Joker

Joker Poster

Director: Todd Phillips

Screenwriters: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, and Zazie Beetz

Todd Phillips’s dark origin story of the nefarious, titular Clown Prince of Crime is a moody film that feels much closer to the Christopher Nolan vision of Gotham City’s milieu than any of the most recent efforts in the DC universe. And by universe, I mean adaptations of material from Detective Comics because the makers of Joker have made it quite clear that this film is not part of what has been called the DC Extended Universe, which includes films like Batman v. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman

Joker is drawing comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s 1976 thriller, Taxi Driver as well as to his 1983 dark comedy, The King of Comedy. These comparisons are quite justified as all three films explore celebrity, sub-cultural unrest, and showcase the talents of Robert De Niro. These comparisons come ironically on the heels of Scorsese’s own recent public comments in Empire magazine that other comic book movies are “not cinema.” Whether or not Scorsese has seen Joker remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt the film is heavily stylized and inspired by his early works. But this film is much more than a Scorsese tribute; it is actually quite an astute commentary on some very difficult issues to discuss, making it one of the most necessary films produced this year.

At its core, Joker is a character-driven story about Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a meager, struggling performer hoping to someday be a stand-up comedian. Fleck also has a “condition” which manifests as uncontrollable laughter at inappropriate times. The film quickly establishes that this is a film about man vs. society where Fleck’s numerous mental illnesses result in a rejection from society regardless of his desire to be part of it. Fleck is literally beaten at one point by some kids simply because he stands out. This significant but minor violent experience results in a series of events that eventually see Fleck unemployed, unsupported, and friendless.

To make matters worse, Fleck, who lives at home with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy) discovers that he may be the illegitimate son of billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) who ultimately abandons both Penny and Arthur. The film is quite ambiguous on this point, and so I leave it up to your interpretation on exactly what is going on here, but suffice it to say, just the idea of it would certainly contribute to Arthur’s coming unhinged. Phoenix is excellent in this film allowing Fleck’s struggles to feel very real and human. His decisions, as radical as they are, all come from a raw and authentic place within the character that Phoenix is able to capture and put on display in a very captivating way.

Phoenix as Joker
Joaquin Phoenix as ‘Joker.’

Joker as a film also does an excellent job of pitting this dynamic individual against a society that is crumbling into chaos and compartmentalizing into a vastly unsettling class struggle. There is no need to underscore the parallels director Todd Phillips is attempting to draw between Gotham and say New York City. The rich are getting richer, the poor are being underserved and beaten down. Fleck simply wants his chance at the American dream, but the more he looks around, the more he notices that the dream is not attained, it’s taken by whoever wants it most by whatever means – which in itself distorts the “American Dream” into something entirely different. You can be rich and famous in America if you’re lucky enough to have it already or if you’re bold enough to destroy others to get it. Jesus Christ – that’s a scary thought! Fleck’s one dream is to be a stand-up comedian and perform for his favorite late-night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). The film wisely frames the film’s climax on this notion, and what transpires is compelling and profoundly unsettling. Not because it is necessarily “shocking” but because of what it does to us as viewers who will no doubt be feeling a variety of conflicting emotions by the end – all worth examining.

The film does wind up in some familiar territory at the end that on its surface feels a bit unnecessary; however, when reflecting on the film as a whole, and depending on where you sit on certain interpretations of events, the significance of the film’s final scene is quite subjective. Joker is at its worst, a conversation piece, and at its best the most socially significant American film released this year.  A-

Joker is Rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.

The Hangover Part III

ImageI’m not sure what critics were expecting to see when they went to see The Hangover Part III, but clearly they didn’t see it. Words like ‘deplorable,’ ‘tasteless,’ ‘unfunny,’ and ‘indecent’ have been used to describe the film, not to mention the all too repeated yet inevitable phrase ‘what happened in Vegas, should have stayed in Vegas.’ I, on the other hand, must profoundly disagree with this vastly baffling majority. The Hangover Part III is a fitting final chapter that is far from ‘tasteless,’ and in fact even expresses some rather poignant truths about friendship.

The Hangover Part III wisely turns its back on the “what happened last night?” premise, and freshens things up with a new conflict, although it still involves looking for Doug. This time the Wolfpack assembles for an intervention for Allen (Zack Galifianakis) following the sudden death of his father (Jeffery Tambor) and a terribly public mishap with a giraffe. While enroute to a mental rehabilitation facility, Allen, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) are abducted by mobster, Marshall (John Goodman). Marshall orders Phil, Stu, and Allen to track down Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) who stole $21 million in gold from him or he’ll kill Doug. It seems oddly hypocritical that series like the Harry Potter films are allowed to break with formula and get significantly darker over time, yet when a film like The Hangover Part III does the same, there is an uproar. Nonetheless, this new direction allows the characters more room to breathe as they commence an enjoyable manhunt that takes them to California, to Tiajuana, and of course, to Vegas!

Various nods to the previous two films are sprinkled throughout in enjoyable ways and even the Marshall character is fittingly introduced. Jeong’s role is substantially larger in this installment, and while his presence felt far too forced and substantial in the second film, he shines in Part III. It is true that there are not as many laughs in The Hangover Part III as there were in the original, but it also has a different tone where laughs are sacrificed for occasional moments of intensity. Nonetheless, the film is still a comedy, and the laughs that happen are strong and surpass the lazy unoriginal ones from Part II. In fact, this film minimizes its references to Part II to such a degree that this film could be considered Part II, and Part II could be a sort of appendix or something.

The argument for whether Part III (or Part II) was necessary is a larger issue that does not only apply to this set of films but to all part II’s and part III’s. Thus, on the merits of what is presented, The Hangover Part III is a successful and entertaining film. It devises a reasonable premise, offers a clever plot-twist or two, and even provides some insight on friendship. The latter part is perhaps the film’s least successful endeavor, as it pounds the audience over the head with various versions of Trent Reznor’s song “Hurt;” however, a scene towards the end utilizing that song does have a ring of truth to it.

Director Todd Phillips listened to his critics and detractors after Part II and gave them exactly what they wanted in Part III, yet his new vision is not being embraced. While the franchise has seemingly run out of steam, and a Hangover Part IV is incredibly unlikely and ill-advised, Part III is a perfectly good send off to these characters that deserves to be seen even if the “hang” is “over.” B

The Hangover Part III is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. While there is no stinger after the credits, definitely make sure you stick around for about a minute after the credits begin rolling.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑