Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Joker

Spoiler-free!

What I expected to be a dark and disturbing downer meant to leave me unsettled and unhappy, is instead an intense and scrutinizing look at a descent into madness and villainy, so thorough and unflinching that one can't help but see a reflection of themselves hidden within the frames. In a day when movies about villains are just movies about anti-heroes, and comic book movies are more commodity than art, Joker reminds us of how relevant and uniquely valuable a medium they can be.

Directed captivatingly by Todd Phillips, written along with Scott Silver.

Joaquin Phoenix takes on the role of the iconic villain in the rich setting of late 70's/early 80's Gotham City. Arthur Fleck is clown-for-hire striving to keep smiling in a rough and messed-up world. In gradual progression, the film shows us what it takes to transform him into the Joker that we know and love. The journey is too long and complex to break down, but the important thing is the way it draws you in to start. Though we know his villainous fate, we must be invested in the decent -- to take the ride along with him -- for the movie to make the impact it desires. Two or three scenes hook you at the beginning, and then the slow reeling in process begins.

I think it's wonderful that this film is making people angry. I can only imagine it's a visceral reaction to having a mirror thrust so unexpectedly in their face and showing them something that they don't want to recognize. I found myself doing a little soul-searching last night, that's for sure. But though this film is politicized, it isn't political. It doesn't show left and right, but rather an up and down balance of right and wrong. Gotham politics are similar to the divide and unrest in the real world today, but they are grown in an organic fictional environment rather than being transplanted to invoke cheap parallels. The fictionalization and over-the-top comic book style makes the open exploration on ideas palatable to a potentially stubborn audience -- exploring all sides of questions that we might otherwise dismiss offhand.

This is not a Conservative film; it doesn't push propaganda of any kind. But it does feel out of place with Hollywood content common to today.

People keep saying they handled mental illness badly in this film, and I'm not sure what they mean by it. What I saw was the subject being handled with care, and like the rest of the film's subjects, being explored from all sides. I found Arthur's illness to be the most constant source of empathy throughout his descent. Particularly the condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably when he feels entirely different. Everyone asks him, "What's so funny?" never understanding his mind as we do. Makes you think twice about judging people based on assumptions and appearances. In fact, the film refrains from any kind of judgement altogether, counting on the audience's moral compass to draw the right conclusion. The movie itself embraces the madness -- but never glorifies it. Every beautiful moment has horror in it, and every horrible moment, tenderness. There is always a balance of tone and no idea is presented without being challenged.

Phoenix's performance is precise and extreme; he runs wild with an exact and calculated grace and balances the evil and the good side by side with great skill. No one could doubt that he can play a scene with honesty and complexity; what's remarkable about this performance is the characterization: The way he runs. The way he laughs. The way he dances. The way he sees himself in his imagination. The twisted glee that pokes through his shell before it bursts out of him like a shot and blossoms into the full-fledged character with immaculate timing. To be honest, I expected his take to be more of a twist on the character, so seeing him open into full Joker so effortlessly once everything was properly developed was nothing short of astounding. It's the best performance of the year, but it's also one of the most full and complete performances I've ever seen. It's immensely satisfying, heartbreaking, and glorious.

Supporting actors include Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen and Shea Whigham. They are all great, but this is Phoenix's movie. 

The imagery of the movie is beautiful, as many movies are, but sets itself apart by serving to elevate the film beyond making it look nice. Framing is all about evoking a visceral response, and colors used to convey emotion. Sets and lighting play their part in setting the right mood too. Gotham has never been more beautiful, looming, bold, or grimy. Scenes are filmed with purpose behind the structure, and the effect is that the film feels richer, and more focused. Intentional. My favorite, and perhaps the most obvious example, is the huge flight of stairs Arthur must traverse to go home every day. He trudges up them in weighty gloom day after day -- until he snaps, and dances down them, having embraced the new life he's descending towards.

I've heard Joker declared to be not really a comic book movie at all, and though it isn't what is currently expected of CBM's, being free of action sequences and the narrative structure of good fighting evil, it's not true that it's a basic, "one man's descent into madness." Since when was being a popcorn movie a requirement of CBM's, anyway? DC especially has a dark richness to it that practically begs for serious and introspective character studies like this one. Iconic characters and fleshed-out fictional worlds used to examine truths, ideas, and perspectives -- without the baggage of reality -- in vivid color, and that heightened aspect that comic books provide so effortlessly. Through the lens of a comic book, this tragedy becomes art in a way it never could otherwise.

If DC continues in this direction instead of blindly following the MCU, we're in for a treat. 

Comic book films can be a lot of different things, and I'm glad to see that they haven't become completely pigeonholed yet. Joker is a difficult movie. Not so much because it's dark with disturbing aspects and a bleak ending. In fact, the ending isn't bleak at all, but you'd have to see the film to understand my meaning on that. Joker is difficult because it challenges you in ways you might not be prepared for; and connects with you in the same surprising manner. It moved me deeply, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I cannot wait to go through it again. No, it's not bleak; it compels you to search for hope.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Upcoming Movie Roundup - October

Bye summer! September went as planned and I saw both of my must-sees in theaters. It Chapter Two wasn't as great as Chapter One, but didn't leave me disappointed either (review) and Ad Astra rocketed itself up to be one of my favorites of the year -- and probably a permanent favorite of rich science fiction. It was everything I wanted it to be! (Review!)

Besides those I did some catching up from August. Ready or Not was a fun horror flick though not exceptionally so (review). It had a breath of fresh air quality to it. State like Sleep from January was interesting but unfulfilling though pleasantly noirish in tone (review). And, Body at Brighton Rock from April was a severe and incompetent disappointment (review).

Finally, there was the rollercoaster ride that In the Shadow of the Moon gave me. A September Netflix release that I missed in the roundup, I was briefly extremely excited for it, as it starred one of my favorite actors, and was solidly in the scifi noir genre, but after a few days of excitedly anticipating it, it was the biggest disappointment of the year. A maddening waste. I panned it as hard as I could in my review.

Now, October has a ton of big releases, and many that I feel like I should see, but not too many that I'm genuinely excited for. Here's hoping there's some surprises! What looks good to you this fine fall month?



Joker
In theaters October 4th; R
My only real worry concerning this movie is that it'll simply be too dark and intense for me to enjoy. I know there's a lot of controversy around it now, but I don't think it's possible to weigh in on the discussion until you've seen it. I'd like to see it, but I'm also scared to. Even Heather Ledger's PG-13 turn as the Joker unsettled me in ways that I didn't care for, and Joaquin Phoenix seems to have turned it up to 11, and then way past that. He's a fantastic actor and I feel like this will be one of those films that make an impact on the culture and become a must-see. I'm just not sure I'll get to the theaters for it.




Lucy in the Sky
In theaters October 4th; R
This one's getting panned in such a way that I can't figure out if it means I'd be less or more likely to enjoy it. I'm not a Natalie Portman fan, nor does it seem super exciting to watch a movie in which a person wants to go to space the whole time but little screen time is spent there, but -- I am a scifi and space movie fan, so I suspect I'll watch this someday whether I hate it or not.




Sometimes Always Never
Limited release on October 4th; PG-13
I think there's no hypothetical scenario in which Bill Nighy plays Sam Riley's dad in a movie and I wouldn't be interested in seeing it. This one is also about Scrabble, and Nighy's character looking for his other grown son who stormed out and disappeared after a bad game. The trailer has a sweet and sad yet comical tone to it that works so well with British films. I'll definitely give this one a chance!




Low Tide
Limited Release on October 4th: R
The guy from Alita: Battle Angel and Jaeden Martell as brothers in what looks like a slick southern gothic story involving gold coins and running from the law. Reminds me of Mud but in a more extreme, unrealistic way. Unrealistic isn't a bad or good thing, it just depends on if it's good and entertaining and has real meaning attached to it. I tend to like movies like this, but this one seems like it could be particularly good if it plays right. Looking forward to seeing if it does!




The Addams Family
In theaters October 11th; PG
Here's the cast on this thing: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, and Allison Janney. And yet. If you were to watch the trailer, you would realize -- this movie would be pure torture to sit through.




Gemini Man
In theaters October 11th; PG-13
If the de-aging Will Smith CGI is that noticeable in the trailer, just think how bad it'll look in the actual movie, where the screen is bigger and they can't mine the best shots to show off. But don't get me wrong -- I'm quite willing to watch this. Provided it's at home so I can laugh without bothering anyone.




Parasite
Limited release on October 11th; R
Everyone's talking about this and I know nothing about it, so I'm not anticipating it and probably won't go and try to see it in theaters, but I'll definitely keep it in mind for streaming days. The trailer is intriguing to say the least!




Zombieland: Double Tap
In theaters October 18th; R
Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin are all back. I liked the first Zombieland; I like zombie comedies; I like the cast -- I'll see the movie! Barring the possibility that it stinks and I lose interest, anyway. I'm not dead set on it but it does look like a fine fun time even if it isn't at the level of the original. And even if they steal jokes from Shaun of the Dead and overplay them.




Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
In theaters October 18th; PG-13
So Maleficent back to being evil? Classic cheap sequel, reverting the characters back to their original state and giving them the exact same character arc again. I did not like the first one of this, but I didn't like it in a way that I really enjoyed -- thinking about why and what could have been better, and for that reason I actually am curious to see this sequel. Also Sam Riley is back and there's a NEW and improved (?) actor playing Prince Phillip, so maybe we'll get some good romance this time! (Unlikely, but I can wish.) Ugh, this looks so bad, I actually feel bad for wanting to see it anyway.




The Lighthouse
Limited release on October 18th; R
Another that everyone's talking about. This one I'd probably be interested in on my own, for a few reasons. After Robert Pattinson was cast as the next Batman I've been a little more interested to check out a range of his work. That is probably why most people want to see this too, now that I think of it. Also I'm always intrigued by black and white movies. You can't be a good film fan unless you at least pay attention to A24 releases, and finally, stories set at lighthouses get my attention easily. Still, I kinda doubt I'll like it when it's all said and done. Hard to tell for sure, that's just my impression. I'll certainly give it a chance, and hope it's not too scary.




Jojo Rabbit
Limited release on October 18th; PG-13
When all is said and done, I WILL watch this movie, because Sam Rockwell is in it. As for the rest, I have loved Taika Waititi's work (What We Do in the Shadows) liked it (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and... not... liked it (Thor: Ragnarok). This looks closest in style to the one I loved so that's a good sign. I'm also not offended by people making fun of Hitler and Nazis through satire. The trailer makes me laugh, which is the best sign of all -- I think I may be even excited for this one!




Black and Blue
In theaters October 25th; NR
I've been on a kick of watching a lot of police body-cam videos recently, some for entertainment, some for educational purposes, so I imagine this movie would annoy me by having the footage be so "movie." It also seems too far-fetched that she can't find one single good cop to help her out. Still I do like one person vs the world kind of movies and I really like Naomie Harris, so I'll keep an eye on this. If it turns out cheap, or nothing but political propaganda, I won't bother.




Countdown
In theaters October 25th; NR
What if an app could tell you how long you have until you DIE??? This looks silly. I'll watch it at home with my brothers and it'll be a good time.