Tag Archives: The Joker

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

Tim Burton’s BATMAN

Image result for batman 89 poster

Frank is joined with filmmaker and recurring Podcasting Them Softly co-host, Derek Wayne Johnson to discuss one of their favorite films, Tim Burton’s BATMAN. Derek also speaks on his current projects in post-production, STALLONE: FRANK THAT IS and his documentary on the original ROCKY.

Tim Burton’s Batman

Tim Burton’s Batman has to be of one of the most unique caped crusader films ever made. One villain, where in every other outing there’s a handful. A Prince soundtrack. The craziest gothic production design this side of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s one of my least favourite in the string of cinematic Batman films, probably falling somewhere under Nolan’s efforts and Burton’s superior sequel Returns, but that doesn’t mean much because on it’s own terms, it’s really something special. The aesthetic employed here is important not just in comic book films but in the realm of special effects in general. Burton carefully composes a world that reminisces on the grainy Hammer horror movies of the 50’s and infuses that with the stark trench coat noir from 30’s gangster flicks. He’s a director who has always understood that atmosphere is key above most other things in a production and it’s thick as a fog bank here. Then there’s the casting of Michael Keaton, a physically unassuming choice for Batman who seized the moody aspects of the character and took them to new introspective heights, barely uttering three words as both Bruce and Bats. The hook of this film was obviously meant to be Jack Nicholson’s rowdy, boisterous Joker, so much so that he got billing above Keaton. In a subdued, musty Gotham city, he’s the one splash of psychotic colour that stands out, a relentlessly cartoonish yet very scary ignoramus who cements the aforementioned old school gangster vibe, especially in an origin prologue where he’s just Jack Nicholson sans makeup and fanfare, which is when we see some of his best work of the film no less. Kim Basinger feeds off of Bruce’s sullenness as Vicki Vale, a news reporter and obligatory love interest, but Basinger dodges the cliche a bit and simmers underneath the sex appeal, especially when she falls into the Joker’s clutches and we see past trauma burning in her eyes, whether it’s Vicki’s or Kim’s, we’ll probably never know. Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams as a pre Two Face Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle, and Michael Gough all make vivid appearances, but I especially enjoyed Jack Palance as a nastily corrupt kingpin/politician who’s partly responsible for Nicholson’s epic caterpillar into sociopathic butterfly metamorphosis. The real star of the show here though is Gotham City itself, seemingly conjured up from the darkest shared dreams of Count Dracula and James Cagney. It’s a monumental achievement in set design that has influenced countless other projects since and serves as one of the textbook urban hellholes in cinema. This may not be my favourite Batman flick as it is for some, there’s a few things that stand out. The celebratory score by Danny Elfman, although brilliant in it’s own right, seems to clash a bit with the dingy, cobwebbed vibe of Gotham and I’m always curious how the atmosphere would have been if they went with something a bit darker. A minor quibble in an overall picture that’s a stroke of genius though. From that baroque Batmobile catching air through a giant waterfall to the inky black and deep purple silhouettes of Bats and Joker atop a cathedral loft, this film has since been engraved into legend and stands as one of the most iconic comic book flicks.

-Nate Hill

SUICIDE SQUAD – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

suicide-squad-trailer-image-79-600x252

“Will you live for me?”

SUICIDE SQUAD is a complete mess, yet it is a total glory. I know, relax. Hear me out. Since the resurrection of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, there has been a forceful push to ground a superhero film in reality. Sometimes it works, other times is does not. SUICIDE SQUAD removes itself from that universe and takes place within movie world.

wp-1470375845553.jpg

 

There’s a lot that is blatantly strange and oddly incoherent about the film. Whether it was from studio tinkering (panic) or that everyone was on acid while making the film. None of that matters. The film has a great soundtrack and devilishly fun performances from the entire cast.

The film isn’t bright and glossy with a drumbeat joke every five minutes, it’s sloppy and dirty with perverse humor that will curl even the most uptight hipster’s mustache, while he’s passive aggressively using the Oxford comma to demean this film.

wp-1470375812740.jpg

Will Smith’s overly stereotypical ghetto jive, the over objectifying of Margot Robbie’s butt, the uppity bitch mode of Viola Davis, and Jared Leto’s insane transformation into a Joker that’s feverishly in love, are a step away from the safe mediocrity we’ve seen in recent tent-pole films.

wp-1470375831463.jpg

Director David Ayer has received so much critical flack for this film, it isn’t even funny. This wasn’t a film made for critics, nor was it seeking the approval of top ten lists. It’s loud, it’s obnoxious, it’s gratuitous, and it’s everything that the new DC Universe should aim for going forward. Let other studios play it safe with their glossy sheen, DC; keep forming a lewd and egregious world for the rest of us.

A Suicide Squad review by Josh Hains

Don’t worry, the following review is a spoiler free zone.

Appalling. Bad. Very, very bad. Trash. Garbage. Stupid. Incoherent. Incomprehensible. Dumb. Boring. Awful. Mediocre. Disaster. Rotten. I don’t agree with words such as these being used in reviews for Suicide Squad to describe the movie as whole. I’m not being blindly dismissive like some social media users out there who are mad that this highly anticipated movie isn’t getting a great critical reception. I just don’t agree, I had a different experience, and this review will reflect that experience.

Suicide Squad has a pretty straightforward plot: government spook Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles Task Force X, a motley crue of super-villains plucked from prison, and let loose in a city under attack by a malevolent meta-human. Kill the bad guy, save the city, and get some time off your prison sentences, that’s honestly as deep as it goes. But that’s not a detrimental aspect of the movie. In many comic book movies, the plot takes a back-seat to the action, humour, and character development, and Suicide Squad embraces that trope with wide open arms. With these team oriented comic book movies, it’s kind of expected that the story takes a back-seat to the character interactions and action, and if you need proof of that look no further than The Avengers movies. You don’t need an over complicated plot with far too many sub-plots for this kind of movie (I’m looking at you Batman V Superman). Simplicity is key, so by the time the plot gets thrown out of the window late in the second act you really won’t mind because director David Ayer makes up for it with great character moments, irreverent Deadpool style humour, and a wallop of fun action. Think of this movie as the DC equivalent of The Expendables, with way more humour but no gore, and you’ll be fine.

Speaking of character moments, many of the best belong to Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), all of whom are given just enough screen time (or more than enough) to make us care about the characters as they contend with their dire mission. I was initially worrisome about the casting of Smith as Deadshot, I thought he might end up becoming overbearing and even over the top, but he proved me wrong with a subtle and believable performance, his best since the Pursuit Of Happyness. Joel Kinnaman matches Smith’s performance, bringing a naturalistic touch to what could have been a stereotypical stubborn leader role. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is exactly like the Harley I grew up watching in the animated series that her creator Paul Dini wrote (minus the jester costume), and a total scene stealer. More on her later. El Diablo, the “fire guy” as Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) tauntingly dubs him, has the biggest emotional journey of any of the Squad members, though not as much screen time as the trio of aforementioned characters.

Captain Boomerang gets a solid amount of time to do his thing, which is make plenty of jokes and jabs, and kick a few asses along the way, but he isn’t given quite enough to do, which is a shame because he’s quite a lot of fun. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, Karen Fukuhara as Katana, Cara Delevigne as June Moon & Enchantress, and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, don’t get much to do, and neither does the sacrificial lamb Slipknot (Adam Beach), who follows in the footsteps of other villains in Suicide Squad comic and cartoons whose sole purpose is to prove that the bad guys aren’t playing around. Davis, a blank slate lacking charisma and passion behind her delivery of lines, doesn’t do much more than manipulate a few minds and give orders, and Delevigne’s characters aren’t fleshed out enough for us to care all that much about her. Killer Croc and Katana have minor moments of asskicking, and Croc gets a couple of funny lines, but neither of them are all that relevant to the plot, and easily could have been removed from the movie altogether without hurting the final product. However brief they may be, the two much hyped cameos, which includes Batman himself (Ben Affleck), fit naturally into the movie, and lack the feeling of being shoehorned into the movie for the sake of having them there.

Now back to Harley. Margot Robbie, equipped with a believable Bronx accent, and a fresh take on the New 52 Suicide Squad comic iteration of Harley, brings life and a lot of love for the character to a performance many were worried would fall flat. She looks, sounds, and behaves exactly like the Harley Quinn fans know and fondly love, and it’s a joy to see her steal scene after scene. She’s also fortunate enough to have some of the funniest lines in the movie, which Robbie delivers with a glint of pure enjoyment in her eyes.

In my eyes, the performance I was most drawn to belongs to Jared Leto as the Clown Prince of Crime himself, The Joker. Seemingly drawing from previous Jokers such as Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger, as well as the vast number of animated incarnations, Leto gives us a fresh take on the iconic villain that doesn’t feel like any Joker that came before it. I’d equate the performance to that of taking all the best elements of the aforementioned Jokers, and building from the ground up a composite of what that may look like. He’s not better, or worse than Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning turn as The Joker, he’s just different in his own unique fashion. I do think he’s better than the Jokers pre-Ledger though. Leto is gleefully over the top, cackling and growling like a tiger waiting to tear the face off his next unsuspecting victim, but not too over the top. This Joker’s as unpredictable, crafty, and brutal as ever before, but not overbearingly so. Sadly, Joker’s vastly underused, with much of his screen time left on the cutting room floor. I’d love to see more of this new Joker. The relationship between he and Harley, while volatile and unhealthy, is perfectly reflective of the one seen in the pages and frames of various DC comics and cartoons, and seeing it come to life was also a rather joyous experience.

Throughout the second and third acts of the movie, the editing seems to be a bit on the choppy side, more predominantly in the third act than the second act by a mile. It became pretty clear to me that the push for a two hour crowd pleasing comic book movie got in the way of giving the sidelined characters more depth and more impactful screen presences. Somehow, despite the clunky nature of the editing (which isn’t very distracting, thankfully), these scenes that are affected by it still work fairly well until the editing seems to get back on track and working just fine.

Beyond the quibbles I have with the editing, the story, the character development, and the casting of Amanda Waller, I still enjoyed this movie a lot, in some ways more than I thought I would, and in a couple of ways, less. I do not feel that this is a bad movie by any means, I think it’s actually damn good, but it’s not quite as great as it could have been, though I wasn’t always wanting or expecting it to be great anyways. If anything, all I ever wanted was yet another fun comic book movie I could lose myself in while watching these badass villains kick all kinds of ass six ways to Sunday. David Ayer gave me that in spades.

Now where’s the sequel?

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S THE DARK KNIGHT – A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

1

At this point, there isn’t much left to be said about The Dark Knight. The film grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide and its critical acclaim vaulted its director, Christopher Nolan, into the upper stratosphere of big-budget filmmakers. It’s a masterwork of comic book moviemaking, talking iconic imagery and filtering them through the prism of a Michael Mann crime epic, and featuring a tour de force performance by Heath Ledger as the most sinful of all superhero antagonists, The Joker. While I will always prefer the epic nature of The Dark Knight Rises (flaws and all, it’s my favorite in the Nolan series), there’s something so lean and tough-guy-poetic about The Dark Knight; it really does feel like Heat featuring men in masks. Picking up right where he left off after his excellent franchise re-boot Batman Begins, Nolan essentially made his first effort look like a student film by comparison, and that’s not to knock Begins, because it’s a wonderful piece of entertainment, a movie that reimagined Batman for a modern, more visceral style of storytelling within this particular genre. And what’s particularly awesome, and where the film is better than The Dark Knight Rises, is that The Dark Knight is both epic and intimate; this is a massive crime saga, taking cues from the aforementioned Heat and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, but never forgetting to stay true to the intense character dynamics that have made this universe of costumed freaks so especially memorable. By placing Batman and all of his cronies and adversaries in a real world setting, no matter how stylized his Gotham City is, Nolan was able to fashion a trilogy of films that felt all the more tangible and immediate, something that not one, single Marvel effort has ever done, with the possible exception of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Batman, again played with gritty determination by Christian Bale, who brought stoic seriousness to his dual performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman, is caught between his own sense of vigilante justice, crossed with deeper psychological issues. In The Dark Knight, the Nolans and David S. Goyer, stacked the deck with his arch nemesis, the Joker, played with such menacing glee by Ledger that you have to just assume that the preparation and performance might have affected his psyche; his posthumous Oscar trophy was indeed fully warranted, and not some nonsense done for sentimentality or good-faced-publicity as some dunderheads have suggested in the past. The plot is multi-layered, convoluted yet not impenetrable, and steeped in crime movie mythology that speaks both to classic film noir and the graphic novel roots that Nolan favored. The Joker is out to bring down Batman, while also trying to put a stranglehold on Gotham’s City’s overall criminal element. From the steely, Mann-esque precision of the film’s opening bank robbery sequence; you get the sense that Ledger’s Joker isn’t a playful clown, but rather, a certifiable psychopath. The way he licks his scarred lips and the way his sinister cackle fills a room with eerie rage are just two of the ways that Ledger left an indelible mark on this classic comic book icon; I wonder if any other actor will be up to the challenge in future installments. Harvey Dent, an excellent Aaron Eckhart, is trying to clean the streets up from city hall, and Jim Gordon, played with low-key integrity by Gary Oldman, is working his way up the police chain of command. Various gangsters figure into the plot and there is a morally complex chain of events that figures into the film’s gripping climax. But the real show is the duel between Batman and the Joker, and it’s here, with two of the comic-world’s most beloved characters, that The Dark Knight really excels.

Nolan, reteaming with his phenomenal cinematographer Wally Pfister, bathed the film in shadows and blacks; this is a dark movie, both in theme and in appearance, but in the end, serving a stylistic and narrative purpose. The tragic nature of Harvey Dent is highlighted in a powerful character arc that exposes the many faces (literal and metaphorical) to the character; Eckhart’s performance was one of his absolute best. And then there’s the film’s major action scene, occurring at the half-way mark, which is a towering triumph of choreography, seamless CGI integration, and old-fashioned movie magic. By the end of this haunting and beautifully crafted piece of explosive entertainment, the viewer can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. The Dark Knight was one of the first superhero films to never feel like a traditional superhero film, and the topical, real-world grounding that Nolan infused into his trilogy has been felt on other, future projects from a variety of other filmmakers. And yet, at the end of 2008, the old farts in the Academy felt like dissing one of the most successful films of all time, which was truly a shame, because the film stands as a genre centerpiece, and a reminder that art within this particular canvass is still attainable even when toys and lunchboxes are being considered; rarely does big-budget, summertime filmmaking become this successful at fusing all of the creative elements together.