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Joker

You could practically hear a collective sigh when the new Joker film was announced. I think it’s fair to say that The Onion said it the best:

onion

When the original trailer was finally released, it gave me super-heavy Taxi Driver vibes: misunderstood loner in a morally corrupt city who just snaps. I wouldn’t say I was that too off, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the rest of society, everyone’s minds went straight to that asshole who shot up a theatre in face paint. Since The Dark Knight the Joker has unfortunately become a symbol for edgy incels and loner types, an issue that was amplified by Jared Leto’s juggalicious take on the Clown Prince – though mostly ironic, but it’s no secret that the Joker holds a special place in every shitposter’s catalogue.

Due to this negative energy (the shooting-part, not the meme-part…unless we’re talking about incels, but again getting ahead of myself), an exhausting amount of hype and fear made for excellent publicity. Personally, I wanted to see it regardless – I’m a sucker for mid-century modern aesthetic and Joaquin Phoenix. And Batman, generally. Plus I wanted to see if it was just like Taxi Driver.

I was pleasantly surprised.

We meet Arthur “Happy” Fleck (Phoenix), a mentally ill man who lives with his mother (Frances Conroy) in the worst part of Gotham, a city plagued with corruption on all levels. Art is our tragic character, someone who is abandoned by any and all who can help him, until he inevitably snaps.

Despite my poor synopsis, this portrayal of Joker is incredibly well-defined: Art is an unreliable narrator, but not a liar. He has no political leanings during the riots – all of his qualms are personal. It’s the rest of Gotham that recognizes that there is power in his iconicism – after all, they started this movement before they knew Arthur existed.

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I want this oil-painted. It’s like a Rockwell.

The big question is: does this film demonize the mentally ill?
No. If anything it exposes the poor support systems for the mentally ill, or rather, the institutions funding the support systems when dealing with a corrupt society.

Additionally, Arthur’s illnesses appear to be a blend of nature and nurture, and every bit of the “nurture” part is made up of the worst circumstances possible – circumstances that could have been prevented.

So the bigger question is: does this excuse his actions?
Of course not, you silly person.
The first strike was self-defense, sure, but that’s it. The rest was self-empowerment.

Art turns violent because he finds release – he is getting back at the bullies while challenging the status quo. No one cares when he’s attacked, so why not fight back? He’s got nothing to lose. We can feel sympathy for Arthur the struggling clown, but that is far from empathizing with his behavior. His behavior spirals when he discovers there are no consequences for his actions.

And if you’re of the mindset that this film promotes violence, that’s admitting that you not only don’t understand right from wrong but also cause and effect.

Is this film “dangerous?”
What does that even mean?

People act like they’ve never seen an antihero before.

How does Joaquin Phoenix fare against the other Jokers?
I think Joaquin Phoenix is a fantastic actor: Arthur is sympathetic but unnerving, like an uncanny personality valley. This portrayal adds to that definition that I mentioned earlier, both original and timeless. To break it down, I present the following:

My Brief Joker Character Breakdown

Cesar Romero – a cartoon brought to life
Jack Nicholson – an unpredictable criminal/cartoonish gangster, style icon
Mark Hamill – a well-written literal cartoon, practically perfect in every way
Heath Ledger – unreliable narrator, liar, anarchist, modern, claims to be chaotic but seems to do a lot of planning, gritty/funny
Jared Leto – an attempt at quirky contemporary, ultimately gross, highly romanticized
Joaquin Phoenix – pitiful, mentally ill, theatrical/obsessed with comedy, embraces absurdity

joker-trailer-image-51

He’s also a great dancer.

This being established, how does Joker fit into the Batman mythos?
As much as I enjoy Batman films, I’m not the best aficionado on the subject, so it’s not so much if it does than if it can.

As of now, this film serves as a standalone character study that forces its way into the Batman mythos. Thomas Wayne is a classist candidate who wants to make Gotham great again, who becomes a martyr for a new Gotham. But even if you somehow didn’t know anything about the Waynes, the film still stands as a cautionary tale for a broken system, especially when Gotham is the perfect placeholder for any metropolis.

Bruce’s appearance in Joker serves as a reminder that he is also a victim of circumstance, only he does what’s in his power to help prevent tragedy rather than revel in insanity (though the latter is tempting). Because we presently don’t know anything about Bruce’s future, this is not perceptively in the Batman universe.

If there was to be a sequel where Bruce confronts Arthur as Batman, he would be confronting a figurehead, a man not directly responsible for any of the chaos done in his image. Additionally, this is a man who is a danger to himself and others who is not easily “fixed,” it would be more of a introspective on Bruce’s role as Batman as well as shaking his morals, which was already done in The Dark Knight.

Should Todd Phillip’s vision splinter into it’s own take on the Gothamverse, I’d rather have Bruce Wayne be an entrepreneur by day and private eye by night. Arthur would become his reminder to stay grounded. I’m also imagining that the Rogue’s Gallery is just as socially-relevant: Oswald Cobblepot is a deformed blue-blood from a rival family, Pamela Isely is a bio-terrorist, Selena Kyle is a kleptomaniac animal activist…. It’s a weird idea, but it’s doable. I also feel like each story would end the same way: bittersweet, sad, heavy, probably just as thought-provoking or controversial if done correctly.

My TL;DR
I dug it. It was reminiscent of Taxi Driver and American Psycho with a bit of Falling Down and a dash of Network for taste, culminating in something surprisingly different.

 

 

Netfix: Casting JonBenét

casting_jonbenetThe murder of JonBenét Ramsey will probably go down in as one of the saddest, strangest unsolved murders in American history. Despite all that science can give us, 20 years later we still don’t know who killed JonBenét. The Netflix original documentary, Casting JonBenét, takes an original look at one of our nation’s most speculated upon murders.

What makes this documentary so interesting is that it’s not so much a documentary as it is a deconstruction. No actual associated parties are involved – it’s all reenactment. This method  is incredibly appropriate, considering that this case is pure speculation.

From the moment they made their public appearance, Patsy and John Ramsey were judged unscrupulously by the public, and would be judged for the rest of their lives. Additionally, there would be little to no personal time to grieve, let alone process this atrocity, while being prime suspects for the police.The beauty of this documentary is everything we witness is that spectacle.

On the whole, this is an exploration of mass perception and how it shapes our views of others, while reflecting on our own inner troubles. During a powerful point in the story, when John and Patsy are meant to be making their statements to the police, the actors spill their guts about their darker character manifests. The finale is an emotional cacophony, which renders the viewer overwhelmed, and ultimately very sad.

The Good
In the end, I found this film to be haunting. The spectrum at the end – every possibility played out to its fullest – cements that this was a real tragedy that actually occurred to real people.

The Bad-ish?
As much as I appreciate the idea of a speculative documentary about a news spectacle, it’s really an anti-documentary. Though an exploration of emotional gravitas, one can’t help but feel it hides behind the Ramsey’s limelight to create an art piece. …Not that there’s anything wrong with that, is there?

After all, art is inspired in the strangest or bleakest of places, and there’s hardly any exploitation to be had – the performers are of their own bias and the filmmakers do not portray any opinions on the matter. It’s less about the Ramseys themselves and more about reflecting on theoreticals. So in a sense, the film is false advertising. An additional ironic cherry on top is that JonBenét is hardly even in the film at all – after all, the parents are the real stars of the show.

The Bizarre
…Does that sex-ed guy just carry those flails around with him everywhere?

Black Mass

I’ll admit, I knew little to nothing about Whitey Bulger before seeing this film. Sadly, by the end of it, I really feel like I still don’t know much about him.

And who doesn't love a delicious steak?

And who doesn’t love a delicious steak?

Brief synopsis: Black Mass is based on the true story of a criminal-turned-informant-turned-crimelord; what began as a joint effort to take down the Boston Italian mob lead to the creation of a power-mad monster – a man who couldn’t be stopped simply because blood is thicker than water.

I want to believe that this film is a portrait of a man who was simply looking out for himself and his community, but I can’t help but think that the heart of the piece is lost in the grit, as is motivation. Maybe that was the idea? Perhaps Scott Cooper wanted to portray a first-person look the rise and violent fall of an empire? Nah, I’m probably just looking too far into it.

Though origin tales are overdone, I really would have appreciated a small look into the turn to crime – just a small taste of what made this man so methodically vicious.

Though it seems MK-ULTRA didn't do him much good...

Though it seems MK-ULTRA didn’t do him much good…

On the upside, the performances were great. Like really, really great – even Rolling Stone thinks that Johnny Depp’s take on Bulger might be the cusp of an oncoming Deppessaince. And as advertised, this puppy has a hell of an ensemble – though, it was weird seeing Benedict Cumberbatch pull off a Boston accent.

Despite my gripes about the storytelling, I honestly feel that Black Mass is a welcomed addition to American crime drama. The pacing and tone are perfectly matched by well-crafted cinematography (thank you, Masanobu Takayangi), and the score just adds to this dreary, tense agglomeration (dreary and tense in the best possible way, of course). Personally, I think if there was just a bit more, well, personality, or more definition, this might be one of the better dramas of the year. But that’s just me.

Oh yeah, #freethebacon

Oh yeah, #freethebacon

Final Grade: B