Friday, October 11, 2019

Joker (2019) - Review

Joker, the movie, is very much like a detailed sculpture that was crafted by a true master craftsman. I've been reflecting on what I experienced for almost a day now, and find myself still peeling layers and identifying new ways to interpret the film. From this perspective, I dare call this sculpture a masterpiece. But for sure I don't want to have this sculpture in my living room... or even see it again!

First, let me preface this review by saying that I am a hardcore fan of the Batman mythology and hence, better-versed in the history of Joker than the general public. I have read most (if not all) of the seminal Joker stories, and consider The Killing Joke (by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland) and Mad Love (by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm) to be the top two defining character studies. One thing that both have in common is depicting the Joker's chaotic thought process vividly. A key quote from the Killing Joke, by the Joker, is: "if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!". The Mad Love also shows how Joker fabricates different stories in order to manipulate others - in that particular case, his mark was his psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quinzel who later transformed into Harley Quinn. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight also adopted this in Joker's characterization. Case in point: "You wanna know how I got these scars?"

I initially had an apprehension towards the 2019 movie thinking that the "multiple choice" aspect of Joker's past is going to be lost with a movie focusing solely on the character's origin. While the movie covers one cohesive story line, it makes the viewer question what part of it was real and what was in Arthur Fleck's mind. His name even could be a sad joke, implying that he was just a fleck of little to no significance.

The Arthur in this story is a mental health patient who laughs uncontrollably when he gets emotional (happy, sad, nervous, or stressed) and lives with his ailing mother, Penny. He earns a living as a party clown working for the HaHa agency in the rougher parts of Gotham City. After the city cuts down the budget on social services, Arthur is left without professional support and access to his medication.

On one bad day (referring to the theme from The Killing Joke), Arthur is fired from the agency for taking a gun to a children's hospital - a gun that maybe a colleague gave it to him or maybe he bought it himself... On a train ride, three businessmen pick on Arthur. He kills two of them in self-defence and chases after the third one on an empty train and catches up with him in an empty station to shoot him in point blank. The murders are reported in the press in the following days - some call it an abhorrent crime by a serial killer, and some call it vigilante justice by the disenfranchised...

The two other plot threads that we follow before the third act are the romantic relationship that Arthur establishes with his neighbour, and also the information about Arthur's parentage and childhood. The final act takes a leap of faith in how Arthur instigates a revolution in the city, but again, we are just seeing what Arthur sees.

The themes of ambiguity and unreliable narration make it much in line with Joker's personality and chaotic mind. The audience is left questioning how much of it was real, and how much of it was actually happening in Joker's mind. One clue that I'm certain was not accidental was two clocks (one in the asylum in the very beginning of the movie, and one at the HaHa agency) showing 11:11 - the exact time that many people make a wish upon noticing.  Is it all wishful thinking inside Arthur's mind? Was he at the mental hospital the whole time? Or did most of it actually happen? Well... a good Joker story keeps it multiple choice!

Joaquin Phoenix's acting is certainly Oscar worthy. The pain in his eyes, the laughs (from crying laughs to the one that was actually genuine), the body language to the the way he ran, are all going to be studied by acting students for many years to come! Todd Phillips is also deserving of all the praise that he's receiving for his masterful direction. He was a writer and producer on the film as well!

It might be obvious from all the praise that I consider this film a masterpiece and worthy of a 10/10 score! However, it was an uncomfortable experience and I may never watch it again. I only recommend it to true fans of the character, and those who appreciate a finely crafted character study (although very disturbing).

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) - Review

As a life-long fan of Sylvester Stallone, I was very much excited for the supposed last entry in the Rambo franchise. What seemed to be an analogue to Logan (2017 - Wolverine's swan song) , turned out to be a cross between Taken and Home Alone!

The movie picks up almost a decade after the fourth film with John Rambo breeding horses in his father's ranch. We are quickly introduced to the two other residents on the ranch: a family friend (a middle-aged Mexican woman) and her niece, who is seemingly Rambo's god-daughter. The young girl is about to leave town for college, but before getting too far from her hometown, despite Rambo's warnings she decides to go on a road trip to Mexico to meet her long-lost biological father .

The god-daughter meets and gets rejected by her absentee father, and later that night, is abducted by the cartel and forced into prostitution. Cue in the plot from Taken where the old man goes to save the young girl... After the rescue operation, the cartel is looking for retaliation and they decide to attack Rambo at his home. The last 30 minutes of the movie is split between Rambo setting traps, followed by the cartel facing violent deaths.

The plot is thin and derivative, and the characters are poorly developed. John Rambo does not change much compared to the previous movies - the only bit of development comes from a short monologue by Rambo explaining how his love for his god-daughter changed his outlook for a while... The characters are also either extremely evil in case of the cartel members, or portrayed as heavenly angels (i.e., the god-daughter and her aunt). Worst of all, the pacing is slow too. The 89-minute runtime felt much longer...

I've been a fan of both Rocky and Rambo franchises, and have a lot of respect for Sylvester Stallone and how he started from zero and made himself the powerhouse that has been for the last four decades. Despite this favourable bias, I only recommend watching this movie to hardcore fans once it hits the streaming services.
I give Rambo: Last blood a 5/10.