There’s little doubt that Todd Phillips has moved to a better neighborhood. He’s no longer directing raunchy comedies. With “Joker” Phillips has moved on to serious films.
Actually Phillips always displayed a great sense of visual style in “The Hangover” films, which for better or worse was a “Porky’s” universe reimagined with better looking actors. For my money Phillips’ 2010 “Due Date” ranks amongst the best buddy comedies of the new millennium.
If you want to dig deep check out Phillips’ pioneering 1993 documentary on suicidal punk rocker G. G. Allin, as well as his banned HBO doc on fraternities.
Phillips achieves his unique look by mixing wide shots with close-ups that shift with the script’s emotional momentum.
Why make another series of film about guys in their underwear going through identity crisis when you can make a film that skewers topical political issues and a dead serious portrait of psychopathic behavior, with a little skull bashing violence thrown in for good measure?
While the spirit of Martin Scorsese doesn’t overshadow the film it’s obvious that films like “Taxi Driver” and “King of Comedy” weigh heavily in the tonality of the story. The occasional outbursts of violence are R-rated so don’t wander in thinking you’re signed up for a joy ride.
Joaquin Phoenix perfects his chuckle. It’s a laugh predicated by a Tourette’s syndrome tendency to laugh maniacally mixed with childhood trauma.
If anything Warner Brothers should be given accolades for having the cojones to release an uncompromising movie that offers up the kind of depression laden characters that populate indie cinema. There’s so much self-loathing on display from Phoenix, and other characters, that the actual concept that this is a distant part of the Batman universe hardly crosses your mind.
Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a bastard child raised by a well-meaning but equally damaged mother (Frances Conroy) herself in a state of somnolent consciousness throughout the movie.
Arthur’s goal is to be a stand-up comedian and he gets his chance to appear on the Murray Franklin television show. Franklin comes to life in a turn by Robert De Niro that shows his ability to elicit charm and menace from glance to glance. Brett Cullen gets in some memorable yet brief screen time as Thomas Wayne, who holds a key to Arthur’s identity.
Bill Camp and Shea Whigham pop up as detectives hot on the trail of Fleck, only they don’t realize how manipulative he has become.
There’s a brief love interest between Arthur and his neighbor Sophie (an expressive Zazie Beetz) that could at one point be his saving grace. But you eventually realize from the distorted narrative that all of Arthur’s memories are mostly delusions mixed with reality.
By the end of the film you feel like you’re on a suicide mission to rid the world of hypocritical media sponsored double speak.
“Joker” lampoons television conventions and social dysfunction to such an extent you slowly realize the film takes place in a pre-cell phone and pre-internet reality. Don’t expect a comforting solution to “Joker” so much as a reminder of where society exists today.
“Jim Allison: Breakthrough” unwinds exclusively at the Landmark River Oaks Theatre starting this weekend.
The documentary offers no superlative visuals relying instead on talking head clips and archival footage to tell the story of a man who advanced cancer treatment from the dark ages to the present day.
Whether jamming with Willie Nelson, whom Allison met while a student at UT Austin back in the cosmic cowboy days, to winning a Nobel Prize in Medicine, Allison’s life is a model of discipline and dedication.
The spine of the movie explains how big pharma makes it so difficult to test and approve cancer medicine.
Allison, who works at M.D. Anderson as executive director of the immunotherapy platform, will appear at the River Oaks for a Q&A during the Saturday, October 5 screening at 4:30 and 7 pm.