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Archive for October, 2019

There is a line in Tim Burtons 1989 incarnation of Batman where Batman tells Joker “I made you, you made me first”.  This is one of the clearest examples in movies of how the characters need each other.  Without an adversary, they are just mad men in costumes, they give each other purpose, and giver the films a narrative.  Jack Napier as the person who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, then later became the Joker is an invention of the Movie. The symbiotic nature of the Batman/Joker relationship is perfect; as is the Heath Ledger incarnation in The Dark Knight (2008).  We don’t know the origin of this version of the character, he tells just appears fully formed as a character.  At various points in the film, Joke tells different, conflicting stories about the scars on his face.  When arrested,  Gordon describes  what they know about him, nothing! “No matches on prints, DNA, dental. Clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No name. No other alias.”

By the this point, there are so many Joker origin stories, who knows what is or isn’t canon.  In his comic books, the character was created in the 1940’s by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson (who is mainly responsible has been disputed).  Starting life as a criminal mastermind, intended for a single issue, he became a mainstay.  As the Comics Code Authority came into effect in the 1950’s be became less of a psychopath, and more of a prankster, before returning to darker roots in the 70’s and 80’s.  The idea of Joker as a failed comedian came from Alan Moore’s seminal The Killing Joke (2008).The Killing Joke

The One thing, they all have in common, is Batman.  Even when Joke is the focus of the story, his nemesis Batman is there, until now!  This new incarnation director Todd Phillips (who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver), is Batman free, we do see a young Bruce Wayne, and yet another death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, but no man dressed as a bat.  This is cleary a story without Batman, and it wouldn’t work with Batman.  Joker would be a different character, and the film would be very different with Batman.  The Martin Scorsese inspiration is clear, particularly Taxi Driver (1976), and The King of Comedy (1983), this gives a more gritty reality than we have ever seen in a movie of this type, even Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.  The echoes of  Rupert Pupkin we see it the character of Arthur Fleck are emphasised by the inclusion of Robert De Niro who appears in Joker in what is essentially the Jerry Lewis role from The King of Comedy.

By the time I had seen the film, it had something of a critical rollercoaster; winning the Golden Lion  and Graffetta d’Oro Venice Film Festival, and a series of four and five star reviews were followed by a backlash of its portrayal of mental illness, and a sympathetic portrayal of a homicidal maniac. There was then a backlash against the backlash.  Whatever your thoughts on the film, there are two things that are hard to argue: Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic as Arthur Fleck, and the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is sensational.  Ultimately I think the film is really good, but not excellent, I can’t help thinking those who love it are blinded by how different it is to a typical DC movie, and those that don’t like it are concerned by the controversy, or sniffy about its comic book origins. Joker

As to the question, Can there be a Joker without Batman? that is something history will tell us.  The film is intended as a standalone story.  As this it works, and as a viewer, we can see a world in which a character like Batman could exist, we are seeing a cities decent into the crime ridden place we have seen in other Batman movies.  We see Jokers decent into madness, and his total disconnection with reality, but we don’t see a fully formed criminal mastermind.  This is where it needs to be left, lefty for the viewers imagination.  If however, the studio decide to catch in (at the time of publishing the world Box-office had topped $770million) it will dilute the story and have a negative impact on the original film.  Indications they are that Warner Bros intend leave Joker as a single film,  but will “launch DC Black” a series standalone films with a darker tone, based on DC Comics but not related to the DCEU. To put it another way, Joker as a character can work without Batman, but the film Joker can ONLY work without Batman, and not as a precurser to a Batman Movie.  

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State of the Union is posibly the most sublime television I have seen in years.  Ten, ten minute episodes, each depicting a couple (Rosamund Pike & Chris O’Dowd) meeting in a pub before visiting a marriage counsellor.  Such short episodes requires a snappy and concise dialogue and direction, this is provided by writer/creator Nick Hornby, and director Stephen Frears.  They are as much the stars as Pike and O’Dowd.   Is it a comedy drama about people and relationships, or a metaphor for brexit? Probably both!  Rather than attempt to review the show, I will simply recommend you watch it.State of the union

Here is a quick look at the talent involved:

I first saw Rosamund Pike in Die Another Day (2002), and was less than impressed.  I found her performance wooden, in a truly terrible film.  By the end of the decade my opinion had totally changed culminating in a fantastic supporting performance in Made in Dagenham (2010).  Excellent in everything she has done in the past decade, highlights include Gone Girl (2014), and A Private War (2018).Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd

Chris O’Dowd, on the other hand is a funny and compelling comedian, but limited actor, he shone in the TV show The IT Crowd (2006-2013).  He has since forged a film career in movies, starting with Bridesmaids (2011), playing largely the same character, but playing it really well!  Last year he appeared in Juliet, Naked based on a novel by Nick Hornby.

Having read Fever Pitch in the early 90’s, I have followed Nick Hornby through books and movies for three decades, the highlights for me being Fever Pitch and High Fidelity.  He has also written directly for the screen, and adapted other peoples books, including two excellent recent movies: Wild (2014) and Brooklyn (2015)stephen frears and nick hornby

Stephen Frears has bed directing movies since the 60’s with highlights including: Dangerous Liaisons (1988), High Fidelity (1998), Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

State of the Union was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, winning all three: Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, Outstanding Actor in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series (Chris O’Dowd), Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series (Rosamund Pike).

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Moving house has taken up a lot of time and curtailed my cinema-going this month.  A lack of internet access has also resulted in my leanest month of blogging, this is my first post since last months Movie of the Month.  Fortunately, I am back online, and all but one of the movies this month were really good:   

Fleabag: NT Live – Not actually a movie, but my first NT Live experience.  Phoebe Waller-Bridge returns to the origin of the hit TV Show, a one woman stage show.  Waller-Bridge is sensational, and it lends a great prospective to the TV show. NT LIVE_ FLEABAG

Hustlers – Based on a New York magazine article, writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s movie has come out of nowhere to be one of the most significant films of the year.     If there is a reverse version of Bechdel Test, this film would not pass it, and is all the better for it.  Constance Wu gets top billing, and is great, but this is Jennifer Lopez’s film reminding us of the promise shown in Out of Sight (1998).Hustlers

Rambo: Last Blood – With Rocky Balboa (2006), and Creed (2015), Sylvester Stallone has proved that there is life in his old franchises.  Sadly, Last Blood drops the ball.  Around a decade after the events of Rambo (2008), John Rambo seems to be living a happy life, living with a makeshift family, and running his late father’s ranch.  Given Stallone’s age, 73 this would be a great opportunity to make something akin to Gran Torino (2008) (made when Clint Eastwood was 78).  As it happens, we get a nasty rehash of the things we have seen a million times before.  The action isn’t bad, but the story is terrible. rambo-last-blood

Ad Astra – Brad Pitt plays an emotionally detached Astronaut living in the shadow of his father, Tommy Lee Jones who disappeared while looking for intelligent life.  What is essentially Heart of Darkness in space, looks amazing, but is ultimately is a little dull, with a few scenes that feel like they belong in a different film.  What should be a subtle subtext, comes across as a sledgehammer that we are hit with throughout the film.Ad Astra

Ready or Not – A new bride must play a game before being accepted by her husband’s family.  Comedy horror is the narrowest of tightropes, but when it works, it really works.  Ready or Not really works, thanks to an unflinching script, plenty of gore, and some great performances; but most importantly plenty of funny moments. Andie MacDowell and Adam Brody have fun in supporting roles, Samara Weaving has a bright future.ready or not

I sometimes give movie of the month to the best film of the month, other times I go for the one that is the most pleasantly surprising, Hustlers wins on both counts.Hustlers Movie Poster 

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