Joker: No Laughing Matter (2019)

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Before we get into my review for “Joker,” I just want to iterate a quick thought. I am well aware of this movie constantly being compared to “Taxi Driver,” and I’ll have you all know, I have not seen “Taxi Driver,” so none of those comparisons will be coming from me. I would love to check it out one day, but my schedule is pretty stacked up at the moment so it might have to wait for a little bit. So without further ado, let’s dive into the latest controversial movie!

Man, this poster is badass!

“Joker” is directed by Todd Phillips (Due Date, The Hangover) and stars Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot) as the famous, psychotic killer clown originally created by DC Comics. This film is about the character of Arthur Fleck, who eventually becomes known as the Joker. Essentially, it is a character study of what would happen if the Joker were placed in a depressing environment, with depressed people, in what could perhaps also be a depressing time.

If you have missed out on a lot of comic book movies recently, there is a good chance you probably have no recollection of big, explosive, not to mention expensive, blockbusters that purely exist to be part of a collected universe and happen to be somewhat friendly for both kids and adults. Maybe there’s an occasional dark vibe here and there with movies “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” or “Avengers: Infinity War,” but nevertheless, comic book movies, over the past decade, have mainly been big budget films that get a lot of audiences, including families, in the theater. There’d also however be an occasion where a film would be rated R. Some examples include “Deadpool” and “Logan,” both of which have been successful. And when the MPAA would end up slapping an R on these movies, there would usually be a reason. Gorey violence, language, perhaps bloated sex scenes, and so on. “Joker” is the next to join the club, and honestly, I am very happy to say that.

Before going to see “Joker,” I had some thoughts in mind regarding comic book villain movies. I was very skeptical before we had one of these films come out, and some of you know this already, but last year, audiences witnessed “Venom.” This was one of the earliest examples of an origin story of a comic book character who is usually seen as the villain. Once I heard we were getting a “Venom” movie, I thought all hope was lost. Granted, this was at a time when I realized comic book movies were perhaps the biggest force in the industry, and it seemed like the only thing people would willingly go see. I wasn’t sure how people such as myself or other audience members would go into “Venom” and enjoy him as a character because it’s hard to relate to a villain. Plus, as a viewer, I traditionally aspire to be the hero. Why should I aspire to be a monster who eats people? And the last nail in the coffin… a PG-13. This made every action scene feel lifeless, it made the editing feel odd at times, and it honestly just showed that perhaps Sony or somebody else behind this movie wanted a quick, disposable money grab. However, oddly enough, as time passed, I did become curious about the “Joker” movie.

There was not enough evidence that “Joker” was going to be a masterpiece or even a halfway decent movie once I first heard about it. But it was hard to deny that I was not at least intrigued. The various details that stacked up in 2018 got me interested. Then the trailers dropped this year, and whoever edited them, you deserve a cookie! All the while, the movie played at events including TIFF and Venice Film Festival where it received the top prize, the Golden Lion. Keep in mind, everybody was saying that “Avengers: Endgame” was going to be the biggest and best movie of the year, but when it comes to chances at awards, “Joker” may have an answer. “Joker” may be tapping on the shoulder of “Endgame” saying “On your left.”

So… It’s time for answers! Is “Joker” worth the hype? Is it worth jumping up and down over? Is it worth every single penny? Did it deserve all the praise it received during snobby film festivals? In a word, yes. This is pretty much EXACTLY what I would want out of a movie like this. Serious, dark, sort of slow, and honestly, kind of poignant. Because I cannot even believe I’m saying this, I sort of felt for the Joker character. Granted, he spends a lot of the movie making stupid decisions and mistakes, and the Joker is a guy you don’t want to mess around with, but even his moments that would make a person in this particular movie turn against him may as well be all part of his charm. In fact, as I watched “Joker,” I thought to myself that the movie was not trying to approve of his actions, it was just showing a realistic view of what could happen if this guy existed in our society. And by our society, I mean how it was years ago. You know those controversies that happen to be surrounding this movie? Honestly, they’re pointless. Granted, there is an argument to be made that every single movie ever made contains the slightest of bias. But “Joker” is not a movie that is trying to hammer a message down your head. It’s trying to say, “Hey! Here’s this character, here’s his journey, it’s pretty twisted, we just want you to believe it.”

I should also not go without mentioning that Joaquin Phoenix acts his ass off in this movie! I’m honestly having trouble right now on whether I should declare him the best Joker or if I should stick to my opinion towards Heath Ledger being the best of them all. I know it’s only October, so there is an argument to be made that maybe Phoenix won’t get an Oscar for this movie, but he BETTER get nominated, or there will be riots!

OK… Not literally! Movies don’t promote violence! It’s just the truth!

Anyway, Phoenix manages to handle a role where he has to be the biggest laughing maniac possible. At the same time he has to be creepy, while also occasionally being sweet. There are a lot of, get this, JOKER cards that Phoenix himself has to flip over to showcase the core elements of his character.

I also really liked Robert De Niro’s character. He plays a late night host, and as I watched this movie and saw Arthur Fleck watching the show at home with his mother, I kind of felt immersed into the world, probably realizing that this was a pure form of escapism for most people in society. The two are talking and I remember it being mentioned by the mother that this late night host, AKA Murray Franklin, is relatable to them. Now this movie took place in 1981, so I got a good sense that this guy was a fine alternative to Johnny Carson. Not to mention, he’s charming and has a good presence, which is something all talk show hosts should possess.

The acting overall in this movie is pretty much off the charts, I think the only other movie where I have seen a group of cast members put so much effort into their roles this year might be “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Although “Us” comes relatively close as well. But other standouts of excellence in “Joker” come from the technical side of the spectrum.

I mean, my gosh! Let me just start off by saying, I had the special privilege of watching “Joker” on a 70mm print. Thanks to Warner Brothers and everyone else involved with this film for making such a thing happen! The color grading on this film is some of best I have seen this year. It’s pale, it’s depressing, and it’s almost off-putting in the best possible way. The cinematography is great too. This movie is directed by Todd Phillips and if you watch some of his movies like “The Hangover,” you’d notice they are shot by Lawrence Sher, and much like that film for example I have seen from the two of them together, the pair combine to deliver some delicious hot and spicy buffalo wing level shots! There’s a scene where Arthur is walking down an enormous staircase and between his motions of dancing on the steps and jumping in puddles, the camera manages to catch each one and make me want to have them all as a desktop photo. The editing’s pretty stellar in that scene too, it’s eye candy. I’m almost shocked that I’m saying that about a scene in a comic book movie that doesn’t have much glossy CGI.

And speaking of depression, this entire movie has nothing but people who are almost too upset to acknowledge existing, and almost nobody manages to care about another living soul. There’s a scene where Arthur is playing peek a boo on a bus with a kid, and the kid’s mother is just plain annoyed. The film also manages to go into certain problems regarding people with mental illnesses, and it features a deep struggle that Fleck himself has to face. There is a scene where he comes to the realization that he’s meeting with his therapist for the last time due to funding cuts. Even though I knew who the Joker character was, I still couldn’t help but sympathize with Fleck at times. It feels weird to say that, but I have been taught at a young age that is not nice to lie.

If you ask me, I think the absolute best part about “Joker” is the fact that it has the rare qualities that you wouldn’t manage to find in many other comic book movies. This film was given an R rating from the Motion Pictures Association of America, and once I heard that was going into effect, I felt like climbing a tree, pounding my chest, finding a banana, and tearing it open! Going gorilla style! It was one of the most glorious moments of my life! Having seen this movie, let me just give a message to all the parents and guardians who are planning on seeing this “comic book movie” with their kids.

Don’t. Just don’t.

I mean, you can… Maybe they are mature enough to comprehend everything that is going on in a movie like this, but this is NOT a film for kids in the slightest. It deals with real world issues, it’s bloody, kind of disturbing, and without going into much detail, I’d say there’d be a moment or two where I would not blame a kid if they cried out of pure fear.

Let’s look at it this way. Let’s take one of the most recent comic book movies that also had a couple heavy moments, “Avengers: Infinity War.” Without going into detail about the ending, if you have a kid who cried at the end of “Infinity War,” I think there’s a good chance that same kid, depending on their transition of age, will weep for sweet release of death during “Joker.”

Having said that, I realize simply having dark moments in a movie doesn’t automatically make it good, but these dark moments were an absolute highlight and a reason for me to keep my eyes glued to the screen.

In the end, “Joker” is one of the most unique comic book movies I have ever seen. I honestly would love more movies like this in its particular genre. I am a bit curious to see “Taxi Driver” now that I have seen “Joker,” but I’m just hoping it doesn’t ruin “Joker” for me in any way. Everything about this movie was done to A+ levels. The acting, the camerawork, the music choices, the screenplay. It’s all worthy of two thumbs up. If I had any issues with the movie, I’d say there’s a couple moments, as I put on my brain, that I could see coming a mile away. Also, there’s a moment or two where my head drifted off into space, signifying a slight issue with pacing. Granted, it’s not a big deal, but nevertheless. “Joker” is a movie that I personally think may be one of the most individualistic in its genre. I have almost seen nothing like it. Just for that alone, it gets a ton of praise from me. I’m going to give “Joker” an 8/10. One more thing. After walking out of this movie, I did have a question on my mind: How much replay value is this going to have down the line? It’s a really good movie, but is it going to get a ton of replays in the DVD player? I can see reasons for some people declaring “Joker” to be a movie that is good for a single watch, but because of how heavy it is, maybe a second watch would be impossible. Even so, I enjoyed “Joker.” I personally want to see it again because of the enjoyment factor. Hopefully when it comes out on Blu-ray, I can catch it another time.

Thanks for reading this review! Next week I am going to an advance screening of the new film “Zombieland: Double Tap.” I saw the first “Zombieland” a few years ago for the first time. I’m personally intrigued as to how they are going to handle this sequel. I don’t know if it will be as good as the original, but Bill Murray’s back, so anything’s possible! If you want to see this review or other great content, consider following Scene Before either with an email, or if you want the ability to comment or like, use a WordPress account! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Joker?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite R rated comic book movie? For me, the answer is simple, “V For Vendetta.” It also might be Natalie Portman’s best movie for all I know! Leave your opinions, or if you want to be a moron, completely objective and factual statements down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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One comment

  1. Diann Baker · 6 Days Ago

    awesome review Jack. I think I would be scared like a young kid but enjoyed reading all your comments.

    Like

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