Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: Joker

 

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Joaquin Phoenix showcases a villain in the making in Joker.

“I thought my life was a tragedy. Turns out it’s a comedy.”

At first you’ll think a film like Joker is yet another popcorn movie. I mean the film about the eventual making of Batman’s most legendary villain. what more can you expect? Actually it goes beyond what you’d expect.

This film is interesting, and I don’t mean interesting in a negative way. We live in a time where superhero movies are the call of the day. We love heroes. We even consider anti-heroes like Deadpool a guilty pleasure. Very rarely do we get a movie of the origins of the villain. Before this film, I’m sure there were all sorts of ideas for a villain film, including a few ideas in the past for a Joker film, but it never came to full fruition. I always felt that if there was to be a first major ‘origin of a villain’ film for a superhero franchise, there would be a Lex Luthor movie before any Joker movie. I was wrong!

One thing about the Joker is that there have been several stories of the original of the Joker from DC Comics. Actually the original story of how the Joker came to be is in 1940 that the Joker fell into a vat of chemicals which left his skin and appearance the way it is., as well as the chemicals making him insane. Another 1951 story is that the Joker was a normal person until Batman interfered with him and he fell into a chemical vat. Interesting to know that Jerry Robinson who created the Joker never paid too much focus to his origin, just the villain he became.

This is one story of the evolution of the Joker that’s like no other. The film presents Gotham City as a big city full of crime and being run as a plutocracy in which mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne supports, but wants to take to higher levels. It seems like their one escape from the hell is through watching The Murray Franklin Show. Meanwhile Arthur Fleck is one of the marginalized people. He’s mentally ill, possibly from a head injury from his abusive childhood, but he just wants to make people smile and laugh. Whatever attempts to do so backfires and it seems like he’s dragged down by them. He tries to get a girlfriend with a mother in his own apartment but that falls apart. The mental illness consumes his mind and it interferes with his life. On top of it, his mental illness made him look like a fool with a clip run on a late night show. However it’s right after receiving an answer for what he dug for about his mother that he loses it. He threw in the towel for what he wanted to be and just explodes. He already got a good sense that he was good at revenge by that subway shooting. Following the revenge shooting he gave on a fellow clown of his, he got a sense that he was actually destined to be a person of revenge. However his biggest act was yet to come on the Murray Franklin show. He had an act that was an act of entertainment mixed with an act of revenge on Franklin. That started the wave of anarchy and mayhem in Gotham City  which would pave the way for the Joker to be king and would lead to the murders of Thomas and Mrs. Wayne in front of Bruce.

The thing about this story about the Joker is that it’s obvious the Joker story is meant to be dark just by the way it starts. It presents Gotham of a place of doom and gloom and Arthur as one of it’s many casualties. His mental illness is also portrayed in a dark manner with its symptoms and how he’s dealt with by the government. Actually mental illness has to be the biggest theme of the film. I don’t know if there’s a specific mental illness that is exactly like what Arthur has. I’m sure it’s possible because I remember the son in Parasite is left with a mental illness that has him laughing at the wrong times since his skull fracture. Whatever the situation, Fleck lives in what appears to be a prison of his mind that is common with a lot of people. Fleck’s mental illness has him write down statements of truth rather than statements of humor for his comedy routine. Those statements seem to echo that of many other people with mental illness. I think that’s the biggest thing that grabs people about the film, about how Fleck’s struggle is a common struggle with many.

The ending becomes an ending one should expect as Arthur Fleck is supposed to end as the Joker in the movie, right? However we get a lot more. The marginalization of the majority of Gotham City is reflected well inside Arthur Fleck. Recently he snapped. He’s already committed revenge against his mother and his coworker by shooting them. However it becomes obvious those two were all dress rehearsals and that he was planning for his biggest act on Murray Franklin. You could tell something was up by the way he walks to the Franklin studios in his Joker outfit and dances around. However even if you did anticipate Arthur would get his revenge on Franklin on live TV or not, I’m sure most did not expect the mayhem of a Gotham City riot to happen and this anarchy to happen either just after the Joker’s appearance on the show. Also some might not have expected the ending to be a case of both the Joker arriving and the legend of Batman just starting.

Now there was some talk when the movie first came out that there was fear there would be some copycat violent incidents. When you look at the film, it’s a film that features a lot of disturbing things like mental illness, marginalization, incels and vigilantism. There’s even that line just before Arthur shoots Murray: “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you fucking deserve!” No violent incidents have come of it. And even if one did, I believe it is not the responsibility of the filmmakers. I learned a long time ago in the 1990’s that you can say all you want how influential entertainment is on certain people or society, In the end, it;s not responsible. People are responsible for their own actions.

First off, the biggest accolades have to go to Joaquin Phoenix. This was a captivating character to play, but also a complex character to play as well. To portray this version of the Joker on the big screen was not an easy thing, especially since the character lives in both a fictional world of chaos and a mental world of chaos. Joaquin made it work, and in a way that keeps one in their seat. Also this may make history as the first-ever performance of a superhero character to win an Oscar. Additional accolades have to go to Todd Phillips. This movie he directed and co-wrote with Scott Silver worked beyond anyone’s expectations and even won moviegoers in the process.

For acting, it appeared Phoenix had the most developed role of the film while the other roles lacked dimension in comparison. However the performances did a lot to show their presence and add to the film rather than just be something for Phoenix to work off of. There was Frances Conroy who played Arthur’s mother and she did a good job of portraying her character’s own mental illness. There was Robert de Niro who did a good job as the host that’s friendly one minute, mean the next. There was Zazie Beetz who plays Arthur’s love interest. Technical efforts in the film were also excellent. There’s the cinematography by Lawrence Sher, the costuming by Mark Bridges, the makeup work, the production design, and of course the musical score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. I’m a fan of film scores and Hildur was excellent in delivering a score to fit a dark and disturbing world as well as the chaos in Arthur’s mind.

Joker does present a unique story of how one of DC Comics’ most legendary villains came to be. However it’s a lot more as it takes us into the character’s mind and into the world of mayhem he lives in. And it connects with you in a surprising way.

VIFF 2016 Review: To Keep The Light

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Erica Fae plays a Maine woman determined to keep her lighthouse in 1876 in To Keep The Light.

Here at the VIFF, you’ll see many films directed by female directors. One is To Keep The Light, directed by Erica Fae. It’s a very impressive work.

Abbie is the wife of Thomas, a lighthouse keeper in Maine in 1876. However Thomas has recently fallen ill and has become bedridden with a complete loss of appetite. That means Abbie will have to tend to the lighthouse while he is sick. She does everything Thomas does and keeps record of everything although she does commit one error.

One morning she sees a body of a man has washed ashore. The following day, she sees the man has not awaken so she assumes he’s dead. However just as she’s about to cast the body to sea, the man awakens. She gives him shelter and food as he’s about to recover. He tells her the story of how he ended up in the sea. As he’s recovering, she tells Thomas of this man: a Swede named Johan. It’s only a matter of days that Johan gets better. He’s even able to help Abbie with the lighthouse.

Abbie’s even able to go to town with Johan but the townpeople do not look fondly towards Abbie or Johan. Some are suspicious of the two considering Thomas is still bedridden. Even the postal lady Mrs. Williams has a suspicion towards Swedes as do many of the townfolks. It’s difficult enough since one family, the Eaton family, feels they should have owned the lighthouse only to have been outbid by Abbie and Thomas.

One day Abbie sees the breakfast eaten, assuming Thomas is starting recover and lies next to him, only to discover it’s Johan. Abbie soon learns the horrific news. Thomas is dead; he drowned himself. As if Thomas’ death isn’t hard enough, she knows she could lose the lighthouse to the Eatons. Troubles turn worse as the Chief Inspector conducts an inspection and gives it a scathing review, mostly because of his male chauvinism. Soon Johan reveals her love towards Abbie just around the time the Eatons are trying to claim her lighthouse. Abbie would have to make an important decision. She does, but not the decision most would expect.

Listening to the first five minutes of the Q&A with Erica Fae, I learned a lot more about women who looked after lighthouses in place of their ailing or deceased husbands. It’s documented but the times whitewashed their contributions those many years ago. Erica Fae is able to bring their achievements to full view and for us to finally see. Even though Abbie is a fictional character, it’s enlightening to see what they did during the time. I’m glad Erica has the chance through this film to finally tell us their story and finally commend their accomplishments.

If there’s one glitch about this film, it’s that it doesn’t appear like it’s solid in its intention as a film. It becomes obvious it’s about one woman’s struggle to keep the lighthouse she should rightfully own being the widow of the previous owner. However the story of Abbie’s struggle has the distraction of her romance with Johan. I’ll admit while watching this, I was left wondering if the film was intended to be a romance: a story about the man Abbie truly loved. I don’t have a problem at all with films conveying a message of women fighting for their rights but I think the romance from Abbie and Johan took away from the story’s message and would leave confused about what the main intention of the film is to be.

SPOILER ALERTDo Not Read This Paragraph IF You Dont Want To Know The Ending: Even the ending had me confused. It’s obvious Abbie loved Johan but it couldn’t be that she was thinking of marrying him to keep her lighthouse. Even if it was right after the death of Thomas, Abbie didn’t come across as that type of woman. If she were to marry Johan, it would be because she loved him. I admit I had different expectations in the film. I thought Johan would follow his heart and come back to her. I think that’s why the ending of her writing the letter to set her ownership of the lighthouse in stone left me confused.

I give a lot of respect to Erica Fae for this film. Fae is best known as an actress in the film Synecdoche, New York and a recurring character in Boardwalk Empire. She wrote, directed, researched and played the lead in the film. She does an excellent job in all the duties she takes on in the film but there are some noticeable flaws. I know I made mention of a story of a love mixed with a woman’s fight for her right as coming off as uneven. As far as Fae’s acting, she does an excellent job of playing the character but she doesn’t come across as too believable as a woman from the 1870’s in New England. She comes across as too 21st century in her movement and her speaking. Antti Reini did a good job of playing Johan. The other cast members also did very well in their parts. The cinematography by Wes Cardino was excellent and gives a great feel for the East Coast. The score by Caroline Shaw was also very fitting for the film.

To Keep The Light has its noticeable flaws. Nevertheless it is a good story about what certain women had to fight for that often goes overlooked. I thank Erica Fae for giving us this story.