Friday, October 18, 2019

"Joker" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "Joker" as well as the DVDs "Midsommar" and "The Wedding Guest."  The Book of the Week is "Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know" by Malcolm Gladwell.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."]



Joker


Another origin story for the Joker.

Most of us know who the Joker is, right?  If you have seen any Batman movies or Batman TV shows or read Batman comics, the Joker is going to show up. But this time it's an interesting take on The Joker's origin story. 

This time it's the story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely guy with some mental issues and a medical condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times.  He lives in a dark and gritty world full of civil unrest and is mistreated at every turn.  He is isolated and tormented. Ironically, he works as a clown for hire, but, after a series of unfortunate events not of his making, he loses his job.  

But then Arthur decides he needs to become a comedian and his dream is to make it onto the Murray Franklin Show.  He does end up on the show but not for the right reasons.  Franklin (Robert De Niro) sees a tape of Arthur at an open mic comedy show, and Arthur is so bad he's good as in Franklin thinks it would be fun to have him on the show, basically to make fun of him.  Little does Franklin know what Arthur is going to do as he takes on his alter ego - Joker.

Those familiar with Batman, who is part of the DC Comics Universe, will be familiar with Joker and his relationship to the Wayne family and their story.  In this film, we see young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson), who will become Batman, as Arthur tries to meet Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), Bruce's father, who Arthur has been told by his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), is his real father. Yet another complication that torments Arthur's life.

Speaking of DC comics  - there has always been a sort of rivalry between DC comics and the Marvel world.  I'm a DC girl myself. Having grown up with that cheesy TV Batman show of the 1960's, I think the DC superheroes and villains are more relatable than the superheros in the Marvel comics. I've always been partial to cheese.

Joaquin Phoenix has proven himself to be a wonderful actor in that "I am going to completely inhabit the role" kind of acting. He has also perfected the oddball character - "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot," "The Master," "Inherent Vice" are examples- all wonderful performances in the oddball genre, but this will be his defining moment. For this role, he lost 50 pounds and is all in as Joker. He is sure to win an Oscar for this tour de force.

But Joaquin Phoenix is a strange guy.  If you remember him on talk shows during his "beard period," you know what I mean.



But it's no wonder Phoenix is "strange."  He had an unusual childhood, traveling around the world with his family as members of The Children of God.  He also lost his older brother, River, to a drug overdose so it's no wonder he may have issues. But his so-called "strangeness" works in his career.  He chooses interesting roles and immerses himself in them and we, as audience members, get to benefit.  And "Joker" is no exception.

Written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver and directed by Phillips, this is a dark film about a very dark world that is not sympathetic to the mentally ill or anyone for that matter. The film feels very much like "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy" as Arthur goes from a guy struggling with his issues to becoming a bona fide villain. But it's also a nod to "Pagliacci," the opera about the clown with the smiling face who is crying inside and Incels, those involuntary celibate white guys who can't get laid so they pick up a gun and start shooting people.  That latter nod has swirled some controversy around this film and some theatres closed opening night or had high security to avoid what happened in Aurora, Colorado at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight," when James Holmes, dressed as Joker, arrived at the theatre and killed 12 people and injured 70. But thankfully, nothing like that happened this time.

This is not your usual superhero/supervillain story, and it might be too dark, disturbing and violent for some, but the reason to see the film is Joaquin Phoenix's incredible performance.

Rosy the Reviewer says...ring! ring!  Is this Mr. Phoenix?  Oscar calling!



***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!
On DVD


Midsommar (2019)



Some Americans travel to Sweden to celebrate Midsommar and to enjoy some much needed rest.  Little do they know what they have gotten themselves into.

Dani's (Florence Pugh) boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), is a bro and lives with his bros, Mark (Mark Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper), who don't really appreciate their bro-dom being interrupted by Dani and her needs, even when a family tragedy befalls her.  Dani is left bereft and lonely so when one of the other bros, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), a Swede, invites them all to his little town in Sweden for Midsommar, they all decide it's just what they and Dani need, especially since they are all anthropology students and will be able to study the Swedish culture.  

That's all well and good, but let's just say that Pelle's little town in Sweden is not your typical town.  Yes, it's beautiful and full of beautiful people, but there is something dark going on there as they all soon learn, something you wouldn't expect from those peace loving Swedes.  It's a pagan thing.  Think "The Wicker Man." If you saw that film, you will have an idea about this one.

Written and directed by Ari Aster, his follow up to "Hereditary," the film starts off in a dark, scary way with all kinds of interesting camera work going on provided by cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski - filming from above, even filming upside down - and ominous music that made me feel I was in for a scary movie. I kept waiting for something to happen. I was hopeful when one of the villagers said that it had been 90 years since their last "feast," so I was already putting my hands over my eyes because I thought that was code for some cannibalism.  But sadly, the film bogged down in the middle and actually was kind of boring.  It just took too long to get to the "good stuff," and I was wrong about the finale, which was also kind of a let down. The film was way too long for the premise and the pay off, which was quite confusing.  It had a kind of "huh?" ending.

Now, I have to say I am half Swedish, have Swedish relatives living in Sweden, and I have attended a Midsommar celebration in Sweden myself.  However, I can't help but wonder why Sweden was chosen for this "horror" film.  Is it because those peace loving people would be the least likely to be blood thirsty?

Anyway, in case you don't know, Midsommar is a Swedish celebration where everyone leaves the towns and goes into the country to dance around May poles and indulge in an old-fashioned country life.  Like I said, we have attended such a celebration and I didn't find it the least bit scary, unless seeing Hubby running around wearing a wreath of leaves is scary.  Actually, it kind of is.










I have been a fan of Florence Pugh since she starred in "Lady Macbeth," her first adult starring role in a feature film, and since then she has shown her versatility in "Fighting With My Family" and "Malevolent." She looks like a young Kate Winslet. However, I have to say that even though she stars in this film, she really doesn't have much to do, except to be a kind of clueless bystander overshadowed by the circumstances she finds herself in but Pugh does the best she can with what she has to work with.

The film dabbles a bit in the fish out of water concept along with male privilege, American entitlement and female empowerment, but not enough to make this a particularly meaningful film.  What was most interesting to me was the fact that it was a horror film that takes place entirely in daylight (no innocent young girls walking home in the dark), playing upon the fact that in Sweden in summer the sun barely sets.  Now that's scary.

Rosy the Reviewer says..after seeing this film, you might think twice if invited to a Midsommar celebration.






A mysterious British Muslim man travels to Pakistan to kidnap a bride right before her wedding.

Okay, he kidnaps the bride, but it takes forever to get there.  Okay, it was only 18 minutes that I had to wait but it still felt like forever.  But there is an intensity that makes you stick with it to find out what is going to happen and that is in part due to Dev Patel as the mystery man, who is very intense and compelling, nothing like you remember him from "Slumdog Millionaire" or "Lion."

We first see Jay (Patel) as he packs his suitcase and heads from the U.K. to Pakistan. Is he the wedding guest?  He has several passports and along the way he buys a gun. Not usual behavior for a wedding guest so the title is actually ironic.  Turns out, Jay has arrived in Pakistan to kidnap the bride, Samira (Radhika Apte), for his employer, Deepesh (Jim Sarbh), who is also Samira's boyfriend.  Jay is actually saving her from a marriage she doesn't want, but we don't know who she is or why he has kidnapped her.  But things go awry and Jay is forced to kill one of the security guards at the wedding and now Deepesh doesn't want anything to do with Jay or Samira so Jay and Samira are stuck with each other and on the run. Now if you don't know what is going to happen next, you don't watch a lot of movies.  OF COURSE feelings between the two ensue!

But the film, written and directed by Michael Winterbottom, doesn't stop there.  There are twists and turns and no one is as he or she seems. The film is atmospheric and intense, a sort of Middle Eastern film noir.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Patel as you have never seen him and a road trip story that will keep you guessing.


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***


58 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?







A brother and sister and three of their friends go on a road trip to visit their father's grave, and see the old homestead, and wouldn't you know, they run into a cannibalistic family, as one does.

Okay, I know what you are thinking and you are right.  I was thinking the same thing.  I can't believe that over the last 45 years I haven't seen this film!  Well....why would I want to see a bunch of people massacred by a chain saw?  But then I heard some things that made me think this was one of those movies where the violence was implied as in, yes, chain saw, very scary.  We can IMAGINE and our imagination is worse than reality, right?

WRONG!!!

Written by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel and directed by Hooper, no imagining necessary.  It's all right there.  It only took for the opening scenes of eviscerated bodies and the first victim to be hoisted up onto a meat hook ALIVE for me to start fast forwarding (thank god for that).

So let's bring out the horror tropes. 

Group of innocent teens on a road trip meet up with some bad guys, a male family of cannibals, one of which wears human skin from his victims over his face because his real face looks like the Joker (see review above).  Hence his name - no not "Joker," but "Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen)."  Next trope, they are all killed off one at a time until only the pretty blonde (Marilyn Burns) is left to run around with the chainsaw wielding Leatherface chasing her and her screaming her lungs out.  And let me tell you, before Blondie gets away, it is gross-out after gross-out.

May I ask what the purpose of this film would be?

Why It's a Must See: "The film...begins with some voice-over work by a young (and then unknown) John Laroquette...[and] Upon viewing this intense picture, with its relentless pace and quasi-documentary style, critic Rex Reed declared it one of the most frightening movies ever made...[and yet] Hooper's warped labor of love stood for a time as one of the most profitable independent films in motion picture history."
---"1001 Movie You Must See Before You Die"

I can see how this inspired other gross horror films to come, especially "The Hills Have Eyes (another one of the 1001 movies you are supposed to see before you die)," which also featured a human flesh eating family, but I am not prone to enjoying films that will give me nightmares.

Rosy the Reviewer says.. I saw things in this film I can't get out of my mind. Don't like that.



***The Book of the Week***



Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell (2019)


Author Gladwell uses the 2015 Sandra Bland case as a jumping off point to explore the issue of how we really don't know how to talk to people we don't know and because of that, Gladwell contends that conflicts and misunderstandings ensue, ones that can lead to catastrophe.

In case you didn't know, the Sandra Bland case involved an African-American woman from Chicago who was driving back from a job interview at Prairie View A & M in Houston, Texas.  She was stopped by a police officer for not using her turn signal and one thing led to another and she was arrested.  We know all of this because the police officer's body cam was on the entire time.  What should have been a routine traffic stop - though one wonders why the police officer stopped her for not using her turn signal...mmm, white cop, black driver...one wonders - escalated into an arrest with Sandra Bland killing herself in her jail cell. 

Because Gladwell opens his book with that story, you would think this book would be about racial injustice.  But it's not. 

In addition to the Sandra Bland story, the book also touches on Neville Chamberlain trusting that Hitler would not attack Great Britain, the trial of Amanda Knox, the suicide of Sylvia Plath, the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal and more.  What do these stories all have in common?  That in each case, the parties involved relied on their own strategies, experiences and assumptions "to translate another's words and intentions.  And in each case, something went very wrong."  Gladwell uses those stories to try to understand what happened. 

At the end of the book, Gladwell reflects again on the Sandra Bland case where a post-mortem boiled the whole incident down to the fact that maybe Sandra Bland might not have liked police officers!

"Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers?  We blame the stranger."

Rosy the Reviewer says...an eye-opener!



Thanks for reading!



See you next Friday

for 


"Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story"


and


The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)


as well as


the latest on


"My 1001 Movies I Must See


Before I Die Project" 





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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database).


Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.










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