Joker (2019): Can More Batman Rogues Get This Treatment?

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        “Joker” is a film that has received both a lot of hate and love. I can understand both perspectives but find myself on the liking side. I’m a huge fan of the Batman Rogues gallery and how different they all are psychologically is what makes them so compelling. Hell, they are more compelling than Batman. It is one reason Warner Brothers always casts big name celebrities in the roles. There is so much to do, even if we only get a glimpse into their psyche. This film is a deep dive into the Joker and it works.

The film was directed and written by Todd Phillips who co-wrote it with Scott Silver.

The story follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill clown for hire in Gotham City. As his life falls further apart he aspires to be a stand up comedian. Secrets tied to his past combined with social collapse in Gotham forever change him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Gotham – Gotham is so wonderfully portrayed in this film. The city is dark and grimy and you see the build up of trash (from the garbage men strike going on at the beginning of the film) contrasted with the Wayne’s version of Gotham where you have fundraisers at beautiful hotels and Wayne Manor, which is so far away from the city that they feel barely connected. You also get taste of the everyday life from the comedy clubs to Robert De Niro’s talk show host Murray. This is a version of Gotham I hope we see more of as it makes that it is a city where unless you are wealthy you will get eaten up and spit out. Which does help explain the rise of Joker and all the Batman rogues to come.

Isolation – One thing the film portrays will is isolation. Arthur Fleck doesn’t have any friends and the film follows his point of view. We see how alone he is with his mother, when he’s working and any large social event he is invisible, except for at the end when he’s embraced his new identity as the Joker.

Joker / Arthur Fleck – This is a story told from the perspective of Arthur Fleck. We don’t really see any of Gotham besides what we see from his point of view. This is great as we come to see how isolated, alone and ill he is. He’s medicated, has a tick where he laughs uncontrollably, lives with his mom who is also mentally unstable and is in a job he hates where he has no job protection or security. I wish there’d been more of a push for him to become a killer. This version of Joker is already broken and unstable and when he does kill for the first time in self-defense has no regret, but loves the attention it is getting him in the revolution taking place in Gotham. Joaquin Phoenix portrays this sociopath really well. From his dancing when he feels freedom and his lost within himself and delusions that we see through the film. This is a character completely alone and that combined with everything else just makes this character’s already unstable mind, so much worse to the point that he adopts the Joker identity.

Dreams, Delusions and the Unreliable Narrator – One of the reasons I think this film works as a Joker film is because it still gives us the unreliable mind of the Joker. Throughout the film Arthur has visions of being with his neighbor and to him they are real until reality comes crashing down on him. This brings up the possibility of this being all a lie told by the Joker at the hospital, as the final scene is him being interviewed before he kills the person interviewing him. This film is his justification, his life where he abused and bullied, the inequalities in Gotham and self-defense, in the case of his first murders. The versions of the Joker from the comic would tell some version of this, as the Joker is never responsible for anything. It is how he gaslit Harley Quinn. For me this is what works even though the writing had a lot of tell when it needed more show.

The Cons:

Themes Needed to go Deeper – There are a few themes the film touches upon, but isn’t willing to go deeper. We see wealth inequality and the detachment of the wealthy like Thomas Wayne and how insulated the rich are from the poor even as they cut their resources. Again, it is touched upon but there was so much they could have done with this. How was Arthur and his mother affording their apartment? What were some of the policies that Thomas Wayne wanted to enact? What is the history of the Waynes to Gotham? Who are the people protesting? These are all questions that would have enriched this theme. Same with lack of mental health care, Arthur loses his social worker but we never see him interact with others in his state or hear about her other clients. These are all great ideas that exist and the film briefly touches, but it needed so much more to elevate the film and better flesh out the world.

Too Much Tell, Needed More Show – This film has some dialogue that isn’t great. Joker literally blames “society” on the talk show, which is a living meme at this point given how Disney and other studios have used the vagueness of society to try and make their films appear more progressive, without actually addressing any issues. The dialogue at times feels unnatural, which is one reason why the best scenes are simply Joaquin Phoenix quietly acting. The guy truly deserves an Oscar for this role as he elevated a film with his performance. The telling rather than showing was easily my biggest issue with this film and I wish we had gotten more show.

This was a controversial film and I have friends who loved it and hated it. I really liked it and it was a film I’d highly recommend to any Scorsese fan (Phillips clearly takes inspiration from a lot of his work in how he frames Gotham and presents characters). I hope more of Batman’s rogues get this treatment as Scarecrow, Riddler, Penguin, Bane and countless others have stories worthy of the big screen. They are much more compelling than Batman (as Batman’s rogues usually are) and I hope this film inspires more of their stories to be told. This film didn’t achieve its full potential, but I appreciate what it did accomplish.

9.3 / 10. I really enjoyed this flawed film and I hope more Batman rogues get this treatment.

Darkman (1990): A Masterpiece Exploring the Transformative Nature of Revenge

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    “Darkman” is a fantastic film and really gave me a huge appreciation for Sam Raimi’s work outside of the first two “Spider-man” films. This is a film that has depth to it’s characters, fascinating villains and a protagonist who is one of the more original to be created in fiction. Darkman is a character who changes over the course of the film and his creation is tragic, which lends strength to the story’s narrative and kept me watching.

     Sam Raimi directed the film and wrote it along with Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin. It was produced by Robert Tapert.

    The story involves Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) who is scarred when Durant (Larry Drake) the mobster attacks his lab to steal a document his girlfriend Julie (Francis McDarmond) was planning to use to explore city corruption. He survives the experience and goes underground becoming Darkman and seeking revenge against the mobsters who killed his assistant and scarred him.

The Pros: The World – The world reminds me of Gotham with there always be darkness and smoke over everything and the mob being in bed with big business as they pretty much do a takeover of the city. It makes sense why Darkman isn’t an idealistic hero, this city has no room for idealism.

The Transformation – The transformation is dark and powerful as Peyton is dropped into a vat, has his arms burned and loses his ability to touch. This leads to him getting super strength and also making him mad.

The Cinematography – Bill Pope did an amazing job on the cinematography. The scenes are clear and there is great use of shadows and light to give the tone of the world and our characters. This is a dying city.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman did a fantastic job on this soundtrack! His haunting score captures the horror of what Peyton Westlake goes through and captures how his desire for hate and revenge transforms him.

The Characters – The characters are all solid and have reason behind what they do, even the villains who would be lesser under different direction and actors.

Louis Strack Jr. – Is the corrupt billionare who wants to rebuild the city with the stolen money from the mob. He’s ambitious and was a man who came from nothing. He is also smart too and figures out when Darkman has taken the identity of Durant to get close to him and to rescue his girlfriend. He is tough to beat and his words about Westlake losing himself are proven correct. Colin Friels did a good job.

Robert Durant – Durant is the mobster who has a pretty great team. He works for Strack and is the man who nearly kills Darkman on multiple occasions, once when he is still Westlake and he kills Westlake’s assistant, the second when he targets Darkman’s hideout. Larry Drake was great.

Durant’s Minions – The minions are a lot of fun. One of them is a curly haired nerd, another has an artificial leg that works as a machine gun (and is used to kill a rival gang at the beginning) there is the muscle who looks like the Kingpin and the brains who survives until the end.

Julie Hastings – Frances McDormand is awesome! I really liked her in this where we see her see past Westlake’s appearance even when he can’t…and the fact that she was the one trying to reveal the corruption in the city. She’s a great character and I wanted to see more of her in action.

Peyton Westlake/Darkman – Liam Neeson is a wonderful hero. As Westlake he plays an eccentric mad scientist who is a strong empath and who loses all of that when he is burned making him a man who lives only for revenge. He is lost in it even as he is able to get his face back due to him being a scientist creating artificial skin…in the end that can’t change how his actions of revenge against Durant and Strack have changed him. In the end he becomes Bruce Campbell and disappears into the crowd knowing he can only be the avenger as his humanity is lost.

How Revenge Transforms – In the beginning Westlake is holding onto who he once was, but when he goes to Hastings in the pouring rain she runs away and fear and he sees his appearance and blames that and not the fact that he couldn’t speak, from here he seeks revenge and we see how the manipulation and his anger come to consume him to the point that he reacts at a a Carnival and attacks a man, which later leads to him going underground as he fears what his anger will make him do to good people like Julie.

   There really isn’t much that can be said that this film does wrong. It has a unique feel and flavor to it, our characters change over time and have to make choices that advance the plot, and in the end it sticks to the tragic tone as Westlake is forever alone when he realizes the person he has become is a danger to everyone. The only reason I didn’t give it 10 is I wish Strack had been less slimey and that we’d gotten more time with Julie doing her job before the transformation. Regardless, I highly recommend it and find it to be one of the best superhero films I have ever watched. I am going to be checking out more of Raimi’s work later. I really like his style.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

Blood Simple (1984): The Consequences of a Murder

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“Blood Simple,” is the first of the Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers are two of my favorite film writers and directors…”Fargo,” being one of my all time favorite films. This film has all of the themes that make Coen Films so great…the bleakness, tension, dark, mystery along with well fleshed out characters. I’ll go into the details in the assessment.

The premise of “Blood Simple,” is a rich bar owner named Julian Marty (played by Dan Hedaya) hires a private investigator (Loren played by M. Emmet Walsh) to kill his wife (Abby played by Frances McDarmond) and the man she is cheating on him with (Ray played by John Getz), from here nothing goes as planned and the drama unfolds.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: The music – The music is amazing! Especially the opening theme. It has a haunting piano melody to it that adds tension throughout the film. The use of western music adds to the “No one must live,” theme of the picture.

The Cinematography – Is fantastic! There are some of their shots that they would use later (night drives where the character’s paranoia and desolation are captured), as well as famous bullet holes through the wall at the very end and the details of the crime…from shattered glass to scattered paper…and the use of dark rooms and shadows to create tension in the lead up to murder attempts and murders. It captures the moments of never quite knowing if what the characters are seeing is real.

The script – The script has all the Coen brothers’ themes as well. The witty and intelligent dialogue mixed with dark humor and people reacting to desperate situations and lack of information (“Burn After Reading,” is a great example of this). The story never felt boring or long and it was constant action throughout.

The characters – The characters each capture the darker side of humanity in their different ways (with only a few exceptions), which make them compelling to watch besides the talent behind the characters in the actors.

Julian – Is a despicable human being, who when he finally dies is really rewarding (he tries to rape his wife). He is the silent, controlled fury for most of the time he is around who hits on people even after they say “no,” and puts down his employees for no reason. He is still played as a fully dimensional person though, just a very bad person.

Investigator Loren – Is the primary antagonist in this film in the end. He’s the one who uses Julian in order to get his money before trying to kill him, which sets off the whole chain of events that leads to him trying to kill Abby and succeeding in killing her lover Ray…who he had originally let live along with her. He holds most of the humor in the picture…joking about being mistaken for a swinger and mocking Julian about being cheated on. He is the main driver of the action once he shoots Julian which eventually leads to him later hunting down Ray and Abby before Abby ends him.

Ray – Ray is a lot like Julian but a decent human being. His biggest problem is how quick he is to trust his enemies…he begins to distrust Abby the moment Julian says she will cheat on him too…It is this that leads to his separating from her and accusing her throughout the film (he believes she shot Julian since Loren left her gun at the scene of the crime). They eventually resolve things but not before he is killed by Loren.

Abby – Is the main character and the most likable character in the whole film besides the barkeep Meurice. She is tough and fights off her husband when he attempts to rape her and is the one to finally kill Loren (she believes it is her husband since she keeps hearing that he is still alive). This film is really about her defeating her abuser and finally finding freedom in the desolate world. I love this actress…she was part of what “Fargo,” a favorite for me.

Meurice – Is the one good character in the film, which is partially because he is ignorant of the truth of events. Regardless if he’d been listened too Ray would still be alive (he tells him to leave since he believes Julian thinks he stole the money) and generally offers good advice to Abby too while putting him with Julian’s crap.

The Ending – Is perfect. Abbey kills Loren believing him to be her abusive husband…Ray meets his end as they reach some sort of resolution and we are left with the possibility of the future. It is dark and bittersweet.

The Coen Brothers, have yet to disappoint me with one of their films and I look forward to getting to the ones I’ve seen before and the ones I have not. I highly recommend this film, especially if you are looking for a good dark, thriller, western and drama.

My final score for this film is 9.8 / 10. One of my favorites after today.

 

 

 

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982): No One is Safe

John Carpenter's The Thing

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is a movie I have been meaning to watch for sometime. As someone who loves murder mysteries and sci. fi. and quite a few other stories that have been inspired by this story (the story isn’t new John Carpenter is just one of the people at this time to cover the “Alien hiding among us story”). There was a version in 1951 called a “The Thing from Another World,” and the original story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell and a 2011 remake. I don’t plan on checking out the 2011 one, but the 1951 “The Thing from Another World” will probably be reviewed at some point, and I plan on reading the original story.

The story begins with an alien vessel crashing in the arctic. A science team from the United States soon find themselves cut off from the outside world and begin getting killed off by the alien that has infiltrated them. The story unfolds mostly through the eyes of Kurt Russell’s character R.J. who discovers the base the alien destroyed prior and later what went down at the base he is a part of.

Here is the assessment:

Pros: The music – Is a masterpiece. I plan on using this music in my own writing. It is wonderful at creating tension and giving the sense of isolation and being trapped that the crew who is going through the terror feels.

The script – The screenplay is perfect in that it shows us all we need to know. It doesn’t do a trite, “An alien spaceship has fallen off course and crash landed on Earth. Little does Earth know what it has gotten into.” We see this story through the eyes of the victims, and that is what makes it so masterful…you don’t know who has been taken over and who hasn’t so you can see why the survivors at different times take the actions they take.

The Dialogue is also great too. Every character feels real and in the time and place (The 80’s and in the Arctic) that they are meant to be.

The Thing – Is brilliant and horrifying. The basic thing it does is imitate life forms after absorbing them…how it does this is by wrapping it’s internal organs around them and pulling them in, it can than incorporate however many creatures around it and makes them like the organic red it is before it turns into them proper. It is a horrifying creature and achieves the horror element (besides possession and absorbing said life forms) that make it such a great foe. It thinks like a creature that needs other life forms to spread itself and grow…by far one of the greatest threats in any movie. It can be anyone or anything (multiple life forms) but thinks as one being. Much like a wholly organic Borg. When it appears it looks like a Lovecraftian  nightmare of teeth and tentacles intermixed with what creatures it has absorbed.

The cinematography – Is brilliant. It captures the loneliness and desolation of the arctic, the mystery of the alien and alien spacecraft (the reveal shot of the spacecraft is perfect) and the paranoia among the members of the crew. You feel the crew being stalked as they warily watch one another when it arrives at that point.

The acting and characters – The cast is solid. They all feel like real people put into a really bad situation. Kurt Russel is great as the drunk cynic who for the reason he doesn’t believe in anyone or anything gives him a survivor’s edge over The Thing which can be any person or thing. You can see where each person is coming from and why each of them do the things they do…which is tough to pull off when you have a large cast that you have to kill off. It is also great that R.J. is not the only to survive, Childs (who also breaking survival tropes where the African American character usually dies (horrible trope that will get an article at some point) also survives.

The ending – Is great for this type of movie. You don’t know if they won, but on all counts it looks like they did, but at the cost of their lives…though in the end they can trust one another after everything that happens and share a scotch in the burning camp.

For a movie of this type, it was perfect. It was survival horror that got everything right. I can’t find anything to criticize about this film. It achieves what it needs to achieve and does in an intelligent, respectful and brilliant manner.

I highly recommend this film. 10 / 10.