film

Review: Joker

Written by Scott Silver and Todd Phillips, and directed by Phillips, “Joker” is a tragedy (comedy?) about how a lethal combination of society’s ills, neglect, and hatred toward’s one another can cause something truly evil to erupt. So, after months of national dialogue about how this film could be considered “dangerous” and “incendiary“, and now that the film has opened to a wide release, we can discuss the merits of those talking points and whether or not they hold any water. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the titular Joker, a character whose hidden beneath the peeled back layers of one Arthur Fleck. If you have any knowledge of one of the comic-book character’s more infamous storylines, “The Killing Joke” in which the Joker tries to prove to Batman that anyone is just “One Bad Day” away from becoming a violently unhinged and gleeful nihilist such as himself, then you’ll have a good idea of where the film ultimately winds up. The film is a challenging one at times, and it does inspire conversation- but something wholly different than what eighty-percent of the hubbub has been about.

First, however, we must take a moment or two to praise the work and care star Joaquin Phoenix put into this performance. Its a staggering amount of quiet subtleties paired with explosively grandiose swings that have been ground down into a portrayal that constantly evolves over the course of the two hour film. I’m not sure if it’s the “best” performance of an actor that I’ve seen in 2019, but it IS the most memorable for now. There’s a lot of legwork done to make the audience sympathize with the super-villain early on and it was effective in how that empathy was crafted. Arthur Fleck is a man that’s been battered by a world that is heartless and cold towards anyone that’s not wealthy or famous, and not a single person seems to understand him. Eventually, this empathy wanes and frays as Fleck crosses line after socially acceptable line until you can no longer feel good for once rooting for the character. Touched by hopelessness and tragedy, Arthur Fleck is Bruce Wayne and vice versa- what makes them different is how they each respond to such tragedies.

Before we get into a dialogue about the controversy surrounding the film, let’s take a moment to examine the craft put into the film aside from the performances. Gotham has never looked better in my opinion, this was truly a cinematic and believable depiction of the crime ridden and trash buried city that felt lifted directly off the comic’s pages. This Gotham is what I picture when I think of the fantastical city, Nolan’s Gotham never felt this realized to me. For all the successes of those Dark Knight films, this Gotham is my stylized preference for the look and tangibility of the infamous city. Speaking of the comic books, there are some direct nods and scenes dealing with the ever looming Wayne family, but they’re not too distracting from Arthur’s narrative. A couple of shots and moments feel a bit too connected to the Wayne family’s heir and future protector of Gotham, but this IS a film residing in Gotham City, so it is to be expected. The score was a perfect combination of overwhelming cellos and bellowing low notes all evocative of the sadness, dread, anger, and confidence relating to Arthur at any given scene. Though, there was a curious choice to use what can only be described as one of those “Jock Jams” stadium-anthems used at a particularly important moment for the character and its one of the most questionable score/song insert choices since “IT Chapter 2”- it just felt very out-of-place within the greater context of the film.

The scenes where Arthur is keenly aware of how he doesn’t fit in with crowds were particularly insightful to his world view. In the crowd of a comedy club he jots down notes while laughing at the wrong beats of a comedian’s stand-up set completely out of sync with the audience, or when he’s dancing in his living room to prep for going onstage, meticulously studying how people should behave in such scenarios; I appreciate these scenes within the context of this film and the superhero genre as a whole- but Art-house this is not. Which brings me to the crux of criticism for this film, it’s a deeper dive into the psychology of a character than what most films within this sub-genre of cinema will commit to, but this is more of a case of “Popcorn Psychology“, for lack of a better term, than an actual analysis of the character of Arthur Fleck or the Joker. The film asks you to indulge in how society’s abject apathy about people over profits can turn a broken man against said system, but it offers no answers, coyly rejecting any semblance of a political stance or a morality check on how we’ve failed the common man and what we could do to avoid such a fate. That being said, adapting a structured plot around a character such as the Joker, of Chaos incarnate, I understand that the difficulties of adapting such a character without Batman and Bruce Wayne to juxtapose against Arthur would be demanding to say the least.

Considering the hysteria surrounding the release of this film, after walking out of the theater, I have to say I was surprised that we were even having this discussion at all. I thought we were over blaming entertainment for violence, but apparently some issues never fully evaporate. The idea that this film would inspire another mass shooting in America (of which we have about 1 per day give or take a few data points) seems like an exaggeration by media outlets. Sure, this movie has some violent scenes, but the argument that this film in particular is dangerous enough to inspire people to acts of violence says more about our own society’s issues than the film’s issues. This film does not glorify violence, and anyone that would be inspired by this to take up arms probably wasn’t all that level-headed to begin with. Was there an outbreak of killings after the debut of “American Psycho”? How about “Drive”? What about “Breaking Bad”? These films and television shows focused on “loner” white males with questionable morality that take up arms, and none of these examples (among countless others) caused a violent uprising. “Joker” is just a movie, not a movement. It’s a thoughtful character study about how we forge tomorrow’s villains with the choices we make today. The moral that I took away from this film was “Be nicer to people”. When we look past our problems and ignore them, they fester into something capable of evil. This movie should make you consider your fellow man, any good film generates good conversation and this one certainly does that. So go see “Joker” for yourself and forge your own opinion, it’s a decently entertaining film and one that I highly recommend even if only for Joaquin Phoenix’s stellar performance.

Final Score: 1 Bad Day

film

Marvel Studios and The Fantastic Four: Is it worth it?

*Forgive me, for my timing isn’t as relevent as it could have been with this piece*

This past summer twentieth-century fox released a reboot of the Marvel Comics property ‘The Fantastic Four’ to less than stellar results, and that’s putting it lightly. Rumors circled the production from day one as newcomer filmmaker Josh Trank was handed the reins to Marvel’s first family. Word had it the director behind ‘Chronicle’ had a particular vision concerning the characters, to introduce them as a ‘hard Sci-Fi’ in tone instead of the openly campy iterations from the 2000’s when Chris Evans was the Human Torch instead of Captain America. Oh, how the times have changed. It’s not fully certain yet exactly what the right circumstances were for this project to be the box office bomb that it became, but one thing’s for sure, we all await the eventual documentary about it. It seems as though that despite having excellent actors attached to this iteration, and a new perspective on the characters and their origins, that there isn’t any one set of shoulders that we can rest all of the blame can upon though. In fact, I’ve listed a link below to Kevin Smith’s podcast ‘Fatman on Batman’ where the indie director sits down with Trank before his Fantastic Four released. It’s the first of three long podcasts (and is NSFW because of language) in which the listener gets to know Trank’s story. It’s a worth a listen purely for better understanding where the director comes from. While Josh Trank may have gotten overwhelmed at the helm though, it seems as though heavy studio meddling could have been a major factor. With their changes to, not only the structure, but the entire third act, they scheduled massive and painfully apparent reshoots that only served to weaken the overall piece. If we take a step back though and see what possible futures the characters can have, we have to ask, even if Marvel Studios has the chance to reclaim the characters, is it worth it to them now that the characters’ image is marred even further?

As a comic book fan, as well as a fan of the films, I say yes. Admittedly, I didn’t see the new film in theaters, but knowing what could be done with the characters, and what implications they have for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, well, lets just say I wouldn’t waste any time signing them up for MCU appearances. The Fantastic Four could be an incredibly timely film if done in the right light today. With Science projects taking ahold of people’s imaginations again from the likes of an eventual mission to Mars and the potential mining of asteroids, the time is now for a superhero team that embodies that spirit of unbridled exploration. The best parts about their comics are the thrill of imagination and discovery and the power of family. Imagine the heart and morals of Captain America but with the deep space tech Iron Man dreams about, and throw a dash of adventure in too for good measure. They explore parts of the MCU that no other characters deal with on a constant basis, much like Doctor Strange does. From the Microverse to the Negative Zone and back Reed Richards and his family know no bounds when it comes to exploring new worlds. That, however, doesn’t even begin to measure everything that comes with them.

Doctor Doom is all well and good, but the real granddaddy of Marvel villainy is Galactus, Eater-of-Worlds! Obviously this storyline is the big, bombastic, showdown that everyone wants to see, and it is ultimately the Fantastic Four that save the planet from this menace, using science, and … well, err.. persuasion. Even without the cosmic terror that is Galactus though, simply having Doctor Doom around to play around with in the MCU would be sufficient. Victor Von Doom is a peculiar villain in that he is the ruler of an entire country and infinitely cunning in his knowledge of both science and magic. Not to mention the galactic thinker himself, the silver surfer, would be a fun addition. Even if only for cameos, he’s surprisingly powerful for someone so shiny. The Alien race known as the Skrulls might even be part of the net of characters specifically related to the Foursome, and truly, who doesn’t want to see the Skrull invasion onscreen, it was enough to make Nick Fury’s paranoia boil over!

Possibly the best part about integrating Marvel’s first family into the MCU would be integrating them into other series. Specifically Spiderman’s films would surely benefit from the added cohesion, plus the characters have a long history of teaming up, some of the best ‘Fantastic’ storylines include Spiderman. I still believe these heroes can be a unique part of the MCU. While a devoted ‘Fantastic’ film might not be in the books anytime soon, these characters could be excellent bit players, much like Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk currently exists within the MCU. They could even be devoted to Netflix where they could thrive in their own series that defines their exploratory nature and then ultimately be utilized in the event movies when a big bad such as Galactus comes knocking. A truly unprecendented move could be something worth doing with this property as well though. While this is incredibly unlikely there is the chance that because Marvel will have to prove themselves with this property they’d have to do something wildly different in their approach. SPOILERS In issue #587 of the comics Marvel killed off Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, the firebrand hot head went down heroically and saved the rest of the team so that they might escape the monsters of the unforgiving Negative Zone. If Marvel went with this route they would be doing something fresh, heart wrenching, and (hopefully) profound. It would also free up a potential Spiderman sequel arc where he is recruited to the newly christened ‘Future Foundation’ as the Human Torch’s replacement on the team.

The potential is there, but it remains to be seen what will be done with these characters. Hopefully they will not be pushed to the wayside, but given another chance to shine within the same world that ‘The Avengers’ inhabit. I have a feeling Kevin Feige has a contingency plan for this exact sort of thing anyways.

*Kevin Smith does a podcast with Josh Trank, Part 1 of 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s9xrzPLvm0

film

Should George Miller Direct Man of Steel 2, or Justice League Dark?

Hey there movie fans! Sorry for the gap in posts, I was out of state attending a wedding of some very close friends. As time passed however a great many fun conversations among friends spurred the momentum behind the next few posts I’ll be writing over the next week or so.

This post however concerns legendary filmmaker George Miller’s next big budget project through Warner Brothers. Word around the web is that Miller is currently being offered to direct “Man of Steel 2” and/or “Justice League Dark” now that well documented Monster lover Guillermo Del Toro has left the project. Assuming that Miller’s next project isn’t another Mad Max sequel, which should he choose, and why?

The case for Man of Steel 2 

Think back for a second, if you will, to earlier this year when almost out of nowhere this bombastic, full throttle, completely insane car chase movie erupted onto silver screens all across the country! Can you remember the last time you had that much absolute and refined Fun with a capitol F at the theater? Maybe Joss Whedon’s “Avengers”, but that movie had years of anticipation and expectation to live up to. The world had almost forgotten Max Rockastansky, and now everyone knows who the road warrior is again.

Now think back to when you saw Krypton’s last son gracing the silver screen once more. Bleak. Muted colors. Hardly a smile to be seen. Granted, I must admit, I quite enjoyed the film, but it isn’t without it’s faults. Chief among these is the lack of any exuberance and joy. I also believe an argument could be made that Henry Cavill’s Superman isn’t quite the one we all expect and know, nor that he should be. Growth through multiple films is something that Marvel Studios has been experimenting with and I can’t think of any reason why DC’s golden boy can’t experience character moments and plotlines that drive him to eventually become the character we want and need. At the end of Man of Steel I think he is closer to this, but not yet. By the time “Batman VS Superman”s credits roll we will be even closer, hopefully, to that depiction. My point being that beginning in “Man of Steel 2” Clark Kent should be settled into his role and thus be able to tackle the greater challenges that sequels themselves impose.

George Miller’s style and precision should bleed deeply into this property if he so chooses to take it on and I can only foresee greatness coming forth from this pairing. Miller’s visual flair will elevate this iteration into it’s own form. My own particular fascination is with the rumor that the villain will be Brainiac. The potential for such a powerful Superman villain that will only endorse the deep sci-fi undertones established in the first film is overwhelming. “Man of Steel” did well to incorporate this tone and building upon that in the followup will only empower it to transcend the problems of the first while remaining faithful to the core of this new Superman mythos and yet become a tonally different, but critically substantial film. I can’t claim to be able to dream up the perfect Superman sequel to the incredibly divisive origin tale, but I can’t imagine a better director to tackle the misgivings of the first, and become something truly super.

The case for Justice League Dark

Now that monster connoisseur Guillermo Del Toro has left this veritable Monster Squad remake its time to choose who should fill his shoes. With Characters like John Constantine, Deadman, Zatanna, and the Swamp Thing this is a movie that is rich and lush with possibilities. It also something completely and utterly different from Miller’s own “Mad Max” movies, let alone anything else he has made. It might just be the perfect palette cleanser before dropping back into the north African desert to, most assuredly, flip more insanely designed vehicles through the air once more.

What I love about the Justice League Dark comics is that the content is supernatural and mystic in nature, horror themed throughout really, but it never feels like a terrifying tale. The varying abilities of these characters along with their own according sets of sass, charm, and solemnity make these characters mix well because they are so different from each other. This only emboldens dialogue heavy scenes but fear not as the series is constantly mucking through the.. well, muck of the DC universe and it allows for slight cameos to be something of a reminder that Superman, Batman and the Flash also reside in this universe, and that’s a fun advantage to have.

One of the more palpable aspects of this film over Man of Steel’s sequel is that it seems to me that on set locations and practical filmmaking actually benefit this type of film more so than Superman slugging it out with Brainiac. This film needs lived in sets, on location filming, and real practical effects when possible. CGI is important in this day and age, but if you can get the visual feel of the film down without resorting to full blown green screen, then you have earned my money as a filmgoer. Heck I saw The “Avengers 2” twice in theaters, but “Mad Max” had me talking, writing, and generally not shutting up about it ever since I saw it, while Ultron’s musings were entertaining they weren’t as impressive when you know how both films were made. No hard feelings CGI coders, programmers, and math genies, we all appreciate you! George Miller can do “old school” filmmaking and I believe this is needed in this particular film, he can also inject a healthy dose of demon slaying fun right into the vein of this piece.

However, while I cannot think of another director for the Superman sequel, I have to say I would be incredibly intrigued by whatever Sam Raimi could do with this property, the man that made “Evil Dead” surely could have a great time with this. If George Miller chooses Justice League Dark though I will most certainly be checking it out.

So now that the seventy year old madman himself George Miller is back on everyone’s radar I can’t wait to see what he does next! Whether it is Superman’s next solo adventure, a haunted romp with Constantine and pals, or another desert run with the road warrior, I’ll be at the movie theaters, and ecstatic!