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.

 

Film Review: Deadpool 2 (dir by David Leitch)


“From the studio that killed Wolverine!” the poster proclaims.

“Directed by the man who killed John Wick’s dog” the opening credits announce.

Deadpool 2 is so meta that it even opens with a close-up of a figurine of Hugh Jackman impaled on a rock or a branch or whatever it was that finally killed him at the end of Logan.  Deadpool, the irrepressible and nearly indestructible mercenary played by Ryan Reynolds, announces that he’s willing to accept the challenge posed by Logan‘s tragic ending.  Deadpool promises us that, in the movie we’re about to watch, he’ll die as well.  Deadpool then proceeds to blow himself up.

Of course, those of us who have seen first Deadpool film know better than to panic when Deadpool’s severed head flies at the camera.  Deadpool heals so quickly that, as long as his powers are working, he can’t be killed.  If he gets shot or stabbed, the wound heals almost immediately.  Broken bones mend themselves in record time.  When Deadpool literally gets ripped in half, he promptly starts to grow new legs.  Without his powers, of course, Deadpool would have died a long time ago.  He has cancer, a fact that the film doesn’t dwell upon but which still adds a bit of unexpected depth to the character and his trademark dark humor.

Of course, Deadpool is not just unique because his near-immortality.  Deadpool is also unique in that he, and he alone, understands that he’s a character in a movie.  Even more importantly, he understands that he’s a character who is being played by an actor named Ryan Reynolds.  (Some of Deadpool 2‘s best jokes — which I won’t spoil here — are at the expense of some of Reynolds’s earlier career choices.)  While everyone else in the film is taking things very seriously, as characters in comic book films tend to do, Deadpool is pointing out all of the clichés and even the occasional plot hole.  When Cable (Josh Brolin), a cyborg warrior from the future, offers up a hasty explanation for why he can’t just use time travel to solve all of his problems, Deadpool dismisses it as “lazy writing.”

With the monster success of Wonder Woman, Infinity War, and Black Panther, Deadpool is the hero that we now need.  I mean, let’s be honest.  Comic books movies can be a lot of fun and, right now, we’re living in the golden age of super hero cinema.  At the same time, these films can occasionally get a little bit pompous.  Think about the unrelenting grimness of the DC films.  Think about all the sturm und drang that made up the undeniably effectively ending of Infinity War.  It in no way detracts from those films to say that Deadpool’s refusal to take either himself or the movie too seriously often feels like a breath of fresh air.  Deadpool is the one hero who is willing to say to the audience, “Yes, it’s all ludicrous and silly and occasionally a little bit lazy.  Isn’t it great?”

And yet, even with all that in mind, Deadpool 2 has a surprisingly big heart.  Even while it encourages us to laugh as its excesses, the sequel makes clear that it has a bit more on its mind than the first film.  Deadpool 2‘s plot deals with the efforts of both Deadpool and Cable to track down an angry mutant who goes by the somewhat regrettable name of Firefist (Julian Dennison).  Cable has come from the future to kill Firefist and prevent him from eventually destroying the world with his anger.  As for Deadpool, he feels that the spirit of someone he loved wants him to save Firefist.  As for Firefist himself, he’s an escapee from the Essex Home For Mutant Rehabilitation, a Hellish orphanage where the hypocritical headmaster and his perverted staff attempt to torture young mutants into being normal human beings.  The parallel to conversion therapy is an obvious one and there’s always just enough outrage underneath the film’s humor.

Deadpool 2 is a fast-moving and quick-witted sequel and Ryan Reynolds is, once again, perfect in the role of the demented lead character.  The jokes are nonstop and fortunately, so is the action.  There’s a lengthy fight between Cable and Deadpool that’s destined to go down as a classic.  Another exciting scene opens with parachutes and ends with … well, I can’t tell you.  I won’t spoil it, beyond to say that sometimes, being a hero is all about good luck.  Deadpool 2 is an ultra-violent, ultra-profane action-comedy with a heart of iron pyrite.  It’s not a film to take the kids too.  Deadpool himself points that out.  (He also points out that the babysitter is probably stoned by now.)  However, Deadpool also says that this sequel is a film about family and, amazingly enough, it turns out that he’s not lying.

So far, 2018 has been the year of the comic book movie and Deadpool 2 is a welcome addition.

Deadpool, Meet Cable (A Teaser)


“Well, that’s just lazy writing.” Ah, good old Wade Wilson.

Fox just dropped a teaser trailer for the Deadpool Sequel (which doesn’t really have a name at this point other than maybe Deadpool 2). This one focuses on Cable and shows off some of his combat abilities. It looks like everyone’s back on board here, with Deadpool breaking the 4th wall, as usual.

Deadpool 2 will be in cinemas this May.