Tag Archives: Joaquin Phoenix

Joker (2019) Review

Time: 122 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, cruelty & offensive language
Cast:
Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker
Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin
Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond
Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck
Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne
Director: Todd Phillips

Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.

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Joker was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. The idea of a solo Joker movie but also one completely disconnected from the established DCEU seemed questionable at best. Also I wasn’t quite sure about director Todd Phillips helming it, I liked the few movies I’ve seen from him but I did have my doubts. However the inclusion of Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role completely sold me on the movie, and seeing trailer after trailer and hearing about their take on the iconic character, I was excited to say the least, I haven’t seen a comic book movie taken in a direction like this. Joker is already proving to be a very divisive movie, but I’m glad that I’m firmly on the side that loved it.

I’ll be sure not to reveal too much about Joker, but people going in should know what kind of movie they’re in for. It is a slow burn character study following the deterioration of a mentally ill man, who eventually becomes the Joker, that’s the best way I can put it. For 3 quarters of the movie we don’t even see Arthur in the final Joker makeup, so don’t expect a Joker movie with a lot of action, mayhem or anything. You could almost call the movie Arthur: Portrait of a Killer Clown or something. Personally I loved the movie for what it is. You can probably tell that it’s a dark movie but it’s not just because it’s violent, it’s fittingly uncomfortable and grim for the most part. It is quite possibly the bleakest and most ‘disturbing’ comic book movie, and again it’s not necessarily because of the violence. The third act is where the movie particularly ramps up with Arthur as the Joker, and was personally the highlight of the movie. Now much has been said that we are following a villain, and especially one as infamous as The Joker. I’ll give my perspective on how it handles those aspects, but just know that I’m not covering the age old question of “Does movies or video games lead to violence?”, because if you’ve read much of my reviews you can probably figure out my perspective regarding that. The movie doesn’t point out that the character is doing bad things because the actions are obviously bad. Him murdering people shouldn’t require a giant sign to flash saying “this is bad, don’t do this”. Not to mention that this is Joker we are talking about, one of the most clear cut villains in fiction you can think of. Now in saying that, this is the first time in a movie where you have to actually look at Joker as a human being and more than just a comic book villain (or even an Agent of Chaos), and I guess that both frightens and concerns people. The movie isn’t necessarily asking you to sympathise or feel sorry for Arthur Fleck (the lead character who would eventually become the Joker) every step of the story. I guess I’d say that I was sympathetic towards Arthur for the first 10 minutes with everything that is happening to him. Otherwise for most of the rest of the movie, I just felt sympathy for the acts made upon him, but not necessarily to Arthur himself. While you might understand why he does the things he does with his circumstances, you aren’t necessarily in a position where you think “this is perfectly justified and I support everything he’s doing”.

There are a few criticisms I’ve heard. One is how clearly it’s inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, but is a little too derivative of it and is ultimately just a riff on them with the character of Joker. While I guess there are plenty of aspects that are taken from those two movies (even though I get the feeling that Phillips and co. were very self aware about this while making it), I think Joker does enough to separate itself from them to be its own movie, for the most part at least. I do like how they keep Joker as a standalone movie. Without spoiling things, I guess storywise you could follow it up with a sequel, but it seems very much like it was intended to be a one off movie and not one intended to start off a cinematic universe. One thing is for sure though, you definitely won’t see him face off against Robert Pattinson’s Batman or anything, so put that out of your mind if you even thinking about it. I liked what the movie was about thematically and was trying to talk about. It’s about class warfare, abuse, media, the way mentally ill people are treated (or not treated), mental healthcare, capitalism and more, it’s at least making an attempt to talk about them. Despite what you might’ve heard, this movie is NOT about incels or incel culture at all. People have talked about all the dangerous and problematic parts to the movie, but honestly the only real problematic and downright irresponsible part of the movie was the questionable use of a Gary Glitter song in one scene. Now in terms of some slight issues I had, there aren’t many but considering I was just addressing some criticisms I guess I should mention some of my own. There is a particular twist that happens during the movie, I saw it coming but that’s not necessarily the problem. It’s more that the reveal spent so much time flat out explaining the twist to the audience when we’d be able to figure it out without the obvious explanation. I guess there are some moments that are a little rough around the edges for what they were aiming for. Some of the attempts at making commentary on some of the aforementioned themes I guess were a little heavy handed and too “on the nose” at times, but I could get past it, I just sort of put that up to the story being told from the Joker’s perspective. It’s really not a subtle movie at all and you pick up on that really quickly. Joker also could’ve gone a little deeper into some concepts, I almost feel like the movie could’ve been a little longer to flesh certain parts out more. I was fully invested in the movie at least on a first watch, but for the most part the plot goes in the general direction that you’d expect it to, with not a lot of surprises. Also while I largely like the ending, I felt that it would’ve been a little more effective if it ended 30 seconds to a minute earlier on a particular visual beat, but I’m just nit-picking at this point.

The rest of the movie is well made but it’s really Joaquin Phoenix that makes this movie. His work here as Arthur Fleck/Joker is extraordinary. This could very well be a career best performance from him, and considering his past work that’s really saying a lot (it’s at least on the level as his work on The Master). He’s pretty much in every single scene of the movie and relies so much on him delivering, and he absolutely does. One aspect that was particularly interesting about this take was his laugh. As we all know, in most forms of media, Joker typically laughs because he finds something funny, usually something morbid that he’s just done. In this movie however, it’s actually a result of a real life condition where Arthur laughs and can’t stop laughing even when he wants to, and for the most part it seems utterly painful for him. It’s an original idea for the Joker to have for his laugh, and I’m surprised they didn’t have that as an interpretation for him in a comic book (correct me if I’m wrong and one comic already did that, I’m not a massive comic book expert). As previously mentioned, the movie forces you to at least look at him as a human being and somewhat empathise with him, and this was a risky movie. However Phoenix managed to deliver such a complex performance where you could actually look at him as more than just a monster (even if he is that). At the same time, you can recognise that Fleck is absolutely disturbed and demented, and has his fair share of genuinely scary moments. Arthur’s transformation into the Joker also was fascinating, as he gets pushed (and pushes himself) further down into that direction. As he embraces the Joker persona more and more, you see him more confident and full of life, especially compared to earlier on in the movie. And on a side note, I’m not even going to compare him to Heath Ledger’s Joker or any of the other Jokers for that matter, there’s really no point. They’re completely different Jokers, and Phoenix does more than enough to make this incarnation of the character to stand on his own.

The rest of the supporting cast really don’t have much to do compared to Joaquin but they do the best they can possibly do. Whether that be Robert De Niro as a talk show host that Arthur idolises, Zazie Beetz as a neighbour that Arthur is interested in, Frances Conroy as Arthur’s mother, or Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne, they all fit into the story well. Even some of the brief one scene appearances like Brian Tyree Henry played their small parts well. Now I want to briefly touch upon the Wayne aspects of the story, in a non spoiler way of course. It can be said that it’s possible for this movie to just have Joker, Gotham and Arkham Asylum being the only DC references that are in the movie, and they didn’t need to include Thomas or Bruce Wayne. Personally I thought it fitted in the story alright, and there is a certain aspect with Bruce’s existence in this movie that does make the movie even better towards the end. Though I can’t exactly explain it without going into heavy detail, hopefully you’ll be able to figure it out.

This is by far and away the best work that director Todd Phillips has done, his direction of Joker is shockingly exceptional, and it’s not even that I think he’s a bad director or anything. Gotham is portrayed as a dirty 70s and 80s New York City. It really does capture the vibes that Scorsese gave in aforementioned movies like Taxi Driver, but I don’t think Phillips is just imitating or ripping off that style, just clearly heavily inspired by it. It’s a gorgeous looking movie, the cinematography is stunning. There isn’t really a whole lot of violence, and when it comes to comic book movies, there have been some more violent films out there (Watchmen, Deadpool 1 and 2, Logan, etc). However it was nonetheless effective and disturbing, and it’s more to do with how realistic it looks and sounds, it’s graphic but it happens very fast. But if you’re just talking about levels of violence, I’ve definitely seen plenty of movies with way higher levels of extreme violence than Joker. The score by Hildur Guðnadóttir was great, tense and eerie, fitting perfectly with the rest of the film. For sure one of the best scores of the year. Most of the other song choices were also good, although I’m still thinking about that one Gary Glitter song… needless to say this probably is the only criticism of the movie that I won’t defend against whatsoever.

Joker isn’t going to work for everyone, and the reactions online already indicates that it’s probably going to remain the most divisive movie of the entire year. I’m not sure that a lot of people are prepared for the type of movie it is. It’s not a movie I’m going to rewatch constantly but as it is, I think it’s great. Honestly I’m surprised at how well Todd Phillips (mostly) put together this movie. But it’s of course Joaquin Phoenix who really makes this movie, and it’s worth watching to see his extraordinary performance, even if you don’t like the rest of the movie. The idea of DC Black with all these other separate stories disconnected from the DCEU certainly have a lot of potential if we can see comic book movies taken in a different direction that we haven’t seen before. As for whether Joker should have a sequel, I personally don’t think it really needs to, it’s fine with how it is. But if Todd Phillips has some great ideas for a follow up and Joaquin is (unexpectedly) up for another movie in the iconic role, then I’d be on board with it.

You Were Never Really Here (2018) Review

Time: 89 Minutes
Cast:
Joaquin Phoenix as Joe
Ekaterina Samsonov as Nina Votto
Alex Manette as Senator Albert Votto
John Doman as John McCleary
Judith Roberts as Joe’s Mother
Alessandro Nivola as Governor Williams
Director: Lynne Ramsay

A traumatized veteran (Joaquin Phoenix), unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe’s nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.

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You Were Never Really Here was one of my most anticipated films of 2018. I have been hearing nothing but excellent things about this film. It received acclaim from the Cannes Film Festival, with particular praise to Lynne Ramsay’s direction and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, receiving Cannes awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actor. The trailer also made the movie look quite unique and something truly special. You Were Never Really Here really lived up to all the praise. It is a very different and unique film, with fantastic visual direction from Lynne Ramsay and yet another phenomenal performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

One thing that is really worth pointing out is the way the story is told. Lynne Ramsay tells the story more visually, it not only doesn’t rely on a lot of dialogue, not everything is set out clear for us, we aren’t necessarily being told what’s going on. That means that you can miss a lot of the important details, even if you are focussed 100% on the screen and what’s going on (this definitely happened with me, afterwards I had to look up plot details to see what I didn’t get, this doesn’t usually happen with me). A lot of the plot or aspects like Phoenix’s character’s past aren’t set out clearly for us, with his past for instance, we only get flashes of it and we have to take what we are given and interpret it. In this case I can kind of see rewatches improving the enjoyment of the movie overall. I can see this unclear storytelling polarising some, but while there were some aspects of the plot I didn’t know about, I still admire Ramsay’s way of telling the story. Another thing is that the story, although it seems familiar, avoids falling into clichés that other similar movies often have, it’s not a straight forward revenge film. It’s more focussed on the character of Joe and his arc, which is not one that you’d really expect. It’s also worth knowing going in that this isn’t an action thriller or anything of the sort like it was shown in the trailer, it is a slow paced character study. This movie is fairly short, at 1 hour and 30 minutes long, which is a good enough length, though I will admit I wouldn’t mind it being another 10 or so minutes. The pacing was fine, the first act was a little slow but it wasn’t too much of an issue.

It’s no surprise that Joaquin Phoenix gives a fantastic performance, with him being one of the all time best actors working at the moment, but this is one of his best performances yet. The whole movie surrounded his character Joe and was basically riding on Phoenix, as usual he delivers. It’s a multi-layered performance with very little dialogue, so Phoenix has to convey a lot through his performance with so little. I’ve noticed a lot of people comparing his character of Joe to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and while on surface level they might seem similar, they really aren’t. I won’t go into too much depth into Joe as a character as I think it’s something better seeing for yourself. What I will say is that his character clearly has a lot to him that has to communicated often times non verbally and Phoenix, being the incredible actor that he is, does this fantastically. Other supporting actors like Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman and Judith Roberts do well enough in their role, even though most of the attention is on Phoenix (some of these actors don’t even have that many scenes but they were still good).

This is the first film I’ve seen of Lynne Ramsay, I heard she did some films like We Need to Talk about Kevin and Ratcatcher, I haven’t seen them yet but I heard they are good. Based on her work on this movie however, I can say that she is an excellent director, her direction of this film is nothing short of fantastic. This movie is shot incredibly well, it is an absolutely stunning looking film. Ramsay also portrays violence well, it’s brutal but not excessive, a lot of the times it doesn’t even show it very close up. Nonetheless you feel the impact of it. The way the film is edited is definitely really great, it really is essential to the storytelling style. As I said, the story is told more visually than verbally and a big part of the movie is Joe going through some flashbacks because of his past and his PTSD. Often times we get splices of what happened in his past. Ramsay also helps you really experience what he’s thinking and feeling, especially towards the final act, culminating at times in some nightmarish and effective sequences. Jonny Greenwood has been creating movie scores for a while but this just might be his best, it really adds to the overall tone and feel of the movie, ranging from being entrancing to being nightmarish.

You Were Never Really Here is truly one of the best films of the year so far. With Lynne Ramsay’s excellent direction and Joaquin Phoenix’s great performance, it really is a unique film that delivers on pretty much every level. It’s not for everyone and I can see a lot of people not really liking this. It worked for me though, and I have a feeling that I’m going to like it more upon further thought and rewatches.

Mary Magdalene (2018) Review

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Adult themes
Cast
Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene
Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus Christ
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter
Tahar Rahim as Judas
Director: Garth Davis

MARY MAGDALENE is an authentic and humanistic portrait of one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood spiritual figures in history. The biblical biopic tells the story of Mary (Rooney Mara), a young woman in search of a new way of living. Constricted by the hierarchies of the day, Mary defies her traditional family to join a new social movement led by the charismatic Jesus of Nazareth (Joaquin Phoenix). She soon finds a place for herself within the movement and at the heart of a journey that will lead to Jerusalem.

Mary Magdalene was a movie I was curious about. Director Garth Davis’s previous movie Lion was pretty good but most of all, Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor, all fantastic actors, were involved in the movie. It definitely had a lot of potential. At the same time, I was sceptical. The film was pushed back quite a bit (from late 2017 to March 2018) and the trailers didn’t look all that great. Also I don’t really like biblical movies. Despite everything, I gave the film a shot. Overall Mary Magdalene is fine but has a lot of issues and the story isn’t always interesting and drags from time to time. The performances from the talented cast are the best parts of the movie. Mary Magdalene isn’t great but not as bad as what has been said about it.

Mary Magdalene is a 2 hour movie but it feels much longer than that. The thing that really stood out to me is that the first act really dragged. Once Mary leaves her family to follow Jesus, the story picked up noticeably. After that point, the movie went in and out from being interesting to not really interesting me that much. Honestly I don’t have too much to say about the story to be honest. It has its strong moments and it has its weak moments. So overall, the actual story is a bit of a mixed bag. As for whether any of it will cause controversy (due to it being a religious movie), storywise I don’t know for sure but nothing particularly stood out to me. It had a more human take, which I think will make the movie slightly more accessible to those who aren’t really a fan of biblical movies.

The thing about Mary Magdalene that mainly had my interest was the cast and they all did a good job really. Rooney Mara was quite good as the titular character. Her performance is quite subtle yet very emotional and she as usual brings her A-game to this role. Joaquin Phoenix was also pretty good as a very different and weird version of Jesus to say the least. It’s not one of Phoenix’s best performances, he has definitely done a lot better than this, some of the time I’m not sure what he was doing. He also did mumble way too much and it was often difficult to hear what he was saying. Rooney and Joaquin shared great chemistry together and that was one of the highlights of the film. The supporting cast shouldn’t be left out of the praise, actors like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tahar Rahim do well with what they have, those two in particularly were really good.

Garth Davis did a pretty good job overall directing Mary Magdalene. Much of the movie is pretty small and intimate throughout. In fact there was one moment later on which contained a wide shot of Jerusalem that was very jarring because most of the movie felt pretty small. With that said, MM does have its fair share of visually appealing moments and the locations worked quite well. Johann Johannsson also did a pretty good score, his final score, worth noting.

Mary Magdalene isn’t that great of a movie and it has a number of issues but it’s not bad by any means. It has some great performances, Garth Davis’s direction is good and it does have some genuinely good moments. But it does have its fair share of issues and can really drag. If you are a big fan of Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix give it a watch, otherwise maybe check it out if you have nothing else to watch, it’s not really one to rush out to see as soon as possible.