Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Joker (2019)

Image is property of DC Films and Warner Bros Pictures

Joker  – Film Review

By Aiden Mills

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry

Director: Todd Phillips 

Synopsis: Struggling comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) finds himself rock bottom and ostracised from society until a series of violent incidents leads him to find a new purpose in life.

Review: When the news came out that DC and Warner Bros were making a standalone Joker film with Todd Phillips at the helm, the red flags started waving. Even when news that Scorsese was on-board as Producer and the phenomenal Joaquin Phoenix was cast as the infamous villain, doubts still lingered in the minds of DC fans. Since Heath Ledger’s much loved portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, could anyone go some way to matching that iconic performance? Well, rest assured, they have.

Joker starts with struggling comedian Arthur Fleck looking at himself in the mirror and forcing himself to smile, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Hunched over, and with a body shape reminiscent of Christian Bale in The Machinist, we know from the very get go that this is a man on the outskirts of society, no more than a cockroach living in the shadows. A man metaphorically and literally beaten down by the world around him, before a series of violent events leads him to fall into a cocoon of insanity before emerging as the villain we all know and love dancing and prancing through the streets of Gotham City, a crazy butterfly. While this is for all intents and purposes an “origin story,” it is more of a character study as well as a test to the audience. Specifically, how far can this guy go before our empathy runs out?

The world Phillips builds is phenomenal. With the use of a moody and ominous soundtrack, a vibrant use of neon lighting and a gloomy filter, he manages to seamlessly blend Scorsese’s New York with Tim Burton’s Gotham- the perfect stomping ground for Phoenix’s Joker. The Gotham we see in Joker is one on the verge of eruption, unemployment and poverty is on the rise along with crime and corruption. Garbage litters the streets and to top it all off super rats are running wild. The people are angry and are out for justice and are quick to direct their anger at the rich one percent who run Gotham.  Arthur is a product of these hostile societies, a person on the brink who is ostracised and isolated from everyone around him and left alone with his negative thoughts. He idolises Talk Show Host, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) and sees him as the father figure he never had.

If a laugh could say a thousand words that would be Phoenix’s. At times it carries a great measure of pain and angst which is being bellowed out, at others, like a true psychopath. It is empty, hollow, and like the noise a hyena makes, almost a reflex. Phoenix is truly a behemoth to hold as he gives a breathtaking performance, one of which just holds your attention at every frame. In some ways this is an end to his “Lonely Man Trilogy” (Her, The Master) and perhaps his best iteration. Phoenix does a masterful job in making a complex character and creates a myriad of feelings from the audience.  To compare Phoenix to Ledger however would be a disservice to both actors, Arthur is a completely different Joker to the one in The Dark Knight and both give completely different powerhouse performances.

Recently this film has come under scrutiny for its use of violence and focus in on a traditional villain, but Phoenix says it best, the film cannot be accountable for the moralities of the people who watch it.  If it is championed by the “incels” and violent males as an anthem, we should look at the society who breeds these people as opposed to a film that condemns it. If the take away is that Arthur is the hero of this story, you would have completely missed the point of the film.

Joker seamlessly blends some of the classic films of the 70s/80s with comic culture in a truly breathtaking and emotionally challenging film. It’s a character study on a complex and troubled individual delivered by a beautifully nuanced performance from Phoenix. Joker puts its foot on your throat from the very start and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Gladiator (2000)

gladiator-movie-poster
Image is property of Universal Pictures, Scott Free Productions and Red Wagon Entertainment

Gladiator – Film Review

Cast: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Richard Harris, Derek Jacobi

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: Popular Roman GeneralMaximus Decimus Meridius is betrayed by the elderly Emperor’s corrupt son, who seizes power for himself. Having lost everything, Maximus, becomes a gladiator, determined to get revenge.

Review: Whenever you learnt about history, be it at school or university, odds are good that you would have learnt about the Romans and their considerable Empire. Their presence in history is certainly vast and indeed the impact they have on the world today equally so. As such, many film-makers have taken the task of representing the Roman Empire in film. 1959’s Ben-Hur or 1960’s Spartacus certainly come to mind, but no movie has arguably come quite as close as capturing Ancient Rome in all its glory quite as well as Ridley Scott in Gladiator. 

It is 180 AD and Maximus (Russell Crowe) is leading the Roman Army in a battle against the “barbarians” of Germania. All goes swimmingly and the general has the affection of the elderly emperor Marcus Aurelius. Unfortunately he does not share this love for his legitimate son Commodus, which does not end well for all parties. In committing his treason, the usurper must dispense with Maximus and his family. This plan goes somewhat awry but not before Maximus can save his family from a brutal fate. Furious with grief and anger over the murder of his Emperor and family, the fallen General sets out on a path of vengeance, against the corrupt Commodus, determined to bring justice on all those who wronged him.

Scott is a director who made his name with science fiction, but he captures Ancient Rome in all its glory perfectly. Everything looks perfect right down to every detail. The costumes, the production design and sets all look exceptional, with extras aplenty, one can only imagine the sheer amount of work that must have gone into the detail. Of course there is CGI, being used for the Colusseum scenes, but the wow factor is not diminished in the slightest. The movie scooped the Oscar for Best Costume Design among others including Best Picture, and very well deserved ones at that, as well as nominations for art and set decoration.

Of course the attention to detail would have been nothing without a compelling story, which we most certainly have courtesy of the screenplay by David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson. The screenplay fuses perfectly the intense battle scenes with the behind the scenes political manoeuvring. From the very first battle onwards, the story is gripping, from a very climatic opening battle to some scenes with some very personal, emotional moments between these characters. Russell Crowe completely shone as the lead Maximus, he’s a loyal man, to his emperor and to his family, and a brilliant soldier. Strength and Honour are two words that absolutely define him. So when he becomes a gladiator, that compassion is gone, replaced by a ferocious hatred against those who committed horrific acts against those closest to him, but his honour remains absolute. Joaquin Phoenix is also on great form as the slimy, cold Commodus who has an alarming desire to sleep with his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen). The late Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius and Oliver Reed as Proximo also both deliver excellent performances in what is an outstanding cast.

There are more than a few superb action scenes packed into the movie’s run time. Scott helms these scenes excellently, and you have battles of all sorts, including a battle with chariots and in one instance, tigers. The action is edited superbly well and the scenes are completely gripping to watch from the scenes in a Roman Province right to the superbly recreated Gladitorial battles that take place in the Colessuem. Russell Crowe certainly showed his action chops in these scenes, and he delivered a career defining performance in this role, that won him a well deserved Oscar. In addition, with an immortal line of dialogue when faced against the treacherous Commodus will go down as one of the best lines of dialogue in any movie, ever, Maximus can certainly lay claim to being one of the best movie characters of the 2000s.

A brilliant historical spectacle, fused with fictitious elements.  Superb action and a career defining performance from Crowe, Gladiator can certainly lay claim to one of Scott’s best ever movies. 

Rating: A+