REVIEW: “JOKER” (2019) Warner Bros.

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Is the “Joker” really an achievement in cinematic history or just a deeply dark look into an anarchist, his falling apart life and a city on edge. One thing is sure here, no matter if you loved it or didn’t, it’s a thought-provoking, disturbing two hour long journey, that will haunt you for a time after.

The film offers a dark look of 1970s Gotham City; a dark, gritty atmosphere where there is no joy nor happiness in this world. In many of it’s opening moments, the movie reflects instant “Taxi Driver” and “King of Comedy” vibes – and while not a direct copy – let’s just say JOKER borrows elements ‘liberally’ from both films.   All the political tensions in the city are definitely borrowed from “Taxi Driver” and all the bits with the stand-up comedy from “The King of Comedy”.  Robert De Niro’s character Murray Franklin, is almost an off-shoot of Rupert Pupkin, his character in the Scorsese film.

‘Joker’ morphs itself into a deep character study of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a man with some psychological and health issues who simply wants to bring laughter to this world by performing as a clown in child’s hospitals and performing as a stand-up comedian. But his mental health and this broken, sad, depressive society of ‘Gotham’ that he lives in don’t allow for that.  He feels they do not let him be the way he is and wants to be, and all the people around him see him as too weird/different and simply want to put him down whether it be in the streets, in his workplace, at his mother’s house etc. to the point where he simply finds a breaking point and loses more of his mind every day that goes by.

This by and by leads him to kill people, and then become a symbol of terror and chaos towards the end. At every moment something seemingly bad happens to Arthur Fleck.  The camerawork is often claustrophobically tight on Phoenix, right from the beginning of twisting and turning and hard to forget collection of haunting laughs.  Phoenix appears in virtually every scene of Joker all of which adds to the film never making you feel as though you were never anywhere, but in Arthur’s tortured head space. Honestly, it’s to a point where you start to wonder how many times is the camera going to pan over Phoenix’s clearly now skeletal frame, noting the 53 lb weight loss for us over and over again.  Same can be said for how many times can one person can be beat to a pulp, and still get up and walk away. Hit by a car..no problem, just get up and run off. Get beaten one day – not even see a doctor – have the same thing happen to you the next day, and viola’ – still fine.  And yes, a whole lot of things happen to him throughout the film – but he gives back as good as he gets. Over and over again, we see him lash out at those who have angered him in even the slightest of manners, though they might have just met.  And that’s where it does get a bit alarming.  The violence is palpable here. Why, say you is this worse than what we see just on regular TV or any other action film?  It’s a plausible question that each person would have to answer for themselves.  The character of the ‘Joker’ seems to scares us just to the point that we don’t see the human in him any more – we only see the killer.

The movie itself, does not praise violence and it’s far from being about making the ‘Joker’ a “hero” or him starting a movement, but it’s not all about a man trying to find himself either. Clearly the story line wants us to feel something for this character and what he has been put through, but it’s hard to find or feel that second where you do. The ‘Joker’ wants you to just feel sad for him, to mourn with him since he never seemed to have any intentions of harming people at first, or did he?  We, the audience understands exactly the things he does throughout the film, and he does them for himself. Because he feels wronged.  Wronged by his mother Penny Fleck (Francis Conroy), whom he lives with and spends her days writing letters to Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who we find out, is seriously delusional herself all the while wrapping Arthur/Joker up in her fabrications as well. Again, it’s Arthur delusions that make you believe that neighbor Sophie Dumond (Zazi Beetz) is a lover/friend, when nothing could be further from the truth.  Although the character of Zazie isn’t exactly given a much to work with, her end reveal tells a lot.

As solid as Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz and Frances Conroy are in their small roles here, this is Phoenix’s film and he delivers a worthwhile performance even though some of it felt forced, he will almost surely earn himself a nomination at the least. It’s a take on the Joker that differs from Heath Ledger’s, with the main difference might be that Ledger’s joker is a rational that acts insane, while Phoenix’s is insane to the root. Which begs the question again of Phoenix on how much is he playing here. Remember years ago his so-called ‘experiment’ with Casey Affleck in “I’m Still Here” where he was supposedly leaving acting to become a rapper, but it was startlingly real. Some might say a perfect calling for this role.

While first and foremost this is a tale of a man pushed to the edge of his already teetering limits, Joker also manages to throw in a number of surprising narrative and comic book throw backs, some surprise twists (one word: Wayne) that even connects it with the Batman comics that will no doubt be discussed ad-nauseam by die-hard fans.

At the end of the day, whether you end up loving or hating Joker, Todd Phillip’s gritty take on the legendary DC comics villain, there’s no denying that the cinematic comic book adaptations landscape has been changed forever.

Grade: B

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Media Screening: Tuesday, October 1, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

‘JOKER’ IS OUT IN THEATERS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2019

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REVIEW: “SUBURBICON” (2017) Paramount Pictures

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Oh Georgie and Matty – what have you done here!!! I mean I’m all for unique and different when it comes to filmmaking, but when a ‘unique’ film does absolutely nothing to intrigue its audience, aside from being somewhat tonal with a consistent setting, then it’s not really all that impressive in the end. With “SUBURBICON”, George Clooney’s latest attempt at direction, seems to leave a lot to be desired with trying to be a little too confident in itself when it came to presenting a powerful story. As is, I still don’t really know if this was supposed to be a story of racial history, a murder mystery, or somewhere in there was supposed to be a dark comedy. I found myself completely lost at times, when I don’t think we the audience, were supposed to be.

The quick run through as best I could understand it is 1950’s/60’s suburbia (you can catch that in the courtesy of the name) the first African-American family, The Mayers (Leith M Burke, Karimah Westbrook & Tony Espinosa) move in the all-white suburban town of “Suburbicon’. Then the neighbors from the back The Gardner’s, (Matt Damon, Julianne Moore & Noah Jupe) are tested when a group of men invade his home, killing his wife and leaving only his son and sister-in-law alive (also Julianne Moore). Falling for his wife’s sister and becoming a complete psychotic and uncontrollable man, this film quickly spirals out of control into a farce of random occurrences. Throughout the first act of this film, it seems like it’s going to be a satire that won’t hold anything back in terms of wackiness, but that’s very quickly thrown out the window, compensating with many subplots of murder and conspiracy. I found myself taken out of the film when the tone would shift this often, making for a very off-putting viewing experience.

Throughout the majority of this film, you’re asked to accept the horrible things that the main characters are doing, or just connect with Gardner’s young boy on an emotional level, but he’s not quite present enough in my opinion. Not until the third act do you really find yourself caring about some of the characters, which truly at that point, didn’t matter any more. This movie tries far too hard to be clever, funny, and surprising – so hard in fact that it just comes off as forced more often than not. You will find yourself along for a ride of random events and you won’t really know who to root for, let alone what or why it’s even happening or what the correlation is. Honestly there is zero correlation between the African-American family moving in and Matt Damon’s wife getting murdered. In fact, as you watch the movie you will notice that the African-American family actually plays no significant part in the actual plot of the movie as far as you can understand that plot to be. It is as if they are just there for filler and to maybe politicize the movie in some way – I’m truly not sure as it makes no sense. What is the driving point of the ‘dark comedy/murder mystery’ aspect and taking the viewer to watching how horrible this family is being treated. It wasn’t funny then and it’s not funny now – that this still happens. But that’s a whole different movie so again, why is it even here?

I may seem to be ripping this film apart for being uneven, but for all its flaws, there are actually one or two somewhat fun sequences involving an appearance by Claims Insurance Investigator Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac). There is a lengthy scene when secrets are revealed and characters begin to evolve and Isaac elevated every moment of this portion of the film, but it almost is like they are grasping at straws by this point. You haven’t laughed yet, so it’s hard to really rustle one up by then. Up until that point, there really weren’t any characters to grasp onto, but the environment around them, along with the sets and the score, always helped to make the film feel more authentic than what its screenplay was presenting. This may sound confusing, but that’s due to the fact that this is a very confusing watch, and I’m thinking many will agree with me on that account.

From being written by Joel and Ethan Coen, to being directed by George Clooney, ‘Suburbicon’ just feels like a huge missed opportunity, due to the talent involved. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore both don’t deliver on performances here and feel about as average as you can get.

Overall, ‘Suburbicon’ is a film that will probably leave your mind as quickly as it came as it’s just a very forgettable film.

Grade: D
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Media Review Screening: October 24, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
“SUBURBICON” will be released in theaters on Friday, October 27, 2017