There has not been in recent memory an actor who has so thoroughly projected such a gut-wrenching mixture of despair, confusion, terror, and, yes, insanity, within the first moments of appearing on …
There has not been in recent memory an actor who has so thoroughly projected such a gut-wrenching mixture of despair, confusion, terror, and, yes, insanity, within the first moments of appearing on screen. And, while many will compare this performance as The Joker to Heath Ledger’s (sorry, Jared Leto), the two are in completely different leagues.
Joaquin Phoenix stands alone as the one actor who could pull off this version with so searing, and yet, pitiful volatility.
Interesting too is that director Todd Phillips, who brought to the screen edge-of-transgressive comedies such as the three “Hangover” movies along with “Road Trip” and “Due Date,” rolls out a DC Comics origin story that turns funny ha-ha into funny-strange.
In a media report, he blamed the #metoo movement for destroying cringe-worthy comedy like the aforementioned by making filmmakers afraid to offend their audiences. But, as far as reaction, it’s one that actually expands upon a theme. He’s taken the very concept of comedy to its uneasy limits, turning it into an artist’s weapon of choice. His “Joker” is that razor-sharp blade, cutting to the core and slashing with demented laughter.
Phoenix plays a downtrodden soul named Arthur Fleck, a man suffering from an emotional condition that sometimes makes him laugh hysterically at inappropriate moments. He even has a card he carries around to give to people made uncomfortable by his bizarre outbursts, in order to put them at ease. But, that’s not the only cross he has to carry.
Set in 1981, the setting is Gotham City, but what’s happening there is akin to the 1968 New York City Garbage Strike. Trash is piled high along every street. “Super rats,” as the media calls them, scurry here and there. It’s a city painted in hues of gray and black. Crime is rampant. There is no Batman. Yet. And, Arthur is a clown.
It’s his only job, and the income he makes goes toward taking care of his invalid mother (Frances Conroy). “My mother always tells me to smile and put on a happy face. She told me I had a purpose: to bring laughter and joy to the world,” he says at one point. But, the job sucks, even though he gets to don makeup, an orange wig, and big floppy shoes. Arthur also sees a social services therapist, assigned because he spent a number of years in a mental hospital. He is clearly unwell, and when a series of sad mishaps occur, Arthur becomes a ticking time bomb.
Phillips’ film will not be understood by anyone walking into it with a preconception that this is conventional comic book movie fare. Although it includes some references to the graphic novel, “Batman: The Killing Joke” and even a touch of Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver,” it stands alone. It is rough, gritty, distressing and at turns incredibly poignant. His film looks at the origins of one of DC’s most complex villains and clears the room. Standing alone in the middle of that room is Joaquin Phoenix, having crafted the kind of character so far removed from Cesar Romero in the old TV show into a creation raging out of a canvas by Hieronymous Bosch. He is Pagliacci on acid.
This is a brilliant performance in a masterpiece of a film.
This film co-stars Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beets, Shea Whigam, Bill Camp, Brett Cullen, and Glenn Fleshler.
Tempo grade: A
“Joker” is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.
It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For showtimes, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.
Also showing in Taos.
David Crosby: Remember My Name
MPAA rating: R for language, drug material and brief nudity.
Taos Community Auditorium
This revealing and deeply personal documentary from director A.J. Eaton explores the life and creative renaissance of music icon David Crosby.
A cultural force for over 50 years, Crosby faced uncertain future after the 2015 dissolution of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Racked with health issues and personal obstacles, Crosby forged a new path at the age of 77.
Seeking out younger musicians and recording a pair of critically-praised new albums, Crosby now sets out to make a mark in a world now so different from the generation he came to define in the 60s. With unflinching honesty, self-examination, regret, fear, exuberance and an unshakable belief in family and the transformative nature of music, Crosby shares his often-challenging journey with humor and bite.
You thought you knew him. Meet David Crosby now in this portrait of a man still tilting against every windmill, with everything but an easy retirement on his mind. This inspirational story, filled with music, will speak to loyal fans, and legions of new ones.
Features appearances by Jackson Browne, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Neil Young, Roger McGuin, and filmmaker (and producer) Cameron Crowe.
This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 6) and 7 p.m. Monday through
Wednesday (Oct. 7-9) at the Taos Cmmunity Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.
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