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Joker
Warner Brothers DC
R               122 min
Let’s face it if you were an actor and your agent gives you a call about an upcoming Batman movie do you want to play the Caped Crusader himself or the Joker? With the exception of the venerable Adam West just about everybody else who puts on the cowl and cape has been little more than a prop while the Joker, arguably the king of the Gotham City , eats up the screen played by many of Hollywood’s best including Jack Nicholson Heath Ledger and now Joaquin Phoenix.
A little history, just because I like that stuff, is that in this version The Joker’s real name. In recent decades he was known as Jack Napier, a name actually created by Tim Burton in the 80s to pay homage to Jack Nicholson and Alan Napier who played Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred pennyworth in 1960. Also it seems to me that Legend has it that Batman at one point pulled out the Bat 45 and plug the Joker but I can’t find any actual documentation, not that it matters.
This particular version, an origin version, creates its own narrative, that is somewhat ignoring past history, but actually leaves some key elements in place. The similarities are the Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne AKA Batman, is gunned down by somebody in clown gear. What has been added to the story is the pre-existing animosity between Joker and old man Wayne, who is portrayed here as something of a corporate prick.
This time the main character’s name is Arthur Fleck, an extremely disturbed young man working at a rent a clown agency and taking care of his equally disturbed invalid mother. The poor bastard can’t get a break thanks to co-worker treachery and terrible luck. One of his fantasies is to become a famous comedian and a stint on stage during an open mic night catches the eye of a local talk show host (Robert DeNiro), ironically one of his heroes, who wants to bring him on the show not as a comic but as a fool to be ridiculed. That will be one of the many straws that add up to breaking the camel’s back. 
There’s been a great deal of hand-wringing on opening day as TV stations and pundits fall all over themselves decrying violence in films and the effect it might have in school shootings and such but I get the feeling Warner Brothers is laughing all the way to the bank. This film certainly paints Joker as a more sympathetic character than he has in the past if for no other reason than filling in the reasons he became a violent  psychopath. 
The story itself didn’t move along as quickly as I’d have liked but it was an interesting and surreal take on the story. As far as the performance Joaquin Phoenix makes Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger seemed like they were playing it straight. Phoenix is one of the best in the business and here he’s given the ability to go as far over the top as he pleases.
Marvel Comics separated themselves from DC by making some of their characters more charismatic and vulnerable then stoic do-gooders but have in recent years devolved into huge displays a special effects and explosions. This time DC has taken a dark turn and given one of its most famous players a chance to be a different kind of villain. It’s refreshing to see a bad guy whose main purpose is something other than finding space crystals to rule the universe. Joker is 100% onafide dyed-in-the-wool insane. I sincerely doubt Phoenix would agree to make this into a franchise but it will be interesting to see what DC does from here.
B+
WSS


 

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Outstanding performance by Phoenix.  And you are right about the Joker role.   He is now the 2d person to win an Oscar playing that role....both deserved.  Heath Ledger of course being the other.   And hell, Nicholson's performance was worthy in the role.  While he was not nominated for an Oscar, I do see that he was nominated for both Golden Globe and BAFTA awards.

A  point to this movie of course is that Batman does not make an appearance, except in the guise of the child Bruce Wayne.  This explores the things that make a mentally insane, violent criminal in a most entertaining, if not gruesome manner. 

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I thought it was great... I think Phoenix was outstanding.... It almost reminded me a lot of the Rupert Pupkin role played by Robert DeNiro ironically

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Just watched it last nite. DVR'd it Saturday night... its HBO premier.

+1 on Joaquin's performance. It screamed Oscar... as did Ledger's.

 

I haven't been even this confused at a movie's end since Inception... and Inception did not come close.

 

Is it just me or was the entirety of the movie in Arthur's head?

That's what I came away with...

... I think.

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