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Joker (2019) Movie Review By The Moviie Couple

 

Joker

Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz

Moviie Couple here!   Yes, we are back!  The Mrs. has returned and this weekend we went out to see Joker!  Despite her lack of enthusiasm for the gluttony of comic book films lately, she was excited to see this new iteration of the Joker.  Here is a quick reminder of our scoring system.  We’re here to tell you if we liked it.  Film experts we are not!  Just a quick reminder of our rating system.   We rate films on whether they are worth the cash spent on a night out.  we use a 1-6 Dollar Bill system.  1-2 Bills equal a waste of both our time and money!  3-4 Bills equal Meh to Pretty Good, money well spent!  5-6 Bills equal Wow!  Well worth the price of dinner, movie and sitter!  Please take our money again!

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a near invisible citizen of a Gotham City that looks eerily similar to 1970’s New York City. As Arthur trudges through his daily life in this cesspool of a city on the verge of destroying itself through poverty, crime and overall apathy, he attempts to make ends meet as a clown for rent and attempting to follow his dream of being a stand up comic, all the while taking care of a sick mother and dealing with his own mental health issues.  As one unfortunate event after another happen to Arthur and horrible truths begin to come to the surface about his family and his past, He begins a descent toward madness that will culminate in the creation of the killer known to the world as Joker!

Surprisingly, this film was directed by Todd Phillips, best known for the Hangover Trilogy and comedies like Old School and Due Date.  Starring as the title clown is Joaquin Phoenix in a masterful performance! Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen all co-star, but make no mistake this is nearly a one man show.  This entire film is carried by the virtuoso performance of Phoenix as he captures Arthur’s pain in each and every scene.

The Joker has been portrayed by a variety of actors over the years.  From Ceaser Romero to Jack Nicholson through the now legendary Heath Ledger version and even most recently by Jared Leto. The character is well known not only by film goers, but even more so by the millions of comic book fans that have read about the Clown Prince of Crime since his first appearance in 1940! Batman’s arch nemesis has gone through many different variations over the last eighty years or so.  Over that time frame he has never been given a definitive origin story.  Many hints and clues have been dropped, but never have the publishers of DC Comics ever settled on a one “true” tale of the creation of the Joker. Phillips and Warner Brothers Films have spoken on this subject prior to the films release. They add that this film stands outside of the comic book world and is only “their” version of the beginnings of Joker. Some interviews even have the filmmakers stating that this is not the comic book Joker at all.  This film is to be taken as its own unique film experience.

So how does it hold up? Is it a cinematic triumph? Will it be able to please film fans as well as comic book aficionados? Are there any connections to the Batman? Let’s not waste any time chattering teeth over this one and get right to the reviews! Put your face paint on, affix your red noses and lets get right to it!

Mr. Moviie Couple: As I’ve stated in previous reviews, I am a huge comic book guy!  So it goes without saying I was pretty excited to see a dark version of the Joker’s origin story.  This film was right in my wheelhouse! Right as the film begins you know you are not in a typical comic book film. This film is cinematically as far from the Marvel Cinema formula as you could possibly get. This movie exists in the world of Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Taxi Driver far from a world of Shield, Asgard or the Justice League. Phillips immediately immerses you into the crime and filthy urban setting of the 1970’s. Much like the Scorsese films mentioned earlier Arthur Fleck is a man lost in a world of crime, fear, trash (both physically and mentally) and hopelessness. Arthur has many fantasy visions throughout the film, where we are not sure what is real and what is not.  He comes across like a psychopathic Walter Mitty.

Phoenix’s performance as Fleck is a masterpiece of acting.  He completely throws himself into the role.  He physically transforms into this sad sack, loser with such abandon that it sucks you into his world.  Not only can you feel his struggle and pain in each and every scene you can feel his rage burning just underneath the surface waiting to escape. From his facial contortions to his gait (and how it changes as his feelings ebb and flow throughout the film) every detail about Arthur Fleck is captured by Phoenix, not a single detail is left out of this performance.  It is absolutely Academy Award winning level.  Joaquin Phoenix absolutely deserves every ounce of recognition that he is getting for his work here.

That being said, outside of an Oscar caliber performance, the story left me lacking.  The film makers went on record saying this is not a comic book version of Joker.  They were also on record saying that this was not a political film.  Somewhere the communications must have been mixed up because this film is absolutely rife with political undertones.  Not only that, but Warner seemed to want its cake and eat it to.  They want this film to be a Joker story, with no ties to comics or other versions, but (we never spoil here at Moviie Couple) there are multiple connections to Batman (Through Bruce Wayne and his family) throughout this film.  The connections the film does strain to make actually hurt the narrative, by seemingly forcing this connective tissue that will leave any comic book fans scratching their heads on how this can possibly all add up (alternate version of Joker/Batman dynamic or not).  The film would have been much better off not mentioning Bruce or the Wayne family in any way at all.  Making this a true stand alone Joker film (as advertised) would have made for a better experience overall.   In truth, this film could have been a great movie about a man driven mad by a city and a system that cares not at all for the downtrodden and never mentioned Joker at all.  It would have made the same impact upon its conclusion.  It almost feels like dressing this film up as Joker could be seen as a marketing ploy and nothing more.

A final issue I have with this film was one of the glorification of Joker’s killings.  Nearly all of the killings perpetrated by Joker in this film were revenge killings.  From Joker’s first murders, a Bernie Goetz type subway shooting, and all the others throughout the film, the viewer sees all the victims ( in one shape or another) as if they deserve what is coming to them.  They are either preying on others (as in the subway) or have hurt/humiliated Arthur himself.  This Joker is not an agent of chaos, that kills to show that all life is a joke.  He has much more in common with Travis Bickle the protagonist of Taxi Driver than with the arch villain of The Batman.  This film wants you to see Joker/Arthur as a revolutionary, an unexpected leader of a revolution against a system rigged by the rich and privileged to keep down the poor and unseen.  Surely there is a good story to be mined with that subject, but it is not a good Joker story.  Joker here, comes across as very sympathetic and maybe even justified through some lenses.  The film never takes him into the realm of a monster.  In one scene between Arthur and Zazie Beetz’s character, we are left to guess if he committed a monsterous hideous act, but we are never shown whether it occurs or not.  It felt to me less like a creative decision and more one left out only to continue his sympathetic arc.

In conclusion, Phoenix gives a performance that is no Joke (see what I did there?).  His acting is on a whole different level here, but the films other choices, a sympathetic Joker, holding back on the actual killing scenes (Joker should be far more brutal) Fox TV Gotham type of connections to Batman and a revolutionary arc left me feeling this film failed on all levels other than the acting.  Thanks to the acting and a very accurate film recreation of 1970s NYC I will give Joker 3.5 Bills, but the story stops it from being great.

Mrs.Movie Couple:   This was not what I was expecting to see in a Joker movie.  Thanks to my many years of marriage to Mr. Moviie Couple  I knew a little about the Joker and what makes him tick.  After watching the trailer for this movie I was preparing myself for a very scary and violent time at the theatre.

-Joaquin Phoenix was amazing!!!  I hardly recognized him from the other movies I had seen him in and he was very creepy in a stalkerish way.

-The movie looked great!  Grainy and old, it purposely looked like a film coming out in the 1970’s not just one taking place during that time.  A nice touch.

-I found it to be a slow burn and I was bored more times than I thought I would be.  While not nearly as boring as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I did nearly doze off a few times.

-It told a good story about how the system set in place to help the mentally ill continues to fail those in need.  Unfortunately this is no better today than it was back in the 70’s.

-This Joker seemed to be more sad than scary.  He wasn’t the villain I had seen in movies outside of this one.  It seemed as if he could just get good treatment or keep his medication coming he would have just lived out a very sad life. Not a very terrifying Joker at all.
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-Definitely not a kids film.  Please parents DO NOT let your young teens go see this thinking its a comic book movie.  It is not a comic movie.  It actually could give young people with depression or some other undiagnosed mental illness some bad ideas.  Be very careful.  This film is for a MATURE audience.

-The supporting cast was good, especially Zazie Beetz and Robert De Niro, but they were hardly given much to do.

-I give Joker 2.5 Bills!  It was a depressing, slow story that really did not give me any thrills.  I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t excited, I just felt sad for the main character.  I’m not sure I should feel sad for Joker, but that’s all I took from the film.  I would never watch it again and can only recommend it for those wanting to see a fantastic acting job by Mr. Phoenix.  Thanks to his performance Joker gets the extra .5 without that it would be a solid 1 or 2 and a huge waste of time and money.

On the way home, We talked about Joker (or at least I did, Mrs. just listened).  I spoke about Joker in comics and how violent he can be, how he is portrayed as a monster comparatively to Batman’s hero.  Mrs. Moviie Couple simply said, “Well that was not the character we just watched”.  We both raved about the acting and how we felt it could have been a better film without any references to Joker or Batman at all.   A good film was in there, but all the baggage that comes along with the names Joker, Wayne and Gotham alters the perspective completely. Both of us were disappointed for different reasons.  My 3.5 Bills combined with her 2.5 Bills gives Joker an average of a solid 3 Bills!  A big MEH.  The acting is out of this world, but the story never rises to the level of the great performances in it.

So until next time, Smile and wave at any and all clowns you see working, you never know the true story behind the face paint.  They may just need a hug and a smile to feel a little better!  See you next time and remember “That’s Life”  Be sure to check our facebook page for a clue to our next movie up for review!  Mr. & Mrs. Moviie Couple out!

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War Dogs (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin

WAR DOGS

Director: Todd Phillips
Writers: Stephen Chin (screenplay), Todd Phillips (screenplay)
Stars: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Steve Lantz

War Dogs is the incredible real life story of Efrain Diveroli and David Packouz who were supplying arms and ammunition to the US military by the time they were 19 and 23, respectively. It’s perhaps more astonishing that the film, with it’s very serious subject-matter, can actually live up to its description as a comedy/drama. This is Wall Street in the Bush administration.

The Goodfellas of gun-running.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is in a cycle of mediocrity and failure. He’s a struggling entrepreneur and working as a masseuse when he meets his old friend Efrain (Jonah Hill) at a funeral. They reminisce about their exploits at school, getting into schemes and scrapes while high off their asses.

David learns that since they last saw each other Efrain has been doing very well supplying the military with equipment  in low-end contracts that none of the big arms dealers would concern themselves with. They’re squabbling over the pie and he feed “on the crumbs.” Efrain is savvy, fast talking and ambitious and David is in awe of him.

When David’s girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) tells him she’s pregnant he panics.

Efrain offers him a job but David has misgivings because of his and Iz’s stance against the war in Iraq. Efrain charms David into morally tap dancing his way around his beliefs, reasoning that someone will get rich out of this and it may as well be him. But he lies to Iz, telling her that one of his previous schemes has finally paid off and he’s secured a deal supplying linen to the army. In the middle fo all this is Kevin Pollack who plays Ralph, a devout Jew who believed it’s his responsibility to protect America and Israel by financially backing Efrain in his exploits with the military.

The boys enjoy success until David makes a mistake. Unaware of an Italian embargo on the sale of weapons to Iraq, David can’t fulfil his order for the Iraqi police, under the watchful eye of the US army. David and Efrain then smuggle the guns, unbeknownst to them, through the Triangle of Death.

They’re gaining a reputation for getting a job done when they land a $300 million contract for supplying AK-47 ammunition to the military. This is what has become to be known as the Afghan Deal.

They’re approached by the shady Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), a legend amongst arms dealers, who can supply the ammunition to them and when Efrain enquires why he isn’t doing this deal directly the boys learn that Girard is on a government terrorist watch list. Unperturbed, David and Efrain continue with the deal leading them to Albania where stockpiles of unused guns have ammunition have been sitting in warehouses since the Cold War, waiting on unscrupulous middle-men to make arms deals.

There is, however, a huge concern. Girard hasn’t let the boys know that the ammunition is Chinese, and since America has an embargo against China any potential deal with the US government would be illegal. Efrain has an idea to re-package the bullets using a local Albanian box company. He tells the Albanians it’s necessary to re-package the ammunition because the old containers are too heavy.

Efrain’s increasingly erratic mood swings jeopardise the deal. His drug use has escalated and he’s become dangerous and paranoid. He tells David he intends to shut Girard out of the deal by buying the bullets directly from the Albanian government. When David snaps at his friend’s insanely dangerous plan Efrain retaliates by informing Girard that the opposite is true – that David is the one who intends to betray Girard.

Everything finally unravels when David and Efrain finally fall out with the latter refusing to give his friend one penny from the deal. Furthermore, the FBI arrest both David and Efrain for fraud as it’s came to the attention of the government that the boys knew about the bullets being Chinese and that they deliberately tried to conceal this. It’s revealed that it was the owner of the box factory who tipped off the US government in retaliation for not being paid.

Jonah Hill’s performance is both hilarious and disturbing. Efrain is morally ambiguous and a social chameleon.

He will say anything to get what he wants. To Ralph he acts like the staunch Jew to curry his favour, to an army general in Baghdad a devout Christian to buy more time on a gun deal. Hill has already shown his potential for brilliance in The Wolf of Wall Street  and furthers his reputation as more than a comedy performer by his portrayal of Diveroli in War Dogs.

Miles Teller’s character is, ultimately, likeable. He lies to his girlfriend about his job and the danger he’s in but it’s a sympathetic performance by Teller. He narrates throughout the film, always telling you his perspective and winning you over with reason.

Todd Phillips has not-so-much departed radically from Old School and the Hangover trilogy as incorporated his comedic background into a pretty bleak and tense set of circumstances.

It’s no mean feat, but it doesn’t exactly pay off. Scarface is oft-quoted throughout War Dogs and, with a darker tone, this film could have potentially tapped into that claustrophobic and paranoid feel. Still, it’s a very enjoyable movie with a killer soundtrack and memorable performances.