This Month in Film: October 2019

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What a bumper few months it has been for the clowning community. In September, Pennywise returned to serve up a whole new batch of shocks in It Chapter Two. Now, a new version of the Joker, Batman’s greatest ever foe, has arrived in the curious form of Joaquin Phoenix. October promises to be a stellar time at the movies. Besides our picks, there’s Renée Zellweger hoping for Oscar glory in a Judy Garland biopic, Will Smith and Ang Lee collaborating on the gonzo-looking Gemini Man, and sequels to Maleficent, Zombieland and Shaun the Sheep: The Movie, as well as another attempted Terminator revival. This goes without mentioning a return to screens for enfant terrible Harmony Korine and Brit comedy genius Chris Morris. That all that doesn’t even cover it goes to show how stacked the month ahead is going to be; let’s hope indie gems The Peanut Butter Falcon and The Last Black Man in San Francisco don’t get too lost among the mayhem. So, without further ado, here are the top picks for October…

THE BLOCKBUSTER: Joker, dir. Todd Phillips

Release date: 4th October

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Robert De Niro

Well, well, well, where do we even start with Joker? If any film is likely to dominate the cinematic conversation in this latter half of the year, at least before The Rise of Skywalker comes out, it is going to be this one. But Joker is no traditional blockbuster, despite the character’s comic-book origins. Traditional blockbusters don’t pick up the Golden Lion at Venice, one of the most prestigious awards on the international film festival circuit. Todd Phillips, the director best known for The Hangover trilogy, hasn’t made another Batman-Joker cat-and-mouse chase in the vein of The Dark Knight. Instead, Phillips and leading man Phoenix look to have created a fully developed and intense character study in an ’80s period setting, one that explores the effects of urban decay on the individual and digs deep into the roots of mental illness.

It’s set in Gotham City, but this might as well be the grim New York of Scorsese’s early films. The King of Comedy seems a direct influence, with Robert De Niro this time portraying the talk show host that the protagonist becomes obsessed with. Phoenix’s character goes by the name of Arthur Fleck, with Joker ostensibly tracking how Fleck slides into a world of public disorder and violence, eventually taking on the iconic mantle of the Clown Prince of Crime. Of course, it has already caused controversy. In the States, the film has been met with caution, conjuring memories of the Aurora shootings at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. Critics have warned about the potential effect Joker might have in encouraging domestic attacks based on false martyrdom, with the debate just starting about whether Phillips’ film empathises with its central character a little too closely. It’s going to be a huge discourse unpacking how Joker pertains to the echo chambers of the present. Only time will tell if it puts a smile on our face.

THE ALTERNATIVE: Doctor Sleep, dir. Mike Flanagan

Release date: 31st October

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly

It sends shivers down the spine watching the trailer for Doctor Sleep. Hearing the main theme from The Shining again will do that to you. Mike Flanagan, who previously adapted Stephen King‘s Gerald’s Game to considerable acclaim, has clearly taken a patchwork approach to his latest King interpretation. So vividly detailed that you’d bet your life that they were lifted, the trailer faithfully recreates shots from Stanley Kubrick‘s film. You know, the all-time classic that King himself famously hates. At the same time, Carl Lumbly is in the cast as a certain Dick Hallorann. In one of many changes to King’s original text, Kubrick’s film saw Hallorann **SPOILER ALERT FOR AN ALMOST 40-YEAR-OLD MOVIE** brutally murdered by Jack Torrance with an axe on the lobby floor of the Overlook Hotel. In adapting King’s follow-up novel, following an adult Danny Torrance as the trauma of his past resurfaces, the team behind Doctor Sleep seem to have created a sequel to both the novel and film. This may be to King’s own chagrin, but Kubrick’s The Shining is such a lasting influence on the horror filmmakers of today – and the version most audiences are familiar with – that this outcome was always inevitable. If it means we get to revisit a decrepit Overlook – which burned down in the book – I’m not complaining. Redrum, redrum!

EDITOR’S PICK: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, dir. Vince Gilligan

Release date: 11th October

Starring: Aaron Paul, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, Jonathan Banks

It seemed like just five minutes ago when a Breaking Bad spin-off movie was announced. Suddenly, mere moments later, it has been shot and is ready for release. Breaking Bad fans have been well-served in recent years by the brilliant prequel series Better Call Saul, but El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie brings a whole other level of excitement. Better Call Saul has shown us brief snatches of the post-Bad world. El Camino promises a 2-hour movie set in its aftermath, featuring the show’s most beloved character front and centre: long-term sufferer Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), the sidekick and #1 assistant in Walter White’s meth-making adventures. The ending of Breaking Bad saw Pinkman in a familiarly uncertain position. Having escaped captivity by a group of Nazi thugs, the show left us hopeful for his future, Jesse letting out a guttural scream of relief as he drove away from Walt forever, yet knowing that he was still one of the most wanted men in America – at least in this fictional universe. El Camino will tackle Pinkman’s dilemma head-on, with callbacks to Bad lore expected. What’s stopping this from being a redundant exercise in outstaying your welcome, potentially tainting the series’ glossy legacy? The involvement of Vince Gilligan, the creator and general head honcho on both TV shows, as both director and writer should be enough to ease any fan worries. The leading philosophy when it comes to additional Breaking Bad projects has always been “All Hail Vince”, so Jesse Pinkman’s in good hands. It’ll be nice to see Paul reprise the character that launched his career, but don’t expect El Camino to be an easy ride.

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Film Editor 2019/20. Enjoys classic Simpsons, R.E.M. and the MCU.

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