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Filmism.net Dispatch May 8, 2020

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You wouldn't think a guy who smashes another guy's head against a wall until it opens up, showering the murderer in blood in front of a terrified witness has anything in common with one of the most beloved TV personalities in America, but there's a much deeper sentiment in both Todd Phillips' transcendent Joker and Marielle Heller's Tom-Hanks-is-again-everybody's-Dad vehicle A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, in which he plays kids' TV host Mr Rogers.

They're both very strong statements about the current prevailing political mood in the world, and particularly in America (they're both American movies, after all, and take the reflexive standpoint that something has to happen in America for it to matter, everywhere else just some vague 'rest of the world' nobody really cares much about, but that's a rant for another time).

In the case of A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, it might not be overtly political, but I can imagine the marketing meetings when Sony realised what a zeitgeist-capturing thing they had. Back when Mr Rogers was on TV he was just a mild mannered guy with a kids' program. The values he apparently espoused (as an Aussie I was never exposed to it) of kindness, decency and neighbourliness were kind of an expected part of the social fabric.

It's only in this day and age where the cult of toxic media personalities and the egomaniac-sexual-abuser-in-chief have hijacked the American political discourse and made us all so exhausted from the hatred, bigotry and rage that something as simple as 'decency' feels like a rare metal. Hanks, Sony and Mr Rogers were tailor made to ride the crest of a 'why aren't things like this anymore, what's happened to kindness? etc' wave of popularity as we all look for an escape from the increasing shrillness from the media and the centres of political power.

In Joker it's more overt, summed up in the single line in the film and trailer where Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) says 'is it just me, or it getting crazier out there?' Because of the world we live in, we imagine the stuff he's referring to is the poisonous media landscape and public figures barely hiding their disdain of the masses left behind by a crumbling economy even as they bleed them ever drier.

Fleck's rant when he finally gets onto Murray Franklin's (Robert De Niro) show is a blistering call to arms, a damming indictment of the society he lives in where political corruption, the yawning chasm between rich and poor and a simple lack of care for the marginalised and forgotten who need the most help has poisoned the soul of the body politic.

The writers of both movies (however consciously) were onto something big, and it's this; at long last, have we no decency?

On screens recently (small ones only, with movie theatres all closed in this weird new global reality), you won't believe how two old men sitting around in gardens and offices talking could be so watchable until you see Fernando Meirelles' stupendous The Two Popes.

It's also a party I've come to very late because even though he has some great movies under his belt, I've never been a rabid John Carpenter fanboy like so many (the elephant in the room of every discussion about him is how many simply awful movies he's made. Ghosts of Mars anyone?), but I loved the evocative mood and sense of place of his 1980 flick The Fog.

And there are two more I was surprised to like so much, especially after the critical kickings they received. Eli Roth's remake of Death Wish elevates the original concept immeasurably, and say what you like about puppet/human noir comedy The Happytime Murders, it's got of the most well-weaved world building you've seen in ages).

But if you only see one movie over the next six months, please make it the line-drawn, dialogue-free lyricism, poeticism and beauty of The Red Turtle.

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