the certainty of knowing we’ve had a torrid time. People have died, livelihoods lost, businesses have failed, mental wellness has suffered and a lot of money has been lost both now and in the future in our pension plans.

That said, we’ve had a lot of good things happen, and it’s important to realise this – and wonder why we weren’t able to enjoy this during normal times:

  • Quieter roads and neighbourhoods The island’s roads have been almost deserted. The silence was marked. We could actually hear birds. Air quality was improved.
  • Free music from Indie discos to 24 hour house music marathons Although the underlying reasons are deeply concerning, particularly regarding the survival of venues and sustenance of music professionals, the availability of free music has been astonishing. That availability has been converted to financial aid in the form of donations. A recent 24-hour DJ marathon by United We Stream raised over £100,00 and attracted over 4 million visitors.
  • Realisation that art forms a real benefit to our well-being From free music from music stars and DJs to major releases that would otherwise be trapped in cinemas going straight into people’s homes, the industry has reacted to consumers’ needs and people have realised that art (music, film or drama) can provide immense benefit to one’s mental wellbeing and forms a vital role in society.
  • A realisation we don’t need to be in an office to work Every morning, thousands of people head off in their car to central business districts to be in the same room. The costs to the planet are immense in terms of travel, power, air conditioning requirements and compromise to formerly green areas. Although co-location has massive benefits, we saw that it isn’t needed.
  • Support networks being established, reconnecting with our neighbours Back in the day, we used to know our neighbours. We were concerned if we didn’t see them for a few days. During lockdown, we were helping with shopping, keeping in contact and reconnecting with the older generations.
  • A material decline in CO2 emissions We’ve seen a marked reduction in CO2 across the globe, which is what we need to realise for climate disaster to be averted.
  • Reduction in use of cash A lot of businesses started to accept cards and the contactless limit was increased to £45. This will hopefully increase the speed of acceptance of cards and reduce the friction merchants needed to go through to have their own card payment options.

What can we learn?

It would be nice to think we can develop these lessons instead of picking up where we left off.

  • Quieter roads and neighbourhoods The change for the island’s road was transformative. Suddenly they became safe. It became easier to recognise true trunk routes for traffic and those that became trunk routes through laziness of drivers from going round the block. Neighbourhoods divided by roads can become one again, by reducing traffic flow. Our children could play out again (were they allowed to).
  • Recognise the arts It’s easy to forget the value of the arts, but we’ve all collapsed in front of Netflix (or whatever) after a day at work. Music plays an integral part in helping our mental wellness. We’ve all got favourite tunes that “lift us up”. Both we as consumers and the publishers need to realise that the landscape has changed. Streaming has to benefit both the consumer and the artist. Studios need to publish their content into the home. There is still a place for cinemas, but their role will inevitably change away from the box-multiplexes we’ve suffered of late.
  • Reliable and robust internet During lockdown I had to ask my family not to use the internet for streaming. This despite supposedly having silly expensive broadband which is shocking in quality and reliability. The internet can replace cars, offices and anachronistic business practices if it’s invested into. Roll out of fibre is an excellent first step but this has to be universal and affordable.
  • Be human We were suddenly all facing the same problem: how to stay safe. We were facing the same problems before (how to pay the mortgage, what food to buy, how to educate our kids, etc.) but somehow we didn’t recognise our mutual struggle. Let’s build on our new relationships and respect for each other, including those working to help you such as shelf stackers, etc. Tesco employees were just as essential as NHS nurses in the shakedown.
  • Use this time to build on our sacrifices and get CO2 down We sacrificed a lot during lockdown, not least of which was our ability/right to individually contribute poisonous gases into the air within a metal and plastic box because we didn’t want to walk. Our relationship with food stores changed, suddenly they started coming to us. It was the bus equivalent for food: One van to many people instead of many cars to one shop. But, the drop we saw above is already being reverted by countries on their way out of their own lockdown, for example, China. The curve is on the way back up.

There’s a lot of Socialist ethos in my ideas, and I am no Socialist. However, I recognise that the free market has created a lot of insular selfishness within people and a more egalitarian structure to society, with climate as a driver, could offer real benefits. If it took a global pandemic to get here, so be it. It should be easy:

  • Replace cars with more public transport, more buses, more frequent
  • Increased home delivery options from food upwards, but we need to address the Amazon problem
  • Reduced global travel and holidays, staycations are perfectly fine
  • Focus on local where possible, buy local, stay local, recirculate money

I know I’ve been exceptionally lucky, I have friends and family who have supported me and my family and been considerate in our support for them, where we can. Everyone’s struggle is different and personal. The New Year is just an arbitrary point in a solar calendar, but it is a line in the sand that we can look forward from. So long as the authorities don’t screw it up and people don’t get daft,