Review of “Joker”

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives a miserable life of failure and desperation. He’s a clown for hire, working out of a dingy office in Gotham City with several other men that dress up as clowns. On one of these jobs in front of a business that’s closing, Arthur’s “Going out of Business” sign is stolen by some teenagers. He chases them down an alley when they jump him and beat him up. Arthur lives in a small apartment in a rundown building with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy). Penny sends letters to her former employer, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) of Wayne Enterprises, asking for financial help to get out of their circumstances. Arthur meets a neighbor that lives on the same floor, Sophie (Zazie Beetz), and is immediately smitten by her, even following her to work the next day. Arthur and Penny like to watch a local talk/variety show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Arthur is seeing a counselor and receiving medication to help his depression and a neurological condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times. Arthur is trying to become a standup comedian and performs at a local club. Between his laughter condition and his bad material, Arthur bombs. However, the club videotaped the performance and sent it to the Murray Franklin Show where Franklin mercilessly berates Arthur on the air. Arthur is performing as a clown at a children’s hospital when the gun he’s carrying for protection falls out of his pants. He tells his boss it’s a prop gun, but he’s fired. Arthur is riding home on the train laughing uncontrollably when he’s attacked by three Wayne Enterprises employees. He shoots and kills all three men and runs away. The police come to interrogate him as witnesses saw a man in clown makeup running away from the scene, but he isn’t home. They talk to Penny, but she has a stroke and is taken to a hospital. Thomas Wayne calls the person that killed his three employees a clown, starting a backlash against the wealthy and powerful of Gotham City, with a clown mask as a symbol of rebellion. So many people called the Murray Franklin Show about Arthur’s standup, Arthur is invited to appear on the show. Arthur’s mental state is deteriorating as secrets come out and revenge is planned.

“Joker” is that rare comic book movie that focuses on the villain. Back when Andrew Garfield was Spider-Man, Sony had plans to make a villain-centric movie about several of Spider-Man’s enemies called “The Sinister Six.” Spider-Man would have made an appearance, likely at the end to stop whatever nefarious plan the team had, but that movie was cancelled with the lackluster box office performance of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” What sets “Joker” apart is the lack of a hero to fight against him. The stage is all his and the Clown Prince of Crime does not disappoint.

Joaquin Phoenix is an actor that can wrap himself fully in a character, even disappearing into himself for his faux documentary “I’m Still Here.” In “Joker,” Phoenix nearly physically disappears as he lost over 50 pounds to play the role of a man invisible to society. His maniacal laugh and usually dead eyes show us a man with a short rope that got to the end of it a long time ago. Phoenix plays Fleck, and ultimately Joker, as a man from which one doesn’t expect brutal violence. Fleck’s killing of the Wayne Enterprises workers appears to surprise even him. The first time he fires a gun, by accident in his apartment, one could easily expect from his reaction that Fleck would swear off ever touching a gun. Violence becomes easier and easier for Fleck as the movie goes on and you can see Arthur becoming more comfortable with his brutality. Violence gives him power that he’s never had, and he becomes enamored with his death dealing. Despite the bursts of violence and uncontrolled laughter, Phoenix delivers a controlled performance, teetering on the edge of camp and madness, but pulling back to keep Arthur Fleck grounded, even as he’s losing his grip on reality.

The story for “Joker” is also very different from most comic book movies in that there are no heroes, and I don’t just mean no Batman. None of the characters are heroic in any way. Arthur’s mother is an unrealistic dreamer waiting on Thomas Wayne to rescue them. Thomas Wayne is a stone-cold capitalist with very little concern for the welfare of Gotham City’s downtrodden. None of Arthur’s co-workers are really his friends, apart from a little person that manages the office. Murray Franklin is only concerned about how Arthur can be used as a foil for his insult-based comedy. Even Sophie, who is friendly towards Arthur, isn’t exactly what she seems. With no Batman swooping in to save Gotham for at least 15 years (we see a young Bruce Wayne a couple of times), Gotham is on its own with apparently no one willing to save it.

“Joker” is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images. Three men are shot to death with significant blood. A character is stabbed in the eye with a pair of scissors. A character is smothered to death. Another character is shot in the head and chest. A mob overwhelms and attacks to police detectives. Arthur’s fits of laughter can be very uncomfortable to watch. He visits Arkham Asylum for information and rides an elevator with a person strapped to a gurney, screaming and struggling. I don’t recall anything sexual in the film unless they are talking about when Arthur goes to Sophie’s apartment and kisses her. Foul language is scattered.

“Joker” premiered at the Venice Film Festival where it received the Golden Lion, the festival’s highest honor. There was talk of Phoenix winning a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of a man that’s sinking into madness. Then the fear of violence similar to the Aurora, Colorado shooting at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” began to surface (Note: Joker isn’t in that movie but the mentally ill young man that killed 20 people and injured 70 more appeared to be emulating the character with his orange-dyed hair). Then there were comparisons of Arthur Fleck to incels. Then an email to Army members warned them to be careful if they went to see the film and make sure they were prepared should violence occur. Then some critics began to pan the film for what they considered its sympathetic portrayal of a killer. Then director Todd Phillips made a statement that he gave up making comedies because it was so easy to offend people and social media’s cancel culture. Things spun out of control and most of it had little to do with the movie. It’s a good movie that mixes a classic comic book character with real world issues of socioeconomic inequality and a lack of mental health care in this country. I realize in the world of getting clicks and driving traffic to an advertising-supported website, there’s a pressure to post things, write things, print things that are designed to create controversy and encourage arguments. If there was ever an example of that kind of journalism and criticism, the writing about “Joker” is it.

“Joker” gets five stars.

Three new movies this week are hoping you are in the mood for animated Halloween-adjacent fun, some clone action and smartphone operating system that runs your life even more than the one you have now. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Addams Family—

Gemini Man—

Jexi—

Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage where my wife and I take turns selecting movies and TV shows for the other to watch then talking about how much we love or hate them. Get it wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Deadpool 2”

Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has expanded his hunt for the worst of the worst bad guys worldwide. He takes out sex traffickers and gangsters no matter where they work from. One drug trafficker works in his own hometown and while Deadpool is able to kill many of his henchmen the main bad guy manages to hide in his safe room. Deadpool heads home to see Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) because it’s their anniversary. Vanessa tells him she wants to start a family and they have sex. After, they are chatting when Deadpool senses trouble coming, leading to an event that sends Deadpool on a downward spiral. In a dystopian future, cybernetic soldier Cable (Josh Brolin) comes home to find his wife and daughter burned alive by a vicious mutant calling himself Firefist. Equipped with a time-travel device, Cable travels back to a time when Firefist is also known as Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) and is a troubled teen at a mutant reeducation center run by a sadistic headmaster (Eddie Marsan) that tortures the children in his care. Russell has blown some things up at the school and Deadpool, along with Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and others try to rein him in. Deadpool talks to Russell and the boy points out a member of the staff that has abused him. Deadpool then kills the staff member before he is subdued by Colossus. Both Deadpool and Russell are sent to a mutant prison called the Icebox where all prisoners are forced to wear collars that inhibit their mutant abilities. Cable shows up and tries to kill Russell but Deadpool stops him when the collar gets knocked off. With Cable’s technology and cybernetic implants Deadpool knows he needs help protecting Russell from another attack. That’s when he decides to form…The X-Force.

“Deadpool 2” is hardly a surprising take on the superhero movie genre considering it is very much like the original “Deadpool.” Star Ryan Reynolds as the title character is quick with a joke, insult and fourth-wall-breaking comment that skewers the idea of sequels and team-up films in a movie filled with second and third-string characters that could never topline a movie of their own. It could be looked at as derivative and a mere copy of its earlier self. The fact that “Deadpool 2” is subversive in its own way by being a story about family, loss, grief, mercy, self-awareness and forgiveness is how this sequel sets itself apart from the original.

Without spoiling too much Deadpool goes on a literal self-destructive journey as the film starts: He blows himself to bits in an effort to commit suicide. The shock of this is somewhat softened by the decapitated head of our hero explaining there’s more to the story that we learn in the flashback. Deadpool is dealing with a loss so profound he can only end the pain with his demise. Having the mutant power of healing makes that a tad difficult. The story sends him on other journeys of self-pity, family building and forgiveness. Most other superhero films don’t put their main character through such an arduous emotional journey as we get in “Deadpool 2.”

The film doesn’t seem that deep but if you give it a bit of thought you discover many of the same themes as in your highbrow, Oscar-bait dramas. Granted these themes are handled with broad humor, bloody violence and sexual suggestions that would make a sailor blush but it is still noteworthy.

“Deadpool 2” doesn’t work at all without the pitch perfect and enthusiastic performance of Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds, who was a driving force along with the original director Tim Miller in getting the first film made, is also a producer and credited writer on the sequel. His energy and charisma as a character that could easily be very annoying and unsympathetic makes Wade Wilson one of the most enjoyable members of Marvel Comics moviedom.

The direct opposite of Deadpool in tone and style is Josh Brolin’s Cable. Brolin has the aged and weathered face of experience that is perfect for the role of the cybernetic soldier from the future. He is able to maintain that serious and world-weary look throughout the film and gives the Merc with the Mouth someone to play off of and with. Brolin has spoken highly of Reynolds in publicity interviews about “Deadpool 2” as you would expect; but in an interview with Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast, which was about far more than just promoting the film, Brolin seems to express a genuine affection and appreciation for Reynolds that’s more than just interview fluff. Brolin provides a level of gravitas to the film that it needs to counterbalance Reynolds manic humor.

Zazie Beetz is also a nice addition to the cast as the super lucky Domino. Her calm feminine energy is a nice respite from the hyper-masculine Deadpool. Beetz also delivers a fine performance as a hero that is constantly under estimated since she lacks a flashy ability. Being supernaturally lucky may not have the same cache as invulnerability or flight but as the old saying goes, I’d rather be lucky than good and Domino is always lucky.

“Deadpool 2” is rated R for language throughout, brief drug material, sexual references and strong violence. The drug material is when Deadpool retrieves a packet of cocaine from a hiding place in Blind Al’s apartment and sticks it under his mask, appearing to consume it all at one time. Sexual references are usually brief and consist of physically impossible acts suggested by or to Deadpool. Violence is frequently bloody and often involves heads being removed or crushed, bodies being ripped in half, limbs being amputated by swords and heads being impaled by various instruments and shot at close range by guns. Foul language is common throughout the film.

If you tire of laughing at the jokes or cringing at the violent ways various people die you can entertain yourself by looking for the hidden celebrity cameos throughout the film. The list of people includes several cast members from “X-Men: First Class,” Alan Tudyk, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and a ceramic Stan Lee. Don’t worry if you don’t see them all as some are blink-and-you’ll-miss-him quick while others are buried under makeup, wigs and beards. This is a small part of why “Deadpool 2” is so much fun. It is not only an action-packed and exciting superhero story but it also is something of a scavenger hunt which is on top of the story about family. It is the One a Day multivitamin of movies and it is well worth your time and money. Also, don’t miss the mid-credits scene. It is split into two sections so don’t leave until you see the second half.

“Deadpool 2” gets five stars out of five.

This week the only new film in wide release is “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

Listen to The Fractured Frame wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.