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

Insta REVIEW: “FIRST MAN” (2018) Universal

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Just done watching #FirstMan after a long torturous drive from the Westside to #UniversalCityWalk .. and an even more arduous journey home…I can say I DID IT!!. And got myself a #VoodooDonut to add and they are just as good as everyone says.

Okay okay..I’m getting to the part about the movie.. it’s a foray from #DamienChazelle into space that I never imagined could be so tense, frought with sadness and despair, and yet delves so well in what can only be described as stunning filmmaking chronicling mans marvels and mishaps leading to the ultimate achievement – the first man on the moon. #RyanGosling is solid here, but without his supporting cast of #ClaireFoy #CoreyStoll #JasonClarke #KyleChandler #EthanEmbry #PatrickFugit #LukasHaas #PabloSchreiber to name just a few – are the keys to the lock of this film and his character.

From a technical standpoint the films wows in almost every aspect though there is a lot of shaky-cam work that never bodes well for me personally (headache inducing), but considering its about space and everything that that entails, including putting you in the astronauts helmet, I should have been expecting it.

All in all the almost 2 1/2 hour run time is filled with only a few momentary bumps in the road. This makes it three in a row for Chazelle as I have no doubt some of this will have some Oscar nods..#Whiplash is still hands down my personal favourite, but this one also educates you in the history of man’s exploration into space and is visually effective.

Grade: B
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Media Review screening courtesy of Universal Pictures

REVIEW: “KONG: SKULL ISLAND” (2017) WARNER BROS.

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**IMPORTANT NOTE: Stay for the credits — You won’t regret it!

Is it just me or does it just seem like writers might be a bit bored these past few years and are perhaps running out of ideas? Hasn’t this been done already and then done again? Or did the box office success of movies like Jurassic World inspire studios & producers to opt for remakes instead of the road not taken. Well I don’t have the answer to all those questions BUT…I didn’t hate this remake in all it’s CGI super-glory.

To be clear – Kong: Skull Island is not simply a remake of a film that has been re-made time and time again. It is kind of what you could refer to as an ‘re-imagination’ of the original. If you ever lost sleep at night wondering what it would have been like if King Kong was not sedated and taken to New York to be pointed and laughed at and swatted away little planes with a Faye Wray or Jessica Lange or hey..even Naomi Watts, in his possession. Well fret no more, as that is exactly what this film explores.

The premise here is it’s 1973 this time and a group of eager-beaver scientists discovers what they thought was an uninhabited island a LandSat (land mapping satellite) has taken pictures of. An elusive island called – you guessed it – Skull Island, that although rumoured to exist it’s never been proven to…until now. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) are eager to be the first to explore and geologically map the island, so they persuade the US government to back the expedition by supplying them with the support and expertise of some US Army soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his team, Chapman (Toby Kebbell), Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Slivko (Thomas Mann), to name a few of the supporting crew, who are conveniently just leaving Vietnam and can stop on over. They also pick up a British ex-special forces “tracker” James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former British Special Air Service Captain and an “anti-war” photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

They start the mission by dropping bombs on the island to map the bedrock, ostensibly to look for mineral deposits. That’s when Kong shows up to smack the helicopters out of the air, and generally wreak mayhem on the team. The scattered survivors then have to survive on an island filled with oh-so-many-monsters and have to try get to the extraction zone. One group finds Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who brings a well-done dose of humour to the production and who has been stranded on the island for 29+ years with all the non-speaking island natives where KONG is ‘god’ and most definitely King of this island.

And that’s about all I’ll say about the story, so as to avoid serious spoilers. The story line is fairly conventional with very little arc to the characters except just as in the past, you ARE cheering once again for KONG. In many regards it actually sets up more like a horror movie than action/adventure movie. In fact, there are numerous jump-scares and other basic horror movie devices throughout the movie. Sorta of reminded me of the old school Godzilla vs. whomever monster films and while KONG might be the main guy, he is definitely not the only monster in town here.

In some ways, it felt like the movie couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to be between a monster movie and a horror movie… Or was it an action movie with an anti-war theme? It’s a toss up. There are also numerous characters who seem like they were intended to play more significant roles but then don’t. For instance they bring along a biologist, San (Tian Jing), who does no absolutely no biology (or good acting) at all and seems to mainly appear to allow another character to give a statement of sorts. Similarly most of the LandSat team seem to be around for comic relief, even if it is just horror movie style comic relief. Even some of the major characters do little aside from provide a single plot piece and I’m sure you can already guess, no one is going to be winning any awards for acting from being in this pic.

As for KONG himself, I think they could have spent a bit more time developing him, partly as a character as again, his name is in the film’s title after all. The CGI was quite good not only for KONG himself, but his fellow monster buddies as well.

I think there might have had just too much going on, and not enough time for this movie to be really good. As it is, it’s an entertaining enough of a movie that is fun, if you go in with a somewhat low-bar intention, so I enjoyed it completely on that level alone.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, March 7, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Friday, March 10, 2017