Joker Movie Review

When Batman ruled the summer three decades ago, Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader was deemed too dark by some. That seems quaint now with the harder edged comic book adaptations that have come our way recently and it especially applies to Joker. This stand-alone origin pic from Todd Phillips wears its influences overtly with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver being the most obvious. It’s a grim tale focused on mental health in which Joaquin Phoenix dominates every frame of celluloid he’s in and that’s pretty much every moment. Much of the time, we are simply waiting for his character to snap. The tension is palpable as his involuntary cackles providing the soundtrack. Heath Ledger might still be the best Joker, but this film has the most Joker. And Phoenix runs a somewhat close second.

It’s 1981 in a gamy Gotham City and Arthur Fleck is a clown for hire with hopes of becoming a stand-up. He gets a load of meds from the government that don’t seem to stem the tide of a slow boiling rage (with a makeup infused smile, of course). He dreams of killing it (in the humorous sense) on a national talk show hosted by Robert De Niro’s Murray Franklin. Arthur watches the show with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), whose screws may also not be fully tightened. And there’s a fledgling romance with a single mom (Zazie Beetz) whose apartment inhabits the same floor of a dingy high rise.

Joker is centered on classism almost as much as Arthur’s derangements. Among our central character’s first criminal acts involves a trio of WASPy Wayne Enterprise employees. This is just as billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is exploring a Mayoral run and the eventual Bat Dad might have some surprising connections to the eventual Bat nemesis. Some have accused Joker of romanticizing the man. I didn’t see it that way, but there’s certainly a sense of the have nots sticking it to the haves.

We have grown accustomed to high tech and CGI infused violence in this genre. Not here. The bloodshed is sudden, in your face, and occasionally shocking. Just like in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Phoenix undergoes a metamorphosis by losing a ton of weight. Arthur looks as sick as his mind is. Like Ledger in The Dark Knight, it’s hard to take your eyes off him as he dances, laughs in a disturbing elevated pitch, and heads toward the breakdown. This is Joaquin Phoenix’s demented sandbox to play in and I dug the opportunity to witness this darkness without a dawn in its sights.

***1/2 (out of four)

Joker Box Office Prediction

Opening wide in theaters amidst controversy regarding its violence and fresh off a surprise Golden Lion victory at the Venice Film Festival, Joker is unleashed next weekend. Donning the makeup once worn by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto, this stand-alone and hard R rated DC Universe pic casts Joaquin Phoenix in the title role as Batman’s most legendary villain. And like Ledger before him in The Dark Knight, our multiple Oscar nominee here is garnering Oscar buzz for his work. Todd Phillips (best known for the Hangover trilogy) handles directorial duties with a supporting cast including Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Marc Maron, and Bill Camp.

As mentioned, Joker made quite a splash overseas when it premiered in Venice. Critics have mostly been on board and it sits at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s awards chatter and an equal amount of ink about its potential adverse influence on audiences. This is certainly not a picture flying under the radar. No other movie studio chose to open anything against this Warner Bros potential juggernaut.

Forecasts range all the way up to $100 million or over with most below that mark. In order to set the all-time October opening record, this will need to set one achieved just last year with Venom ($80.2 million). It should have no issue representing a personal best for Phoenix, which is 2002’s Signs at $60 million. As for Phillips, his highest start is The Hangover Part II at $85.9 million.

I believe all the buzz surrounding this (both positive and negative) could propel Joker to a record setting weekend on all fronts mentioned.

Joker opening weekend prediction: $89.6 million

Oscar Watch: Joker

Comic book movies arrive in quick order these days, but not many draw comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Such is the case with Joker, the breathlessly anticipated stand-alone DC Universe title featuring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. It has premiered at Venice Film Festival ahead of its October 4 stateside release. Early critical reaction portrays this as a grim, sometimes terrifying, and often brilliant experience. And Phoenix’s work is being called masterful.

You’ll recall that it was just over a decade ago that Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar in The Dark Knight as the same iconic villain. Based on word from Venice, there seems to be a strong possibility that Phoenix will receive his fourth nod for his acting (Supporting for Gladiator, lead in Walk the Line and The Master). Even with a high profile costar like Robert De Niro, I suspect all the acting chatter will be directed to the head clown.

Joker could prove to be a massive box office success and that might increase its chances for a Picture nod, direction for Todd Phillips, and the Adapted Screenplay. Bottom line: don’t be surprised if Phoenix becomes the second actor to get Oscar love for this character. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The 2019 Oscar Season Cometh

As the summer season winds down, the movie industry and this blog’s attention will soon turn to the Oscar race. And if you think it’s too early to do that, consider that less than a month from now – an avalanche of Academy hopefuls will be unveiled at film festivals. Toronto, Venice, Telluride, and the New York festivals are on deck. The programmers behind those events have already released the names of many of the pictures premiering. Here are some of the pictures wishing for Oscar glory that are hitting the circuit:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks is iconic children’s host Mr. Rogers in director Marielle Heller’s follow-up to last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which nabbed nods for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. Premiering at Toronto.

Ad Astra

James Gray has made multiple critical darlings, but has yet to pop up on the awards circuit radar screen. Could this sci fi drama with Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones change that? Premiering at Venice.

An Officer and a Spy

It will need serious acclaim to overcome the baggage that comes from its maker Roman Polanski, but this historical thriller will attempt to do so in Venice.

Dolemite Is My Name

Prior to its anticipated Netflix launch, Craig Brewer’s biopic of comedian Rudy Ray Moore portrayed by legendary comic Eddie Murphy will bow at Toronto.

Ema

Pablo Larrain has had his pics No and Jackie attract awards nods and this Chilean drama hopes to follow suit. Premiering at Venice.

Ford v Ferrari

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in James Mangold’s 1960s set tale of the flashy automotive industry. Premiering at Toronto.

Harriet

Cynthia Erica was a breakout in last year’s Widows. This year she has an Academy baity role as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in this historical epic from Kasi Lemmons. Premiering at Toronto.

Jojo Rabbit

This concoction from Taika Waititi is set during WWII with a dark comedic premise finding a young child with an imaginary friend who happens to be Hitler. The filmmaker himself plays Hitler. Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell are among the cast.

Joker

Heath Ledger won a posthumous gold statue as the comic book villain in The Dark Knight. Joaquin Phoenix will attempt the same here. Premiering at Venice.

Judy

It’s been awhile since Renee Zellweger had a role receiving awards buzz. This biopic of Judy Garland could alter that. Premiering at Toronto.

Just Mercy

This drama about a falsely accused prisoner features Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson. Premiering at Toronto.

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s murder mystery has a sprawling cast of hopefuls including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon. Premiering at Toronto.

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach is a favorite of the critical community. This drama is headlined by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver and hits Venice and other fests before its Netflix premiere.

The Goldfinch

Brooklyn director John Crowley adapts this drama based on a well-known 2013 novel. The cast includes Nicole Kidman and Oakes Fegley. Premiering at Toronto.

The Irishman

Rightly kicking off the New York Festival, Martin Scorsese directs this gangster saga starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

The Laundromat

Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh directs this dramatic thriller with Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas. Premiering at Venice.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Lion nominee Dev Patel is the Charles Dickens character with a supporting cast including Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie. Premiering at Toronto.

The Two Popes

Jonathan Pryce is Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict in this Netflix effort from director Fernando Meirelles. Premiering at Toronto.

Followers of this blog know that I’ll do Oscar Watch posts on each of these and many others as they screen in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

 

Best Supporting Actor: A Look Back

Continuing on with my look back at the major categories from 1990 to the present at the Oscars, we arrive at Best Supporting Actor! If you missed my post regarding Supporting Actress, you can find it right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with that blog entry, I’m picking the top 3 least surprising winners (performers who essentially sailed right through awards season) and the 3 biggest upsets in each race. I am also selecting the strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the 28 actors whose support earned them a golden statue:

1990 – Joe Pesci, GoodFellas

1991 – Jack Palance, City Slickers

1992 – Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

1993 – Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

1994 – Martin Landau, Ed Wood

1995 – Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

1996 – Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

1997 – Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

1998 – James Coburn, Affliction

1999 – Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

2000 – Benicio del Toro, Traffic

2001 – Jim Broadbent, Iris

2002 – Chris Cooper, Adaptation

2003 – Tim Robbins, Mystic River

2004 – Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – George Clooney, Syriana

2006 – Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

2007 – Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

2008 – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

2009 – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

2010 – Christian Bale, The Fighter

2011 – Christopher Plummer, Beginners

2012 – Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

2013 – Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

2015 – Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

2016 – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

2017 – Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

There are plenty to choose from as far least surprising winners, but here’s my top ones:

3. Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s Western picked up a slew of awards on Oscar night and Hackman’s inclusion in that race was never really in doubt. It was his second statue after winning Best Actor 21 years previously for The French Connection.

2. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

It was director Christopher Nolan giving numerous awards speeches on behalf of the late Ledger, as his work playing the iconic villain swept all precursors as well. This remains not only the only win in the omnipresent superhero genre in the 21st century, but the only nomination.

1. Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Like Ledger, Bardem created a bad guy for the ages in the Coen Brothers Oscar-winning picture. He picked up all the precursors as well for his role.

And now the upsets!

3. James Coburn, Affliction

There was clearly no front-runner in 1998 as a different actor was honored in each preceding awards show. Ed Harris took the Golden Globe for The Truman Show, Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan) was victorious at the Critics Choice Awards, Robert Duvall’s role in A Civil Action was honored at SAG, and Geoffrey Rush (Elizabeth) was the BAFTA recipient. Surely one of them would win the Oscar, but it instead went to Mr. Coburn.

2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

In 2015, the general consensus was that Sylvester Stallone would punch out the competition in his signature role for Creed. That would have been quite a feat after Rocky took Best Picture in 1976 – nearly four decades prior. Yet it didn’t materialize when Rylance made the trip to the podium.

1. Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

Along the same lines, Eddie Murphy was the strong favorite for his rare dramatic work in Dreamgirls. With Jennifer Hudson as a sure thing for Supporting Actress (which did happen), the musical looked safe for a supporting sweep. The Academy surprisingly went another route by honoring Arkin.

And now to the fields overall and choosing a strongest and weakest. For the least impressive of the bunch, I’m going with 2011. Here were the nominees:

Christopher Plummer, Beginners (winner)

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When it comes to best overall field, I chose 1993. This is the year that Tommy Lee Jones got the gold in The Fugitive. That’s a rare acting win for an action flick. It was deserved in my view and the other four nominees were very strong as well. They were:

Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

Furthermore, I could keep going with other deserving actors that year, including Val Kilmer in Tombstone and Sean Penn for Carlito’s Way. 

The next trip down memory lane will be Best Actress and it will be up soon!

Summer 2008: The Top 10 Hits and More

We have arrived at part 3 of summer nostalgia looking over the cinematic seasons from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. If you missed my posts on 1988 and 1998, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/11/summer-1988-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/12/summer-1998-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

This brings us to 2008. It was a vaunted superhero summer to be sure and there’s some humdingers for our flops. Here are the top ten moneymakers in addition to other notables and bombs.

10. The Incredible Hulk

Domestic Gross: $134 million

The second feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe found Edward Norton taking on the angry green giant from Eric Bana. While better received than Ang Lee’s Hulk, it was mostly met with a shrug and Mark Ruffalo would take over the part four years later in The Avengers. It stands at lowest earner of the MCU.

9. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Domestic Gross: $141 million

The follow-up to 2005’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe made less than half of what that picture achieved. Like Hulk, it may have placed in the top ten, but it was considered a bit of a disappointment.

8. Mamma Mia!

Domestic Gross: $144 million

The ABBA infused comedic musical was a major sleeper hit and its sequel hits theaters this Friday.

7. Sex and the City

Domestic Gross: $152 million

Fans of the HBO series turned out in droves for the big screen treatment. A sequel two years later yielded less impressive returns.

6. Kung Fu Panda

Domestic Gross: $215 million

Dreamworks Animation found itself a franchise with this animal fest led by Jack Black. Two sequels have followed.

5. WALL-E

Domestic Gross: $223 million

Yet another critically lauded effort from the money minting machine that is Disney/Pixar, this would take home Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

4. Hancock

Domestic Gross: $227 million

Despite mostly negative reviews, this superhero effort proved Will Smith’s potency at the box office. Director Peter Berg has mostly moved to true life dramas with Mark Wahlberg.

3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Domestic Gross: $317 million

Nearly 20 years after The Last Crusade, Harrison Ford’s iconic hero returned and teamed up with Shia LaBeouf. Critics and audiences had their issues with it, but Indy is slated to come back again in 2021 (when Mr. Ford will almost be 80).

2. Iron Man

Domestic Gross: $318 million

It’s crazy to think now, but the idea of casting Robert Downey Jr. as a superhero less known than Batman or Superman was considered risky business at the time. We know what followed… the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This started it all.

1. The Dark Knight

Domestic Gross: $533 million

The sequel to Batman Begins turned into a genuine phenomenon with Heath Ledger’s incredible work as The Joker and an experience that has influenced numerous franchises since.

And now for some other notables of summer 2008:

Get Smart

Domestic Gross: $130 million

Steve Carell experienced a box office bomb the summer prior with Evan Almighty. He got back into the good graces of audiences with this big screen rendering of the 1960s TV series alongside Anne Hathaway.

Tropic Thunder

Domestic Gross: $110 million

Ben Stiller’s comedy was a hit with crowds and critics. Robert Downey Jr. earned an Oscar nod for his work here and we see Tom Cruise as never before.

Step Brothers

Domestic Gross: $100 million

It didn’t make as much as Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s previous collaboration two summers earlier, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. However, this has achieved serious cult status in following years.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Domestic Gross: $75 million

Guillermo del Toro’s sequel managed to out gross its predecessor and it was another critically hailed comic book adaptation in a summer filled with them. A reboot of the franchise with David Harbour comes next year.

The Strangers

Domestic Gross: $52 million

This low-budget horror flick turned into a sleeper. A sequel was released this March.

This brings us to the flops…

The Happening

Domestic Gross: $64 million

M. Night Shyamalan had his first flop two summers earlier with Lady in the Water. This one focused on killer trees with a lackluster performance from Mark Wahlberg. Audiences were laughing at it more than frightened by it. The director has since rebounded with Split. 

Speed Racer

Domestic Gross: $43 million

This was the Wachowskis first picture since the Matrix trilogy and it fell far under expectations at the box office and with critics.

The Love Guru

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Mike Myers couldn’t make this creation anywhere near as iconic as Wayne Campbell or Austin Powers. Moviegoers simply ignored Pitka.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Domestic Gross: $20 million

Ten summers after the first adaptation of the FOX show did well at theaters, audiences didn’t want to believe in its long gestating sequel.

Meet Dave

Domestic Gross: $11 million

This sci-fi comedy was a massive bomb for Eddie Murphy, making a small percentage of its reported $60 million budget.

And that does it for my recaps of the summer! You can be sure I’ll be back next season covering 1989, 1999, and 2009.

The Dark Knight Legacy: 10 Years Later

Ten years ago tomorrow, The Dark Knight was unleashed into theaters. Looking back at the summer of 2008, you could argue that the two most important superhero pics in recent memory were released in that short time frame. Two months earlier in May of that year, Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe which now stands at 20 films strong. Yet it was The Dark Knight that set box office records and brought critical appreciation of the genre to new heights. In a genre that has exploded in the 21st century, many consider this to be the crown jewel. I believe it’s certainly up on the Mount Rushmore.

A decade prior to its release, Batman had run into some trouble at multiplexes with the deservedly derided Batman and Robin. It was a disappointment both commercially and with reviewers. Joel Schumacher’s two run experiment with the iconic character had dissolved into campy non-fun. In the new century, Christopher Nolan was brought in to resurrect the franchise after making Memento and Insomnia. 

2005’s Batman Begins would achieve that goal, but that was not apparent immediately. Despite glowing reviews, Begins started with $48 million at the box office and $206 million overall domestically. Those are solid numbers but some context is needed. That’s nearly $50 million less than 1989’s Batman made 16 years earlier. In other words, it wasn’t obvious that the eventual sequel would turn into a phenomenon.

That’s what happened. The Dark Knight had the advantage of pitting Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader against his most known foe, The Joker. Many questioned whether Heath Ledger (coming off an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain) had the goods to fill Jack Nicholson’s shoes. Early trailers indicated the answer was yes. And he nailed it with an unforgettable performance. As we know, Ledger never got to witness the acclaim. He died six months before the picture’s release and it added a tragic level of publicity leading up to the premiere.

Once Knight was released, expectations were sky-high and it earned $158 million out of the gate. That was an opening weekend record which has since been surpassed by 14 movies including its sequel The Dark Knight Rises and seven other comic book themed experiences.

The Dark Knight still stands as the 10th highest grossing movie of all time and fourth biggest superhero effort behind Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and The Avengers. It received eight Oscar nominations – something previously unheard of for something in its genre. That stands as another portion of its legacy. While Ledger would posthumously win Best Supporting Actor for his work, many figured The Dark Knight should and would nab a Best Picture nomination. It didn’t. And that caused the Academy to expand Best Picture from a finite five nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine has been the major number most years in the decade following).

While no comic book film has managed a Best Picture nomination since then (Black Panther could change that this year), that rule change has perhaps allowed non-traditional awards material like District 9, Nolan’s own Inception, Gravity, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mad Max: Fury Road, Arrival, and Get Out to garner nods.

And The Dark Knight, for many moviegoers, proved what comic book lovers had known all along. This material, done right, could truly be a work of art.