Tag Archives: Glenn Fleshler

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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Cary Jo Fukunaga’s Maniac

Cary Jo Fukunaga’s Netflix show Maniac is to date the only one I’ve ever binged in one sitting. It’s fucking magic. I slept in and got to work late today because I just had to finish the thing last night. The one word that comes to mind with this is unique. It’s a science fiction comedy drama stroke of cosmic brilliance that draws on everything from Kafka to Michel Gondry to Cloud Atlas to Inception to Kubrick and many others, but not for one moment does it feel derivative, and there is, and I mean this, nothing out there quite like this. If you’ve seen a trailer or read a blurb, you’ll know it stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as two participants in a mysterious pharmaceutical drug trial, and indeed that is the launching pad for this strange, wonderful story infused with cassette futurism and dream logic, but oh just wait and see how deep, how multilayered and complex it becomes with each passing minute. After two opening episodes that burn sort of slow but are very important for developing character and establishing tone and setting, this hallucinatory, multi dimensional odyssey of self discovery and awakening constantly surprises the viewer by shirking narrative standards, constructing a script that feels fresh and untrodden, like a dimly lit path where anything could jump out at any second and all the well travelled beats have been cast away. Hill and Stone are unparalleled here, each playing a score of different characters throughout time and space and doing things with their work that I’ve never seem come from them before. Despite this being a fantastical show that traverses many internal worlds and has a whole host of dazzling special effects to showcase, above all it is an extremely thoughtful, often very dark psychological exploration of these two beings, the technology around them and how it may be used to map the human mind. Justin Theroux brings humour and eccentric humility as the neuro-chemist who is running the drug trial, Sonoya Mozuno is brilliant as his intuitive, chain smoking second in command and the cast is fleshed out by the likes of Hank Azaria, Josh Pais, Julia Garner, Geoffrey Cantor, Rome Kanda, Billy Magnusson, Glenn Fleshler, Joseph Sikora and more. Joining them are also veteran actors Sally Field and Gabriel Byrne in key roles, both of whom I love and haven’t seen in anything substantial for quite some time, they really shine here. I’m aware that this is loosely based on a Norwegian series of the same name, but honestly Fukunaga has used that as a drawing board and universally expanded the premise into something really special, original and magnificent. The central realms of the drug trial that Hill and Stone experience are the main show and the template used to plumb depths of the human condition, but just as vital is the story unfolding in the lab with Theroux, Mizuno and Sally Field, a slightly satirical look at how technology has started to approach the borders of the human soul, and even blur some lines there. I hope this gets traction, exposure and the high praise it deserves in the community. This is the best thing in any medium I’ve seen so far this year, and I can’t wait for countless revisits.

-Nate Hill