Joker (dir. by Todd Phillips)


JokerPosterWhen I used to play games like Vampire: The Masquerade, they had this disclaimer that said: “You are not really a Vampire. If you can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality, you need to put this book down.”

I think the same can be said of Todd Phillips Joker, and it may be the source of a lot of the fear associated with it.

I believe the big fear that everyone has with Joker is that it’s going to incite people to violence and/or mimicry. It’s the same kind of fear that probably happened with films like Death Wish and Taxi Driver. It’s also the kind of thing that did happen with 1993’s The Program, a film that contained a scene with kids laying down in the middle of a busy road. Someone actually tried it, and ended up dying. As a result, people get a little nervous when Hollywood produces something that could lead to someone mimicking what they see on screen. In that sense, any film has the potential to have an idiot try it out, despite all of the warnings.

If that makes you in any way uncomfortable, the movie will be out on VOD in 3 months time, not a long wait. Still, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is easily worth the price of admission.

Looking past all that, Joker is actually very good. The Crow, The Dark Knight and Conan the Barbarian are comic book films, but are so serious that you wouldn’t really associate them with a comic unless you knew it beforehand. Joker falls into the same category for me. This might be a little off putting for some who are expecting a more “comic action” like performance along the lines of say, Batman Forever. It’s the kind of film where if you stripped the credits from it and sat someone down to watch it, they might not figure it all out until 3 quarters of the way in. It feels like just another film, save that happens to be dropped in Gotham City.

Joker is the story of Arthur Fleck, a man with a variant of Tourettes that causes him to laugh at inappropriate moments, among other issues. Working as a clown and hoping to become aThrough a series of events, Arthur falls and is pushed until he reaches a breaking point. That is the quickest way to explain Joker without divulging too much. Let’s focus on the particulars.

Todd Phillips’ direction is good here. We move from scene to scene with ease, and as far as I could tell, there didn’t appear to be any editing issues (which is more than what I can say with The Dark Knight). Gotham is a dark, gritty city, reminiscent of NYC during the late 70’s. The film also manages to make connections to DC Lore in some great ways, My only complaint there is that while it’s a city that could use the Batman, it wasn’t exactly screaming for help. Personally, I thought it would be better if you saw that Gotham had more issues of corruption or crime. Nothing bad, just a nitpick.

From a casting standpoint, Phoenix is the heart and soul of Joker. Having dropped some weight for the role, Phoenix throws himself fully into the role of a man trying to keep it together while his world slowly crumbles. Come awards season, I would be shocked if he wasn’t at least in talks for nominations. Between the moments of laughter, there’s a lot of pain being expressed. Granted, this isn’t entirely new to Joaquin Phoenix, who had a similar role in The Master, but he definitely takes it to some new levels here.

 

Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) is okay here as a woman living in the same apartment complex as Arthur, but isn’t given too much to do here. The same could be said of Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), who plays Arthur’s mother, who tries to keep him on the right path. Robert DeNiro also stars as a late night tv show host who Arthur admires, which will remind some viewers of Martin Scorcese’s The King of Comedy. Of particular note is the score of the film, handled by Hildur Gudnadottir (Sicario: Day of the Soldado), which ties in nicely to every scene with its haunting themes.

If I had any problems with Joker, it would be that the film makes it sound like being a loner automatically qualifies you for crime. There are tons of people who prefer solitude to companionship (or at least in short doses).  It showcases both Mental Illness and firearms in such a way that could scare some audiences, suggesting that if you are medicated and stop, you will eventually cause someone some harm. If you own a gun, someone will probably be harmed. Having grown up around cops, guns, and family members with Bipolar Disorder, I don’t agree with that. This didn’t make the film bad in any way for me. In the context of the film, however, Joker is bound to raise some concerns.

Again, it’s mainly nitpicks, but for a story that shows the rise of a villain, it does work.  There’s nothing mystical about Joker’s rise, and perhaps that’s scarier than finding out he was irradiated by gamma rays or some other superpower. I will say that watching Phoenix have these strange moments of slow tai chi like movements had me wondering what was up with him. That was strange, indeed.

Joker is also a film that doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of action. If you’re expecting a major third-act action sequence, it’s not exactly there. As a dramatic piece, Joker excels at moving the story forward, and as someone who was originally tired of the idea of yet another Batman related story (with all of the heroes /villains DC has at their disposal), this film was quite the surprise.

Overall, Joker is definitely worth the watch for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, though if you’re not ready for it at the theatre, you can always wait for it on Digital / VOD.

 

Trailer – Birds of Prey


Whenever I hear the name “Birds of Prey”, I think of the old CW show with Dina Meyer, Ashley Scott and Rachel Skarsten. Thankfully, WB has seen fit to upgrade all of that. It also changes the story somewhat, as the original Birds of Prey focused on Oracle (a.k.a. Batgirl / Barbara Gordon), The Huntress, and Dinah Lance. I’ll admit that I’m a bit excited for this, as Margot Robbie really was one of the best parts of 2016’s Suicide Squad and this film features Cassandra Cain, one of the more deadly versions of Batgirl in recent DC History. It even has the hyenas from Batman: The Animated Series.

Having broken up with the Joker, Harley is ready to strike out on her own, teaming up with The Huntress and Black Canary to save a child (mostly likely Cassandra).. On board are Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Fargo) as The Huntress, Ewan McGregor (also Fargo) as Black Mask, Jurnee Smolett-Bell (True Blood) as Black CanaryAdditionally, Ella Jay Bosco, Rosie Perez, & Chris Messina are featured.

Christina Hodson wrote the script. Having previously worked on Bumblebee, that definitely should work out well.  Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) is handling the directing duties.

Birds of Prey: And the Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is set take on Gotham in February 2020.

Built For Speed: Richard Pryor in GREASED LIGHTNING (Warner Brothers 1977)


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Richard Pryor  (1940-2005) has been hailed as a comedy genius, and rightly so. But Pryor could also more than hold his own in a dramatic role. Films like WILD IN THE STREETS, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, and BLUE COLLAR gave him the opportunity to strut his thespic stuff, and GREASED LIGHTNING gave him top billing as Wendell Scott, the first African-American NASCAR driver. Pryor plays it straight in this highly fictionalized biopic about a man determined to break the color barrier in the predominantly white sport of stock car racing.

We see Scott returning to his rural Danville, VA hometown after serving in WWII.  He tells everyone he wants to drive a cab and someday open a garage, but his secret wish is to become “a champion race car driver”. He meets and falls in love with Mary (Pam Grier, who’s never looked more beautiful), and they eventually marry…

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Cleaning Out the DVR #24: Crime Does Not Pay!


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We’re way overdue for a Cleaning Out the DVR post – haven’t done one since back in April! – so let’s jump right in with 4 capsule reviews of 4 classic crime films:

SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (Warner Brothers 1930; D: John Adolfi) – Early talkie interesting as the screen debut of James Cagney , mixed up in “the booze racket”, who shoots bootlegger Warren Hymer, and who’s penny arcade owner maw Lucille LaVerne covers up by pinning the murder on daughter Evalyn Knapp’s ex-con boyfriend Grant Withers. Some pretty racy Pre-Code elements include Joan Blondell as Cagney’s “gutter floozie” main squeeze. Film’s 60 minute running time makes it speed by, aided by some fluid for the era camerawork. Fun Fact: Cagney and Blondell appeared in the original Broadway play “Penny Arcade”; when superstar entertainer Al Jolson bought the rights, he insisted Jimmy and Joan be cast in the film version, and…

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Pre-Code Confidential #29: Joan Blondell is BLONDIE JOHNSON (Warner Bros 1933)


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There are many contenders for the crown Queen of Pre-Code – Jean Harlow, Miriam Hopkins, Barbara Stanwyck, Mae West, and a slew of other dames – but there’s only one Joan Blondell! Rose Joan Blondell was “born in a trunk” (as they say) to vaudevillian parents on August 30, 1906, and made her stage debut at the tender age of four months. Little Joanie took to show biz like a duck to water, and worked her way up to Broadway, costarring with a young actor named James Cagney in 1930’s PENNY ARCADE; the pair went to Hollywood for the film version, retitled SINNERS’ HOLIDAY, their first of seven screen teamings.

Our Girl Joanie struck a chord with Depression Era audiences: she was a tough, wisecracking, fast-talking, been-around-the-block tomato whose tough-as-leather veneer cloaked a heart of gold. Joan and Glenda Farrell had ’em rolling in the aisles as a pair…

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Ride the Trail to DODGE CITY with Errol & Olivia (Warner Brothers 1939)


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1939 has been proclaimed by many to be Hollywood’s Greatest Year. I could make a case for 1947, but I won’t go there… for the moment. Be that as it may, 1939 saw the release of some true classics that have stood the test of time, including in the Western genre: DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, JESSE JAMES, STAGECOACH , and UNION PACIFIC. One that doesn’t get a lot of attention anymore is DODGE CITY, the 5th screen pairing in four years of one of Hollywood’s greatest romantic duos, heroic Errol Flynn and beautiful Olivia de Havilland.

DODGE CITY was Warner Brothers’ biggest hit of 1939, and the 6th highest grossing picture that year, beating out classics like GOODBYE MR. CHIPS, GUNGA DIN, NINOTCHKA, and THE WIZARD OF OZ. It’s a rousing actioner with plenty of romance and humor thrown in, shot in Glorious Technicolor by Warners’ ace director Michael Curtiz

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The Final Trailer for IT: Chapter Two


With the 50th Annual San Diego Comic Con in full swing, Warner Bros. is wasting no time in showcasing their wares. Here we have the final trailer for Andy Muschietti’s IT: Chapter Two. The more I see of this, the more I’m amazed by the casting choices. James Ransome (Eddie) and Bill Hader (Richie) really feel like the perfect matches for their roles so far. Granted, the trailer is just a taste of what we’ll see later on, but I’m hopeful.

IT: Chapter Two finds the members of the Loser’s Club returning to Derry, 27 years after their first encounter with Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard). Will they be able to get past their fears? Can they recreate the magic they had? Will they avoid the deadlights?

It: Chapter Two, also starring Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean, and Isaiah Mustafa, opens in theatres on September 6th.

Enjoy!