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JOKER joker joker! (Read 44 times)
Oct 16th, 2019 at 8:09pm

L.A. Connection   Offline
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When Martin Scorsese's name got linked as a producer on this DC Comics spin-off movie, many people were flabbergasted. Scorsese? A Superhero flick?* In retrospect, once one sees the end result it makes a certain amount of sense. Much of JOKER plays like an alternate universe conglomeration of TAXI DRIVER and KING OF COMEDY (with healthy doses of MEAN STREETS and AFTER HOURS in the stew). Director and Co-Writer Todd Phillips and his partner Scott Silver cleverly weave in the origin story of the super-villain into this alternate reality.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a sad sack with psychological issues. So, of course, he's working as a for hire clown who spreads his anti-joy to those unfortunate to witness his services. Fleck lives with his ailing mother Penny (Frances Conroy). Fleck has dreams of becoming a stand up comedian, and , after a particularly awkward trial set, he ends up as a guest on a late night talk show hosted by none other than -- Rupert Pupkin himself, Robert DeNiro (as Murray Franklin). Also lurking around Fleck's purvueis a certain rich millionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) and his son, uh, Bruce (Dante Pereira-Olson).

At this point it must be stressed that JOKER's screenplay and direction use the form of the (highly) unreliable narrator in telling its tale. Sometimes, the deception is clear. At other times, not so much, to the point where one can't be certain. For the most part, it's a smart strategy. The movie succeeds in keeping the viewer off-balance even if one is fairly certain where its ultimately headed.

Phoenix has long been one of cinema's most quirky and unusual leading men. As if to prove his bona fides as an eccentric, he even once pulled a year long stunt where he 'quit' acting to become a full-time rapper. Here his unpredictability is keenly used to the movie's advantage. Phoenix contorts and bends his body, and curls his facial muscles almost as if it were against his will. It's a physical transformation so complete, that the Joker clown makeup is almost superfluous.

JOKER exerts it grungy attitude in an effective manner for the first two acts. It's a dark bleak vision where the DC origins are almost unnecessary. The streets are crime ridden and literally filled with piles of garbage. Other than the references to Gotham City and the Wayne family, it genuinely feels apart from the superhero machine. Unfortunately, Phillips and Silver have to not only shoe-horn in the comic book elements, but, in doing so they also become too confidant of their ability to give the movie false gravitas. Not content with paying homage to the Scorsese quartet, JOKER also weaves in DEATH WISH, and ultimately NETWORK (and not to the present movie's advantage). It feels force and Fleck/Joker's words begin to feel false and over-written (V FOR VENDETTA achieved similar conclusions much more smoothly and organically). The too on the nose song score also gets to be a bit much.

Despite the weak third act, JOKER is still a movie to be reckoned with. Missteps aside, it a jarring addition to mainstream blockbuster movie-making. Even if one isn't as seeped in the films of the 70s and early 80s** it's a daunting vision even it can't fully pull it off.

* In the end, it didn't happen, of course. The current 'official story' is that Scorsese was approached because the movie was to be set in NYC and it was thought his connections and production savvy could smooth the way for an easier shoot. He demurred in the end.

** Along with the titles mentioned, JOKER evokes such 70s crime films as THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3 and THE FRENCH CONNECTION. That's why it's a bit of surprise when it's revealed that it actually seems to take place in 1981 (references to the films WOLFEN and ZORRO THE GAY BLADE set the date).
 
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