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

Image result for joker poster

        “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.

Hereditary (2018): Layers of Horror and History in a Beautiful Miniature

 

“Hereditary” thus far is my favorite movie of the year. This is a horror movie that does horror perfectly. It is a slow burn, keeping you horrified and scared for the characters the entire time. This film is difficult to watch in all the right ways, as horror is meant to be unsettling and to make you uncomfortable. This films does this phenomenally and gives compelling characters, powerful themes and a mystery that is never revealed until the end.

“Hereditary” was written and directed by Ari Aster. The story follows the Graham family, specifically the mother, Annie, who is a famous miniature artist who recreates moments from her past. She has a husband and 2 kids, each deals with the death of Annie’s mother in different ways as their shared trauma slowly drives them apart.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Tension and Tone – This is a film that is seeping with tension. The film is uncomfortable and creepy from the first scene, and you are left guessing where it is going to take you next. I was at the edge of my seat through most of the film, and that was because of how unsettling the tension and tone were. The movie goes through slow escalation ,and each scene adds more intensifying moments as you spend more time with the family while they fall apart.

The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. There is symbolism in the artwork of Annie, who has created miniatures from her life experiences, and in the house they are in. Moments are captured in the miniatures that mirror or lead into horrifying events in reality. The use of shadows around the house is done really well too, as is the red light from the tree house that sits outside the home. This use of light is haunting and fits the themes where reality is becoming distorted for Annie, as she learns the truth about her mother.

When Family Falls Apart – The main drama is the family falling apart. Annie nearly killed her son and daughter when she sleepwalked (nearly set them on fire), the son hates her because of it. Her daughter also saw the grandmother as her mother as she was nursed from birth by the grandmother who sought to indoctrinate her. From the get go the only stable part of Annie’s life is her husband. After Annie’s daughter is accidentally killed in a car crash by her son things deteriorate further as she starts seeing ghosts, and more sinister forces manipulate her grief. The characters are all compelling, and the father is especially  intriguing, as he is torn between protecting and loving his son, and taking care of and loving his wife. 

Occult or Mental Illness? – One of the things I liked is that the film is ambiguous on whether it is a history of extreme mental illness that is causing the meltdown, or if it is the cult and the demon that actually exist. By the end it is implied that the demon does exist and ends up possessing the son after the grandmother, mother and daughter have all died. But, even given that fact… the demon works as metaphor, given that it is the unaddressed illness and trauma that are passed on, and in the end destroy the house. It is beautiful and terrifying and works on multiple levels.  

 This is a film that I highly recommend if you are into horror movies. The characters are compelling and you care about all of them. None of the family members are bad people, they are just so broken, and caught in things so far out of their control, that tragedy is the only realistic end the story can tell. This is my favorite movie of this genre, and I’m not a fan of the occult type horror films, however, ghost stories or monster films are more of my jam. The occult is perfect for the story this movie tells, though, and it is a masterpiece well worth your time.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Finding Dory (2016): A Brilliant Exploration of What it Means to be Dory

Finding Dory Poster

    For sequels that didn’t need to be made, this is a really good sequel. Pixar is one of those studios I’ve come to expect quality from and they continue this here as this is a film that will pull on your heart strings and gives our characters complete arcs and a fantastic adventure for it all to take place in. My non-spoiler thoughts are basically that you should see this film. It is no “Inside Out” or the untouchable Pixars but is is really good and is well worth your time.

   The film was directed by Andrew Stanton who also wrote the story and screenplay with Victoria Strouse also writing the screenplay with him. The producer was Lindsey Collins.

   The story involves Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) search for her parents when a memory is triggered that she lost them a long time ago and that they are at the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. This leads to her Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) traversing there to help her remember why she is searching and to find them again.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The World of “Finding Dory” is an amazing one! Whether it is in the reef or the Marine Life Institute Pixar’s diverse assortment of characters creates a rich world where the relationships only make it greater.

The Soundtrack – Thomas Newman once again creates gold! I have yet to be disappointed by his work and here he does a good job of capturing Dory’s terror of being lost and her joy of being reunited once again with her family.

The Animation – It’s Pixar, their animation has only gotten better with time. You can see the details on the fish, from their expressions to their scales…Pixar continues to create animation that looks so alive.

The Opening Scene – The opening scene is touching and sad as we see that Dory getting lost is what lead to her forgetting what she was looking for (her parents) that lead to her finding Marlin in the first place. Her parents help her with memory games and we see where she gets her songs and sayings from…they were to help her remember to find her way home.

Dory’s Memories – Dory’s memories are some of the strongest moments as we see her connection to characters and what they mean in those flashbacks, even if Dory doesn’t get their meaning fully…we do.

The Characters – Pixar has always been very character driven in it’s productions and this film is no different. The characters are what make this film besides the action, score and animation…and we get many more amazing characters.

Fluke and Rudder – These Sea Lions played by Idris Elba (Fluke) and Dominic West (Rudder) are hilarious and sadly also a bit of bullies. They help Marlin and Nemo get into the Marine Institute but they are also always picking on Gerald, who isn’t all there. They provide great comedic relief though as they are the one who call the birds to pick up Nemo and Marlin and witness the journey and escape at the end.

Destiny and Bailey – Destiny is a Whale Shark and Bailey is a Beluga Whale. Destiny was Pipe Pals with Dory when they were kids and is near sided so is always crashing into the tank. Bailey believes he can’t use his sonar…their arcs are coming to count on one another and have great chemistry with one another and Dory. Destiny was played by Kaitlin Olson and Bailey by Ty Burrell…both were fantastic.

Hank – Ed O’Neil plays my favorite character in the film. He is a red octopus who was traumatized by his experience in the sea so just wants to live out his life safe in a tank. It takes his adventure with Dory to realize he does care about people and to soften him up. He becomes part of her family by the end. His dark humor is great with Dory’s idealism and I’m glad we get to spend so much time with him.

Marlin and Nemo – The classics are back from the first one and much of their journey is finding Dory while Marlin learns to both respect Dory and her disability and also to let Dory be free in herself…an arc her parents also have to go through. I’m glad we didn’t spend as much time with these two as their arcs were largely in the first film.

Jenny and Charlie – These two are Dory’s parents and their arc is learning to trust their daughter and let her be herself and make her own choices. This understandably hard as they’d been waiting for her for years outside the Institute after she got lost…but she demonstrates that they raised her well and that she may not remember always but she knows how to survive, plan and to help others.

Dory – Dory is the main character of this film and her relationships are what define the film as we see her help her parents, Hank and Martin grow to accept her fully just as she learns fully to accept herself and her own power. As someone who found this for myself living with aspergers this is huge. Dory’s story is one of empowerment and shows that no matter how hard things get, going forward you can change your circumstances and find those who accept and love you.

Living With a Disability – A huge theme of the film is what it is like to live with a disability. As one who grew up with Aspergers I can relate to this, you face challenges were early on you do need help on and there are some things that never go away…even as you find ways to face those challenges and to grow from them to the point where you can be successful and stand on your own and from it live with the dignity everyone deserves.

Disabilities and Dignity – Dignity is a huge theme of the film as it is when Dory is shut down and hurt that she really goes off and gets lost…it is when the support is there that it is easier to face her memory loss and it is from dignity that she finds self respect and respect from her friends and family.

Okay: The Marine Life Institute – I think this was meant to be shown as positive sine the animals are all to be released into the wild (except those that are too sick) but it is still an antagonist I guess? The Marine Life Institute and their role in the film is ill-defined and more could have been done to explore the different animals’ relationships to it.

Cons: Drags in Places – There are some action sequences that go on a bit too long, especially at the end where Dory panics…the scene could have been shorter and still had the same impact with her finding her parents, same goes for the escape at the end. Some scenes just go on too long. If more had been cut I’d have easily given this a 9.

The Treatment of Gerald Versus the Theme – Gerald is a Sea Lion that also appears to have a mental disability but it is largely played for laughs. This struck me as off as the whole point of the film is accept people with all their quirks and that all deserve dignity. I don’t think Gerald ever got that from others.

   This was a really good Pixar film and one I’d highly recommend. It is bound to make you tear up at least once as Dory’s story is one that many people are no doubt familiar with. Dory gives a human face to what it is like to live with disability and the film is wonderful at respecting her dignity and personhood as we see just how great her family is by the end of the film. The only contradiction to this is the treatment of Gerald who is bullied and looks like he is also facing some sort of mental handicap. Gerald deserved respect just like Dory. Outside of this problem and some pacing issues this was a really good film. If you are fan of Pixar or animation you won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10