Who’s the Joker now?

Joker has evoked tons of media coverage and criticism, those flames fanned when Joaquin Phoenix stated that a movie is not responsible for teaching right and wrong. He’s right. A Times writer felt he needed to explain how the movie accidentally makes a big statement about being a white anti-hero vs. a black one. There’s truth in what he’s saying, but so what — you could write that about any movie with a white male lead.

So yes, it’s annoying that critics have to complain about the perceived social ills of Joker. Because it’s a good movie. And, in fact, something that it would seem only I am saying is the societal impact is exactly the opposite of its criticism. Joker does a great service by showing what a plain old revolver can inflict on the flesh and bone of a human being.  All the do-gooders out there should be more concerned about a fake war movie that shows a bazooka hitting a vehicle A-Team style, causing it to flip over but then everyone exits unscathed. Or lame superhero/Fast & Furious movies in which no one ever gets hurt.

JOKER PROVIDES A GREAT SERVICE TO SOCIETY

Joker contains something much better than all the societal messages the critics wish it did: grand cinematic vision. The story is not the strongest I’ve ever seen by a long shot, so I did not love the movie. But I dug it. It’s entertaining. And just like a Lynch film, or any film, it needs to be judged by what it is, not what it is not.

And if you’re concerned about gun violence, there’s a simple solution: make guns a lot harder to obtain.

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Two big positives: Joker features a great look and setting, perhaps my favorite “Gotham City” yet.  And, best of all, a perfectly-cast Joaquin Phoenix. He delivers a spirited performance in a role he was meant to play. Joaquin Phoenix is, like Ryan Gosling, an actor who’s always fascinating to watch. There’s something always under the surface that you just can’t quite figure. A character that moves in unexpected and explosive ways. And it’s nice to see him getting paid… a stalwart indie/small film actor for years and years who finally got to see a payday.

You wouldn’t guess this is Todd Phillips, the same director as Due Date and The Hangover franchise. I don’t think the direction is utter genius, but’s it’s good and a league above The Hangover. There’s a sense throughout that we’re doing something different here. This is not just another comic book movie. Hardly.

About on par with last year’s Upgrade and a peg or two below Midsommar; on the low end of 8/10

Comparison Notes: Taxi Driver, all Batman movies, Streets of Fire, Natural Born Killers, Gorky Park, Punch-Drunk Love, The Master (which I definitely need to revisit at some point – every time I think of it my opinion rises.)

Film Brief: Wonder Woman

Credit Apple TV marketing for finally pushing me to see the biggest movie of the year.

What I do is not up to you.

There are nice bits of Wonder Woman that absolutely soar.  But…

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Perhaps my biggest problem with superhero movies is they all end exactly the same.  Wonder Woman is no different, which is too bad — because otherwise I found myself having a good time.  I didn’t even mind the beginning non-titles (see posts on Les Miz, Selma, and the upcoming one for Logan Lucky.)

Two trailers included below. This movie is growing on me, but for now my original evaluation: 6/10

Notes on Captain America: The Winter Soldier (3D)

It’s pretty simple: if you like these kind of movies, you will like this one.  If you are as bored with the latter-era comic-book superhero genre as I am, you won’t.  It’s not that I don’t like superhero-action movies, but I am finding most of these movies to be re-treads of one another.  And it doesn’t help when you know that no matter how bad things get, your hero and their core entourage will always survive.

Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans

Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans

Nonetheless, I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier  — for about the first half.  I found it dramatic enough, and entertaining, and I particularly liked the women in it: Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, and Emily VanCamp.  But the second half degenerates into trite, formulaic action movie sequences.  The whole secret organization-within-a-secret organization idea is tired, and why do big action films so often feel that they need to lay forth some supposedly high-minded moralistic message?  Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times:

For what is frustrating about this “Captain America” is that it’s saddled with the defects of its virtues. It’s a product of the highest quality, but at the end of the day that’s what it is: a machine-made, assembly-line product whose strengths tend to feel like items checked off a master list rather than being the result of any kind of individual creative touch. “Captain America” is everything a big budget superhero film should be — except inspired.

Yep.  5/10

Watch Watchmen?

I had mixed feelings about Watchmen (2009).  At 162 mins., it’s draggy here and there and overall not the greatest success.  But it has a number of good sequences and cool visuals, and I dig its vibe.  Especially fun is the intro credit sequence.  As far as the spate of comic-book movies goes, you could do a lot worse: Watchmen was better than last year’s The Avengers, and I think it captures more of the pure essence of the Batman comic books than the recent, overrated Christian Bale triptych itself does.

Time’s Richard Corliss wrote:

Both admirable for and cramped by its fidelity to the Moore vision, this ambitious picture is a thing of bits and pieces.  Yes, the bits are glorious, the pieces magnificent. Still, this Watchmen is more like a swatch-man.

It’s been too long for me to provide a numerical rating, but I give Watchmen a qualified recommendation: watch the preview first.  If it appeals to you and you like the genre, go for it and settle in for a long one.