Wednesday April 1st 2020

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Movie Corner – Joker

By Howard McQuitter

 “Joker” (2019)
Warner Bros.
4/5 Stars

It’s Gotham City, circa 1981, but it’s mood is somber, melancholy, with visual decay from loads of trash and super rats running in and out of fifth, while crime is nearly everywhere. Then, thugs steal purses and wallets; to start the film rolling, Arthur Fleck, an amateur clown by day, is beaten and robbed by roaming bands of thugs. Gotham City really is the future. Actually, what is at play here is a series of snapshots of today’s American cities’ disparities balled into one, like in Gotham City, and rancidity rising near boiling point between the wealthy and the poor.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a.k.a. “Joker”, lives with Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy) in what is one of those apartments with drab hallways and worn-out interiors (that with a little ambition can be made presentable). Arthur suffers from mental illness spending much time in an asylum. One of his most chilling antics is laughing hysterically at almost anything. Arthur aspires to be a stand-up comedian and with his elderly mother (who tried to burn him alive as a child) religiously watch Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), a Johnny Carson-esque nightly TV talk show.

Arthur’s uncontrollable laugh is because of a brain injury that prevents him from getting a decent job. Make no mistake, Arthur is not some harmless nutcase he’s a psychopath. When he’s fired for carrying a loaded gun while entertaining children in a children’s hospital, he starts to really spiral downhill. He becomes a vigilante, joining the restless, dangerous underground while he’s killed three businessmen, murdered a boss, and goes after wealthy Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), running for mayor including promising to “clean up” the city. Writer-director Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is a case study. I suggest sociologists and people in the mental
care fields go and see this film. It is beautifully acted by Joaquin Phoenix (he should be nominated for best actor) and his cinematic mother Penny, played by Frances Conroy who does a fine performance herself.

Todd Phillips is known for comedies such as “The Hangover” trilogy (2009, 2011, 2013, respectively), “Starsky & Hutch” (2004), “Old School” (2003) and “School for Scoundrels” (2006) has switched to a suspenseful, adventure, drama, mystery “Joker,” by far his most controversial film. As for my conclusion on “Joker”, the film has beautiful cinematography by Lawrence Sher and somber music by Hildur Gudnadottir. However, the film is highly disturbing, highly energetic, highly complex and I have heard stories (I cannot confirm them) that some people have walked out of “Joker.”

Mr. Phillips certainly has a brush of Martin Scorsese’ Taxi Driver” (1976) and “The King of Comedy” (1982) in this brittle version of the “Joker,” the principal nemesis to “Batman.” If there is ever a comparison to “Joker,” it can be found in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 “A Clockwork Orange,” a crime thriller laced in deeply disturbing scenes. Arthur Fleck’s dance scenes are graceful and in their weird undertones, convey some sort of relief, perhaps even vengeance or vile satisfaction. (Bette Davis’ in “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane” [1962] falls into delusional episodes by dancing before and after she physically and mentally abuses her invalid sister.) 

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Arthur Fleck/Joker), Zazie Beetz (Sophie Dumond), Robert De Niro (Murray Franklin), Frances Conroy (Penny Fleck), Brett Cullan (Thomas Wayne), Glenn Fleshler (Randall), Leigh Gill (Gary), Douglas Hodge (Alfred Pennyworth), Sharon Washington (Social Worker), Dante Pereira-Olson (Bruce Wayne). Director: Todd Phillip. Writers: Todd Phillips, Scott Sliver. Cinematography: Lawrence Sher. Music by Hildur Guonadotter. Running time: 122 minutes. (R)

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