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Have a Laugh and Be Glad, Joker’s Here to Drive You Mad

Chris Patiño, Contributor 

Oct. 9, 2019

This is no Batman movie. 

Yes, it takes place in Gotham City. And yes, there’s a character in it called Joker, but that’s where all comparisons end. This Joker doesn’t play around with hand buzzers or pencils. This Joker shoots you point-blank in the face and smashes your head against the wall. This is not a tale of a criminal mastermind, but a character study of a broken man’s descent into madness and murder. 

“Joker” follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a troubled man living in 1980s Gotham City who is dealt one bad hand after another. Beaten and belittled at every turn, he’s a quivering, wounded man whose only solace is his mother (Frances Conroy) and their favorite late-night talk show host, Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). 

Happiness is a rarity for Fleck. Suffering from a neurological condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably, he often finds himself at the mercy of apprehensive and aggressive Gothamites. After a particularly vicious encounter, Fleck finally snaps. And what follows is perhaps the most frightening depiction of The Joker yet. 

This is a beast of a movie. Unflinching and troubling, “Joker” is a disturbing portrait of a man on the fringes of society who decides to give the world the punchline he feels it deserves. 

This film marks a sharp left turn for director Todd Phillips, mostly known for helming “The Hangover” films. Taking a sidestep from comedy, Phillips jumps into the superhero genre and turns it on its head. He pulls no punches here, showcasing an ugly culture that labels its mentally ill as “crazies” and responds to problems with a fist. 

In some ways, it's a mirror of our own society. “Joker” pointedly comments on how we deal with mental illness and react to violence. The bloodshed isn’t constant, but when it pops, it hits like a freight train. It’s brutal and unapologetic. 

It should surprise no one to hear that Phoenix is outstanding. His Joker is feral. Like a beaten dog who’s taken his last thrashing, Fleck cuts loose in flashes of hyper-violent ferocity that will shock and nauseate you. His physical appearance is borderline sickening. He’s a gangly, starved scarecrow of a man. 

From his laughing fits to his gyrations, every movement feels thoughtfully unpredictable. It’s a festering boil of a performance, ready to burst at any moment and spill out its stinking, spoiled juices. 

Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s musical score helps cement the film’s tone. It’s an operatic, eerie composition that puts you right into Fleck’s headspace. Equal parts despair, rage, and power, Guðnadóttir’s gritty soundtrack will make it feel as if you’re free-falling down a well of infinite sadness. 

Cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s gorgeous photography also can’t be understated. His rich lenses depict a Gotham City more akin to a cityscape from a Martin Scorsese movie than a comic book. 

Controversial and provocative, “Joker” isn’t your typical comic book movie. It’s a film that will challenge audiences with its depictions while raising questions concerning our own social landscape. 


The Gang is Back in Town…and IT is Waiting

Chris Patiño, Contributor 

Sept. 9, 2019

A story is only as good as its ending, right? That’s what we’re about to find out with director Andy Muschietti’s second and final chapter of Stephen King’s horror saga, “IT.” With an all-star ensemble cast including Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader and James McAvoy, the Losers Club reunites after 27 years to once again face off against Pennywise, the child-eating clown terrorizing the town of Derry. 

To say that the filmmakers had a high bar to clear is an understatement. The first “IT” was a critically acclaimed crowd pleaser that shattered box office records. With Muschietti returning as director and a crazy talented cast, expectations were high. The result is…a bit of a mixed bag.  

Now, the things that work in this movie work really well. The opening scene is pitch perfect, getting us right back into the fold while also establishing the film’s brutal tone. The film’s scares come hard and fast and don’t shy away one bit from the story’s twisted nature.  

This installment not only has the difficult task of juggling seven leads, but also has to reestablish them now as grown-ups. It manages to do so in near seamless fashion, providing reintroductions that are quick, but not rushed, clearly establishing the Losers’ adult lives. This cast absolutely shines. Each actor seems so natural in her part that it’s hard to imagine anyone else filling her shoes. But it’s Bill Hader who steals the show as trash-mouth Richie Tozier. The SNL alumnus assuredly delivers on the comedy, but it’s the heart and empathy he brings to the character that makes his performance stand-out and sets up Hader as a powerhouse dramatic performer to keep your eye on.  

But the undeniable MVP here is Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. Skarsgård’s performance oozes with ghoulish delight; you’ll relish every second this maniacal clown is on-screen serenading his victims with laughs and a balloon. 

However, not all is well in Derry. Certain elements either fall short or don’t come together neatly. With a two hour and 49-minute runtime, there is a lot of story to pack in and the movie isn’t entirely able to shoulder the weight of its ambition. While it’s never boring, the film does feel unfocused at times. And although I felt the filmmakers did a fine job condensing King’s thousand-plus page odyssey, there are some rich elements from the novel that are either brushed over quickly or are dropped entirely.   

While not as refined as the original, “IT Chapter 2” still works as a solid work of horror filmmaking, serving up a creepy atmosphere layered with disturbing visuals and some great creature effects, all anchored by a terrific cast, resonant themes and a poignant ending. 

Check out Chris's Corner Cinema blog for more reviews!