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Author Topic: JOKER  (Read 640 times)
jdv
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« on: October 04, 2019, 11:06:32 AM »

But is it art?

That's the question I asked myself after watching the interesting, but ultimately less-then-the-sum-of-the-parts JOKER, Todd Phillips homage to '70's era dystopian films.  

There are very few films that have no redeeming characters - Kubrick's CLOCKWORK ORANGE & Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER come to mind, and both have heavy influences on this film - and JOKER is one of them.  In Phillip's origin story of the Joker, perhaps the greatest comic book villain of all time, he is a victim from birth.  A hapless sap who is let down by the system, by his family, and ultimately by people as a whole.  A tale of mental illness merged with comic book lore.

Joaquin Phoenix performance is an interesting one as right off the bat he has clearly starved himself to the point of physical danger to do the part, which in my head immediately set off alarm bells.  "Why don't you try acting crazy instead of trying to be crazy," I immediately thought to myself in a paraphrase of Lawrence Olivier's smack-down of Dustin Hoffman.  Phoenix's manifest unhealthiness immediately sets the tone for the rest of the two-plus hour character piece.

It's not that's it's a bad performance - it's technically quite great - yet you can never forget that it's Joaquin Phoenix doing a gag.  While's he's obviously all-in on the performance and never does go over-the-top, it also never quite sings either.  Be it his fame, age, or the lack of story (more on that in a sec), his Joker ultimately is a bit dull.

He's not helped much by the story, of which there is little.  Zack Snyder's WATCHMEN, a movie that explores many of the same themes, would/could have shown us this version of the Joker's back-story in about 20 minutes (or less), and would have been equally effective.  There simply isn't much that happens in the story relative to the amount of screen time. That lack of story isn't helped by the total lack of sympathetic characters, of which there are none.  Even Thomas Wayne, who is normally portrayed as a saint, is shown as a jack-ass.

The Joker rarely instigates the action, but rather reacts when something happens to him.  Ultimately worse, he never seems smart or clever, instead only a lonely crazy person dying for some self-started action.  While I suppose that's a valid beginning for the character, it does little to explain how an anorexic semi-retarded person would ever be a match for the world's greatest detective (especially as the movie sets up a vast age difference between them).  At no point does the Joker ever learn how to do "crime stuff"; never a lock picked, a bomb made, or a clever poison invented.

Rather in Phillip's version of the story, the most clever thing the Joker does is shoot a gun.  So how this guy would ever even escape an asylum much less threaten an entire town is never explained... despite the lack of other story elements and 2 hours of screen time.  

In one sense the film is brilliant, as it is an apolitical movie in very political times.  It invites, nay, demands an audience interpretation of what's happening.  So too, when there is violence, it is treated seriously and does have an impact.  Ultimately, there are very few moments of violence, but when they occur it's important.

Production value-wise, the movie looks great.  Phillip's sets his tale in the '80's, but doesn't beat you over the head with it as so many other films and shows do.  The costumes are fine, and the art direction keeps it simple - this film is supposed to be reality and it does a good job of that.  The  music is fairly bad, but that's not all the composer's fault.

And that's because in many scenes you have no idea what you're supposed to feel for the Joker based only on the story & acting. Thus the music indicated whether or not we should feel fear, sadness, or revulsion.  And that's a serious admission of failing.  When Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the mud, or Rocky runs up the steps of the museum, we have no doubts as what the character is feeling, or what the movie is trying to tell us, even if there were no music.  The music in those movies helps accentuate the feel, it doesn't provide it.

And for me, that's a massive fail.  IMDB describes JOKER as "a gritty character study" yet many times it's merely spinning its wheels, not quite sure what to do with the interpretation of its main character.  Perhaps if it were a short film, say part of a larger movie, or there was a bit more humanity in the performance, it might have worked.  

In the end, Phillip's film echoes the Bath Michigan Bombers suicide note, "Criminals are made, not born," an echo that rings hollow.

BOTTOM LINE:

3 "if you like movies about madness, child abuse, and murder, you'll love JOKER" out of 5
« Last Edit: October 07, 2019, 12:27:13 PM by jdv » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2019, 11:14:41 AM »

Yeah, The King told me he hated it. How do you have a Joker without the Batman? My biggest question though... Is this Joker better or worse that Jared Leto's?
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« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2019, 01:32:10 PM »

Better; I think Jared Leto's joker is an over-the-top "fast and furious-style" jackass.

I think you hit the nail on the head without realizing it.  This particular joker is left to interpretation.  The interpretation will vary depending on the viewer. The movie does not take a viewpoint on the Joker, but instead presents him as he appears, leaving you the determine how you feel about it.

There are people who will look at the joker and see nothing more than a pathetic mental patient, best behind bars, away from decent people.

Other people will look at the joker and see something of themselves if they're frustrated in their lives at a system that they cannot control it feel continually at the bottom of.  These are people who feel like they haven't met any decent people and wonder if there are any.

Still another dimension of this film is its examination of social systems and how simply inadequate they are  and by their very function lend themselves to creating monsters.  These systems are governmental, as well as social.  There is also a component of skewering the entertainment industry which can be said to hold a very dim view of the audience or audiences they create content for, craving their approval but distaining their existence.

At the end I think this is a very complex film that's part of the reason why I appreciate it; because I thought about it all day.  I can't name any movies lately that I have thought about the next day.

How does this fit into the Batman narrative? I don't know yet, but I do know that this is the first time the Joker has ever been portrayed as a real human being.  It Doesn't glorify his violence or his psychopathy, again it just presents it as a fact , or in this case, and almost inevitable result of a bad set of systems.
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And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.  _ Revelations 13
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« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2019, 07:44:28 PM »

It was the classic Horatio Alger tale about a man who, with a little luck, pulls himself up by his bootstraps to overcome the many obstacles that stand in his way.

In the end, he finally reaches self-actualization by finding his true calling.
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« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2019, 07:52:44 PM »

Yeah, The King told me he hated it. How do you have a Joker without the Batman? My biggest question though... Is this Joker better or worse that Jared Leto's?

Batman IS in it.

It IS a Batman movie.
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« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2019, 01:30:41 PM »

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And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.  _ Revelations 13
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« Reply #6 on: October 07, 2019, 12:24:19 PM »

Quote

Batman IS in it.

It IS a Batman movie.

That's not entirely accurate.  Better to say a young Bruce Wayne is in 2 brief scenes. Batman is nowhere to be found, nor any other sort of hero or do-gooder.  When we see Bruce, there's no hint of hero music, no indication of what's to come.  

For a movie that beats the audience over the head with its music cues, that's a pretty big tell so to speak.


Even if the Joker were portrayed in less tragic/demented tones, 2 straight hours of how a villain feels & why he acts the way he does is just too dang long... by like an hour and a half.

All that said, I don't think you need Batman for the origin story of Joker.  In fact, the movies/shorts that have tried to force that story line have all been poor.  Having Batman create the Joker is just a little too dues ex machina; too whatever STAR WARS allowed itself to become.

Better; I think Jared Leto's joker is an over-the-top "fast and furious-style" jackass.

I had completely forgotten Leto had ever played the role....
« Last Edit: October 07, 2019, 12:29:11 PM by jdv » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2019, 06:05:35 PM »

In the climactic scene at the end, the camera focuses in on Bruce Wayne, probably even more than Joker.

It's both the origin of Joker and Batman at the same time.

It doesn't come off as deus ex machina to me.

The only thing that seemed deus ex machina was the Wall Street guys riding a subway car late at night harassing and beating up people when they'd be in a cab or a limo somewhere.
« Last Edit: October 07, 2019, 06:08:32 PM by Plissken » Logged
jdv
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« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2019, 07:15:04 PM »

It doesn't come off as deus ex machina to me.

It's not - I was talking about the movies that show Batman "creating" the joker.....
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