Edson Oda’s Nine Days

I’m just a kid from Canada who blathers on about movies on Facebook, I have no formal literary training or real clout in the journalism foray, and as such every once in a moon there comes a film that’s so good, so powerful, profound and so potentially life changing (what is cinema for, if not that?) that I feel it’s a bit above my pay grade to review it, but in the case of Edson Oda’s Nine Days I feel like I need to or you might miss this unbelievable, perspective shattering indie that seems to have come from nowhere but is here to rock our collective worlds and the lands beyond. The film presents to us a stoic, lone man called Will (Winston Duke, Us). Will lives in a rustic bungalow on a desolation of endless salt flats, and he sits in his house observing a wall of tube TV’s all displaying various human lives unfold in hazy POV. He takes periodic notes, records some of these moments onto VHS tapes and catalogues them in droves of filing cabinets. He’s visited by a colleague and advisor called Kyo (Benedict Wong, Annihilation, The Martian), and the two seem to be the only ones out there. It soon becomes clear that the people on the TV’s are humans living their lives in this world, and that Will and Kyo are in some other plane of existence, their task being to observe those who are alive and when an opening appears, to interview/audition potential new souls for a chance to be born in our world. When, through a heartbreaking tragedy, an opening does show up Will invites several souls into his house for the interview process including a quiet, observant introvert (Bill Skarsgard, It), a gregarious good timer (Tony Hale) and a startlingly observant, intuitive soul called Emma (Zazie Beetz, Deadpool 2, Joker). Now, usually a premise like this in films would be played for satire or just… not taken completely seriously but somehow this very wild concept couldn’t feel more down to earth in the hands of this creative team and, in hushed reverence, I believed every beat of it was happening for real. As Will interviews souls it becomes apparent that he is wounded from his time on earth in a way that is so deep and so painful that even these half formed human souls who aren’t even full beings yet, can somehow intuitively sense it. This goes especially for Emma, who is like an unbelievably precocious child that just picks up on intangible things as a sort of gift. As the selection process unfolds and more souls are eliminated it becomes clear that Will has to fix something broken deep within his own psyche, and this is where the film becomes downright transcendent and also where I just don’t feel qualified to properly convey the messages or themes, which are deep, dense and essential. It’s a film about not taking your time alive as a human being for granted, because there are so many unborn souls who may never get a chance. Not only are the themes compelling and thought provoking, they are multilayered, meditatively introspective and just ambiguous enough to feel like a real and flawed system of beings interacting in a world beyond our own. Wong’s wonderful character comments on the mysterious nature of both our existence and theirs and the aching existential wonder that any sort of being finds themselves in, the forces governing them always just out of reach. Duke and Beetz are unreasonably good here and if the Oscars ever took the time to recognize independent films they would both be front and centre, as would first time writer director Edson Oda (I simply CANNOT comprehending the fact that this is a feature debut, it’s TOO assured) and composer Antonio Pinto who weaves an original score too beautiful for words, full of melancholic, celestial string passages and hypnotic, dreamlike beats in between. One reviewer I saw on IMDb said about this film, and I quote, “After 60 years of watching movies, I’ve finally found the best one.” Well it’s obviously all subjective and personally I could never pick a singular, definitive “best movie ever,” the notion itself is redundant. However, I would consider Nine Days to be just about as close to perfection as one can get in the medium of film, that rare piece that just soars on every level and has the power to change lives. It’s getting a limited theatrical run at the moment and if you notice it playing in your city please go, it’s that one in a million film that lingers in your thoughts and dreams for a long time after, that elusive piece of art that doesn’t just exist onscreen for two hours before fading, but rather lives on in the hearts and minds of those who see it and takes on a soul of its own. Masterpiece and the best film of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

Todd Phillips’ Joker

Gotham City, 1981. Sanitation services are on strike, leaving piles of garbage curb side. Mounting inequality and rampant poverty poison the collective climate and spur on bubbling unrest. Billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) makes the kind of callous comments on live tv that don’t help anyone’s situation much. “Is it just me or are things getting crazier out there?” laments Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck. He’s more right than he knows, both in terms of ‘out there’ and closer to home. Todd Phillips’ Joker is a brilliant, flammable, uncomfortable, thought provoking, beautifully crafted piece not only on its own terms as a standalone character study but also as part of the Batman universe as well.

Arthur lives with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy) in a shit box apartment, works as a street clown for an agency that resents him, sees a dour social worker until funding is cut along with access to his medication. He idolizes a funny-man TV talk show host (Robert Deniro in scenery chewing mode) until the guy cruelly mocks him for laughs. Arthur is as close to snapping as the entire city around him and one can almost use his gradually disintegrating grasp on reality and coherence as a barometer for that of Gotham itself and the world outside the cinema that we know too. Phoenix is indescribably good in the role, shedding pounds and growing a shaggy mane to portray this beyond iconic antagonist and giving us a portrayal that is so well built up, so scarily developed that by the time he has incarnated into the full fledged clown prince of crime we feel like running for the door in terror. But he’s also madly human too, a man repeatedly stomped down by the forces around him until a combination of stress, untreated mental illness, hurt and humiliation push him over that edge in a startling act of violence. Joaquin is the star here but Phillips also populates his Gotham with a variety of faces both new and familiar including Douglas Hodge, Zazie Beets, Brian Tyree Henry, Josh Pais, Bill Camp, Shea Wigham, Glenn ‘The Yellow King’ Fleshler and more.

So, about that elephant in the room. I don’t usually like to address this kind of thing in my reviews but this film has inexplicably whipped up a hilariously misguided fever of opinions, so read loud and clear folks: The Joker is a comic book character. This is a film. The way he’s written here is as a mentally ill victim of an would be standup comedian who is pushed to the brink, left to stew in his own mind as well as a horrifying cycle of abuse and finally loses it. This film in no way glorifies, condones or puts lone wolf violence onto a pedestal and if you think otherwise than you either haven’t seen the film or gravely misunderstood it’s themes. This maniacal, dogmatic, woke-a-cola nonsense has no business here and those peddling it should be embarrassed of themselves, shut both their mouths and their laptops, go into the corner and count to ten. Got it? Good.

Philips has created quite the vision of Gotham and The Joker here, drawing inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s work, lovingly observing key touchstones of the Batman universe and adding his own stylistic flairs that help this thing do a dance all its own. This is not a crowd pleaser or a pleasant experience though. Gotham has none of the Hammer aura of Burton or Broadway kitsch of Schumacher, but is simply a weary, dirty, worn out avatar for late seventies New York with just a tad of 30’s/40’s atmosphere present in the soundtrack choices and a terrific cameo from Charlie Chaplin. Phoenix owns the film and can’t really be compared. I love every Joker portrayal so far in cinema (yes even Jared Leto) for a host of different reasons and Phoenix adds another incendiary notch to the belt here with his psychologically shredded howl of a performance. Add to that gorgeous, gritty urban cinematography by Lawrence Sher, stunningly grimy and beautifully lit production design by Mark Friedberg and a surprisingly ethereal, skin crawling score from Hildur Guanodóttir and you’ve got quite the package. One of the best films of the year so far.

-Nate Hill