Tag Archives: Douglas Hodge

Todd Phillips’ Joker

Gotham City, 1981. Sanitation services are on strike, leaving piles of garbage curb side. Mounting inequality and rampant poverty poison the collective climate and spur on bubbling unrest. Billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) makes the kind of callous comments on live tv that don’t help anyone’s situation much. “Is it just me or are things getting crazier out there?” laments Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck. He’s more right than he knows, both in terms of ‘out there’ and closer to home. Todd Phillips’ Joker is a brilliant, flammable, uncomfortable, thought provoking, beautifully crafted piece not only on its own terms as a standalone character study but also as part of the Batman universe as well.

Arthur lives with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy) in a shit box apartment, works as a street clown for an agency that resents him, sees a dour social worker until funding is cut along with access to his medication. He idolizes a funny-man TV talk show host (Robert Deniro in scenery chewing mode) until the guy cruelly mocks him for laughs. Arthur is as close to snapping as the entire city around him and one can almost use his gradually disintegrating grasp on reality and coherence as a barometer for that of Gotham itself and the world outside the cinema that we know too. Phoenix is indescribably good in the role, shedding pounds and growing a shaggy mane to portray this beyond iconic antagonist and giving us a portrayal that is so well built up, so scarily developed that by the time he has incarnated into the full fledged clown prince of crime we feel like running for the door in terror. But he’s also madly human too, a man repeatedly stomped down by the forces around him until a combination of stress, untreated mental illness, hurt and humiliation push him over that edge in a startling act of violence. Joaquin is the star here but Phillips also populates his Gotham with a variety of faces both new and familiar including Douglas Hodge, Zazie Beets, Brian Tyree Henry, Josh Pais, Bill Camp, Shea Wigham, Glenn ‘The Yellow King’ Fleshler and more.

So, about that elephant in the room. I don’t usually like to address this kind of thing in my reviews but this film has inexplicably whipped up a hilariously misguided fever of opinions, so read loud and clear folks: The Joker is a comic book character. This is a film. The way he’s written here is as a mentally ill victim of an would be standup comedian who is pushed to the brink, left to stew in his own mind as well as a horrifying cycle of abuse and finally loses it. This film in no way glorifies, condones or puts lone wolf violence onto a pedestal and if you think otherwise than you either haven’t seen the film or gravely misunderstood it’s themes. This maniacal, dogmatic, woke-a-cola nonsense has no business here and those peddling it should be embarrassed of themselves, shut both their mouths and their laptops, go into the corner and count to ten. Got it? Good.

Philips has created quite the vision of Gotham and The Joker here, drawing inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s work, lovingly observing key touchstones of the Batman universe and adding his own stylistic flairs that help this thing do a dance all its own. This is not a crowd pleaser or a pleasant experience though. Gotham has none of the Hammer aura of Burton or Broadway kitsch of Schumacher, but is simply a weary, dirty, worn out avatar for late seventies New York with just a tad of 30’s/40’s atmosphere present in the soundtrack choices and a terrific cameo from Charlie Chaplin. Phoenix owns the film and can’t really be compared. I love every Joker portrayal so far in cinema (yes even Jared Leto) for a host of different reasons and Phoenix adds another incendiary notch to the belt here with his psychologically shredded howl of a performance. Add to that gorgeous, gritty urban cinematography by Lawrence Sher, stunningly grimy and beautifully lit production design by Mark Friedberg and a surprisingly ethereal, skin crawling score from Hildur Guanodóttir and you’ve got quite the package. One of the best films of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

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AMC presents John Le Carré’s The Night Manager

John Le Carré is an interesting author, and adaptations of his work in both film and television have proved to be some of the most fascinating and top quality work, whether lush and emotional (The Constant Gardener) or cold and labyrinthine (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). He’s firmly rooted in the spy genre but has no interest in things like action, chases, stunts or needless sex like another famous but frequently hollow espionage franchise I can think of. He traffics in brilliant character development, genuine intrigue and chessboard dialogue, all of which coalesce into palpably suspenseful stories that matter.

AMC’s miniseries adaptation of his novel The Night Manager is a fantastic piece of storytelling, meticulously orchestrated, wildly exciting, laced with pathos, danger and humour that has you laughing several scenes later. Tom Hiddleston gives what has to be his best work so far as Jonathan Pine, the night manager of a Cairo hotel who meets, falls in love with and witnesses the brutal murder of a mysterious girl (Aure Atika) with ties to the Egyptian mob. He discovers that the one responsible for this act, albeit indirectly, is billionaire British arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), who he doesn’t necessarily openly declare vengeance on, but we get that notion from his anguished eyes as he looks at her corpse. Years later he gets a chance to exact some sort of plan against Roper and his organization when a plucky rogue MI6 operative (Olivia Colman) shadow recruits him to go deep cover to finally nail this biggest of fishes. So begins a deep, devilish and diabolical game of cat, mouse and spy as he gets about as close as he can to Roper, infiltrates the inner circle and finds himself right in the eye of the arms smuggling hurricane.

Hiddleston was rumoured for Bond at one point but honestly I’m glad he opted for stuff like this, his reptilian smoulder harbours a keen intelligence that blossoms with scripts that have a bit of weight to them as opposed to one liners, one night stands and explosions. He makes Pine a creature of flesh and blood who isn’t incorruptible and struggles to keep his eyes on the endgame while getting caught up with moral distractions along the way, like the plight of Roper’s elegent beau (Elizabeth Debicki, a striking actress of immense talent and one to watch out for). Laurie makes wry, mottled work of Roper and I like the unconventional casting. He apparently had the same idea as I’ve heard they had to talk him into doing the role, but I’m glad they did because he makes deft work of this verbose, colourful international monster. Scene stealer Tom Hollander gets some priceless lines in as his right hand man, and the sensational cast includes work from Alastair Petrie, Tobias Menzies, Douglas Hodge, David Harewood and more.

I think I counted zero genuine action sequences in this, save for one that serves a very specific purpose. Much of the story is dialogue, glances, meetings, arrivals, departures, clandestine sting setups and character interaction. That might prove boring to some but really it’s the meat of any story, while action should be the sauce and not the main course. Here we care about Pine and his situation from minute one, to the point that the suspense is hair raising. Each character is vividly drawn and written, the world brought to life in dimension and detail by cast and director Suzanne Bier alike. Le Carré himself is also a champion of the end result, which is an achievement in itself. A brilliant piece of television.

-Nate Hill