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Joker (English) Review

Joker (English)
Josh /
Can watch again
Good for kids
Good for dates
Wait to rent it
You know these naive, gullible and moneyed people who see the success of Arjun Reddy and think they've figured out the mantra of success: young people kissing and cussing. So you then see a spate of disturbingly bad films with teeny boppers doing questionable things with each other.

Likewise, you know these naive, gullible, more moneyed people who see the success of Bahubali and think they've figured out the mantra of success: big budgets, large scale stunts, and pan-Indian releases. So you then see a spate of wholly forgettable films with topline stars fighting and dancing on top of burnt money.

Similarly, the naive, gullible, and severely moneyed people sitting in DC saw the success of Nolan's Batman Trilogy and thought they had figured out the mantra of success: dark canvases and brooding protagonists. So we have come to suffer the insufferable Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and, now, Joker.

The reason these naive, gullible people have it all wrong is because the mantras don't work unless in the hands of magicians called writers and directors. You need a filmmaker to make a film, don't you? You can't chant a mantra and burn money at an altar and expect good films to rain from the skies.

So it doesn't make sense to hire Todd Phillips to make a dark brooding film on the most complex character in the DC universe. Todd Phillips is the man who wrote and directed the Hangover trilogy. If you find yourself struggling to find dark in those films, that's because they are madcap comedies aimed at the juvenile at heart. And Todd Phillips also has an Academy Award nomination for co-writing Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan. Top credentials for brooding films, these.

Then this man, with expert guidance from the other blokes at DC, draws up a point-A-to-point-B straight line journey of what is supposed to be the mind of a twisted and chaotic genius. They make Arthur Fleck, the Joker-to-Be, a guy with mental illness, low confidence, poverty, and a troubled mother. Voila! Watch as the Joker just manifests out of standard movie issues! We aren't kidding. That is really the film.

Poor Arthur Fleck wants to be a stand-up comedian. Except he isn't funny. And he has a mental illness problem where he laughs uncontrollably in situations of anxiety. So everyone thinks he is a freak. He gets bullied and beaten up. He is booed at his performances. He loves his ill momma who is always waiting for her former employer Thomas Wayne (yes, Bruce's dad) to save them from misery. The help never comes. Rubbing salt in these wounds, the rich of Gotham (Thomas Wayne representing them) are making life much worse for the poor by cutting down social services. It's a rotten life until the point Arthur decides he's had enough of trying to be happy and nice. When he starts embodying the anarchy, he becomes infamous and a symbol of resistance.

There are at least three problems with this boilerplate writing.

Issue #1: Everybody in Gotham knows who the Joker is.

At least by the end of the film, everybody does. This is a serious problem if you try to fit him into any of the other stories of the universe then. Nobody need call him the Joker. They could just call him Arthur Fleck. Batman can know everything about him from his psychiatric records at Arkham. Every little thing, including his triggers and weaknesses. This defeats so much of the usual characterisation of the Joker who pulls his unpredictability out of his sleeves, his hat, and his whatnot.

But what this origins film needed was an anonymity similar to that of Batman. We, the audience, can be made privy to his identity and origins, but the public of Gotham ought not to know.

Issue #2: Where are the superpowers?

The Joker is a supervillain. He ought to be super at something. Even if Arthur Fleck is a mere human, the Joker ought to have evident special powers. Just as even while Bruce Wayne is a mere human, the Batman is an almost supernatural phantom. Where is this other-worldliness in Phoenix's Joker? He is shown as an ordinary, emaciated bloke with mental illness and, eventually, ruthlessness. This transformation into the ruthless doesn't focus on myth-building. In that case, there are any number of equally messed up people across the planet who can just be the Joker. Why Arthur Fleck?

The only solution to this issue was to make Arthur Fleck a remarkably capable person who later winds down the chaos path. Of course, the makers couldn't see or hear this simple necessity in all the smoke of the burning money and the loud chants of the success mantras.

Issue #3: There. Is. Absolutely. No. Tension. None at all.

At no point in the movie does the writing build any stakes. Things keep happening and you don't build expectations. Since there is no build-up, there is no payoff either. You are expected to watch with a passivity that is the very anti-thesis of the cinematic storytelling.

The third issue is a particularly troublesome one. The Joker's origin is expected to be breeding ground for disturbing drama. We expect our head to hurt and heart to burn by the dilemma of choosing between good and evil. But no, there is no such dilemma. There is, in fact, no character that represents the good. TV show host Murray Franklin (a wasted De Niro) and Thomas Wayne are representative of the decadent rich while the rest of the characters are all affected in multiple ways by the decadence of the rich. What dilemma is there in 'Rich is bad, Poor is upset'?

This film desperately needed a character that represented the good even in the direst of situations. Someone like Inspector Gordon who struggles to make the right decision despite great risks. This character needed to show a path to Arthur Fleck which is the good alternative to the chaotic descent that Fleck is prone to. Without that, there are no choices to be made. Only evil that's delayed till the last act.

So you have this tensionless tepid script made good by the technical talent. The music is appropriately ominous. The bright colours in the dark canvas are aesthetically melancholic. The editor knows how to make a film flow. And the acting is bloody flawless.

Casting Joaquin Phoenix is the best thing that happened to this film (although it may not have been the best thing for Phoenix himself). He gives it a phenomenal physicality, and each movement of his comes from internalised reflexes. He doesn't seem to be acting at all. And when it comes to the emotionality, this is an actor who is capable of blowing himself into smithereens. If you don't watch yourself carefully, you might get torn in one of those explosions. And that magic comes from no mantras. It's entirely due to the magician.
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Joker (English) (english) reviews
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Kanye on 20th Oct 2019, 12:13am | Permalink
After watching this movie (finally, I know), I immediately thought back to this review and got frustrated with how my favorite reviewer misread the film.
To me as a viewer, it was abundantly clear by the end of it that the entire film *SPOILER* was a figment of Arthur's imagination. In the final scene, Arthur is in a psychiatric ward and is laughing uncontrollably and says "you wouldn't get it" when his doctor lady person asks him what's so funny. Earlier in the film, in the first meeting his psychiatrist, there is a very brief callback to Arthur banging his head against a window in a ward that looks very similar to the ending scene. You could argue that the entire narration was just a little story concocted in Arthur's -excuse me- Joker's head where he could play the triumphant winner as the world collapses into chaos.
How are you so sure someone might ask. Well, it's the freaking JOKER and what makes you think he can be a reliable narrator?
If it's all in his head, if all of it's just what Joker is thinking, then that clears two of your issues in one fell swoop, Josh. It doesn't matter if all of Gotham knows him because this storyline was never reality. He doesn't need superpowers because its his own imagination.
Personally, I was very tense throughout the movie which has me in conflict with your last issue. The "good" in this movie was the innocent mentally ill man that was just trying to live out his dream. Whenever the "evil" judge him or ridicule him, I felt awful and tensed because as an audience we know where this treatment would take him. I was VERY tense in that train scene when he couldn't control his laughing. And the music and cinematography and set pieces all masterfully aided to the dreadful feeling.
At the end of the day, this film was a character study. It takes us into the psyche of the Joker. Todd Phillips knows that the Joker never had an origin story. So he went through a loophole and gave us an unreliable version. Parts of it might be true, who knows. All I know it was a damn good movie that shined a light on the treatment of people that don't fit into societal norm.
Sorry for this rant. And I wanted to ask one question. Would this film get this much backlash or appreciation or even exposure if it wasn't named "Joker"? Would the title change and titular character's name change make you or the audience see this movie differently?
Josh on 21st Oct 2019, 10:49am | Permalink
My favourite aunt said much of what you said. And I disagree with her. I guess you have to do that with your favourite reviewer as well :)

Your last paragraph anyway resolves my issues. If he isn't the Joker, and if he is merely a loser with a poor grasp of Economics (like the director), I simply don't see why it should be called the Joker. That's pure piggybacking on the popularity of the character without doing justice to it. And I bet if they made a similar film without calling it the Joker, I'd have raved at Phoenix's performance (Like Kritika Deval did with HER) and there would have been no comments at all in comments section because people simply don't care unless there's hype.
Kanye on 9th Oct 2019, 1:41am | Permalink
I have read a number of reviews and blogs and never have I seen such polarizing opinions. Either this film is a masterpiece or a crap shoot. It did seem like your issues stem from your expectations as a fan. I didn't see Joker yet but as soon as I do I'd love to talk it out with you if you're game.
JayZ on 10th Oct 2019, 11:01am | Permalink
I watched the movie.I liked it. Also I understand why it has divided opinions.But one thing no one can deny is the Joaquin Phoenix is a BEAST. What an ACTOR
Josh on 9th Oct 2019, 7:48pm | Permalink
Of course, Kanye. Always interested in perspectives.
Cunnilinguist on 9th Oct 2019, 3:37pm | Permalink
Its a masterpiece of sh#t
Portuguese Man-of-War on 4th Oct 2019, 4:55pm | Permalink
Nice to see a review brave enough to not conform...
Josh on 4th Oct 2019, 7:04pm | Permalink
Thanks, man :)

This wasn't even my review film. I watched it, got upset, and then offered to write a review.
Punarvasu Pendse on 11th Oct 2019, 5:35pm | Permalink
Reading this review made me feel quite vindicated, seeing as I would have given it the same rating, much to the dismay of the people who had joined me for the screening.

Along with Taxi Driver, it reminded me of the King of Comedy a wee bit.
Josh on 11th Oct 2019, 9:25pm | Permalink
I think the primary expectation of people for this film was atmosphere and performance. It excels at both. Music is great, too. It's possibly my (our?) expectation that a overwhelmingly good script be given to the overwhelmingly chaotic bad.

Almost everyone wants to give it a six. Not more. They're saying they enjoyed it but they know it's not great. You and I think it's a five. We're saying we didn't enjoy it but it's not bad.

Just a difference of one star. Yet they're saying it's worth seeing and we're saying ignore it. That's what I find amazing about the star ratings system. The math simply isn't what you expect of a simple set of ten uniformly spaced numbers.
TJ Reddy on 5th Oct 2019, 4:02pm | Permalink
Would love to discuss Joker with you once I watch it. In the meantime, try watching Asuran if you can. It's not as peerless as Vetri Marian's previous work but is a very very good film nonetheless. I've rarely seen a film earn it's violence like this one. 7.5/10 from me
Josh on 5th Oct 2019, 4:54pm | Permalink
I already did :) And enjoyed it, too.

What I found rather surprising was I didn't see the 'adaptation from a novel' aspect to it. I mean, when someone says (particularly when someone like Vetrimaaran says) that a novel inspired them, I assume that there is a detailed plot to it which involves a number of events, incidents, twists and such. Since the medium doesn't allow for visuals and mass fights, I usually think of novels as stories that appeal on the strength of the story itself. But Asuran didn't feel like a movie that is exciting as a story. It felt like a movie script and not one that is necessarily 'novel'.

I have come to believe that the novel is popular for its writing rather than the plot. And by that logic, Vetrimaaran is among the best people to translate it to the cinematic medium.

Watch Joker and get back soon now.
Josh on 11th Oct 2019, 4:09pm | Permalink
@ TJ - I have an aunt who's declared that the Fleck in the film is not even Joker. Just some deluded bloke who thinks he's something. Apparently, Todd Phillips cites Taxi Driver as an influence. So it's possible that much of what we see is Fleck's imagination. However, I don't see why anyone should care for the film if that's the case.

Swaroop expressed his displeasure like this. "...Perhaps this is why the Joker's origin stories weren't popular before. He works best when he is an inexplicable, unhinged unstoppable force. Perhaps he is best comprehended when he is pitted against the immovable object Bruce Wayne. The Killing Joke has Joker say that "one bad day" made him the way he is. "One bad day" accomodates much more than some rich establishment and a smug TV show host in a city. It encompasses the trickery of life, the paradox of existence and the lameness of the futility with which human mind approaches the incomprehensible enigma called life. It is disappointing to see all of that being reduced to this."

I really wish the film was about that one bad day.
TJ Reddy on 10th Oct 2019, 5:49pm | Permalink
And, I'm back.

Asuran: The first thing I noticed with Asuran was that it lacked the finesse of Vetrimaaran's previous work. The visual style wasn't very impressive and there were chunks of the story that weren't as awesome as the others around it. As much as I can understand that some aspects do get lost in adaptation, there appears to be a lot more lost in this one than usual.

That being said, the credit given to Mari Selvaraj makes a lot of sense in getting the film's emotional angle across. There are so many shades of Pariyerum Perumal in this film. Especially the scene designed to illustrate the caste divide caught my eye. The fact that humiliation matters more than violence to the oppressors makes the violence more earned when it happens. That kept me hooked on to the plot with every new setting and scene. Any script that delves into the psychological aspects of actions is a good one in my book.

Joker: Speaking of which, this one does make it one too obvious. I
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