Vids I Dig 215: Filmento: ‘Joker’: How to Make Evil Likable

From Filmento’s YouTube description: 2019’s Joker is a strange film in the sense that its one and only protagonist is the furthest thing from a traditional hero as can be — he’s a bad guy. Yet, despite all the evil acts Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck in this Todd Phillips movie commits, the audience never turns on him and instead keeps staying on his side. In today’s award winning episode of everyone’s favorite show Film Perfection, let’s see how this is made possible. Not sure how it will work in Joker 2 though, if we get one.

Vids I Dig 142: Filmento: ‘Heat’: Creating The Ultimate Bank-Heist Shootout

 

From Filmento’s YouTube description: The bank robbery shootout sequence in Heat is arguably the greatest movie gunfight ever filmed. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at the sequence in order to determine why that is. What is it that makes the bank heist shootout in Heat so great? Why does it top most Top 10 movie shootouts of all time?

If you haven’t seen Heat, you might’ve heard about it as one of the greatest crime movies ever made, inspiring later known crime thrillers like Ben Affleck’s The Town, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Martin Scorcese’s The Departed, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and so on. What’s the secret? Should we take lessons from the screenplay of the film? Or is it just overall nerdwriter knowledge? To be honest, we can only see.

Film Review: Joker (2019)

Release Date: August 31st, 2019 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hildur Guonadottir
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Marc Maron, Sondra James, Brian Tyree Henry

BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, DC Films, Joint Effort, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.” – Arthur Fleck

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

When this movie was first announced, I didn’t want it. The Joker does not need an origin story. In fact, part of what makes him work so well is that who he is, or was, is a mystery. The Joker is a fucked up force of nature and that’s all he needs to be.

However, if I’m being honest, there have been Joker origins in the comics over the years and there are a few I like. Now none of them are actually considered canon and they all contradict one another, which is something that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight sort of entertained with Heath Ledger’s Joker, as every time he told the story about how he got his scars, it was a different tale.

So as a standalone story, within its own universe, I can accept this concept. This is essentially an Elseworlds tale but at its core, this really isn’t so much a movie about the Joker character, as much as it is an examination of all the things that surround the creation of this specific fucked up force of nature.

By the time the second trailer for this rolled around, I started anticipating this immensely, as that’s the moment where I was sold on this picture.

However, the trailer showed that this film was a very strong homage to early Martin Scorsese movies, specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I was kind of worried that this would tap into those pictures too much and just try to emulate them. But Joker is very much its own thing that goes in its own direction and while it channels those great Scorsese films, it doesn’t rely on them too heavily or use them as crutches to prop up the production.

So just to put it out there, Joker is an absolute masterpiece.

It is the best film in the comic book movie genre that I’ve seen since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In fact, this may surpass it but I need to see how I feel after a few more viewings and after I process and digest this more. It’s still fresh in my memory, as I saw it about eight hours ago and it’s all my mind has been pondering over the course of the day.

I found it fitting that Robert De Niro was in this, being that he was the star of those two Scorsese films this channels. But the man was utter perfection playing opposite of the roles he was in, back in the day. His career sort of comes full circle and in a way, he legitimizes this movie and he hands the reins of greatness over to Joaquin Phoenix, one of the best actors of our time, who gave one of the three best performances of his career: the other two being Walk the Line and The Master.

The first thing a few people asked me today was who’s a better Joker: Joaquin Phoenix or Heath Ledger? That’s really not an answerable question. While they both play a version of the same character, they really aren’t the same character. They play their roles very differently, in two very different films. Both were brilliant performances but they’re not really comparable. And maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense but I think it’ll be easier to understand after seeing this movie.

It doesn’t stop with Phoenix and De Niro though, as every actor in this was incredible. Zazie Beetz rose to the next level, as did Frances Conroy, who gives a stupendous performance. Even very minor characters were superb, specifically Marc Maron, who I wish had more scenes, and Leigh Gill, who played the dwarf that was the only character Joker spared because he was the only person in his life that was kind to him. As small as Gill’s role was, the guy was astounding. The scene in Joker’s apartment was one of the many high points of the film but its definitely one of the top two or three scenes and most of the credit should go to Gill, who was so convincing that it was almost too real.

Getting to the director, Todd Phillips, I wasn’t in any way sold on this guy doing this movie. He was a comedy writer and director and didn’t have any experience working on something as dramatic as this was going to need to be. But that’s my mistake and I judged the guy unfairly. However, my skepticism was still probably founded in the fact that this really was a new challenge for him. And frankly, I wasn’t a big fan of his other work but maybe I need to go back and give his previous films another shot. Because even if I’m not big on The Hangover, from memory, I did think that it was a fine film visually.

And that brings me to the visuals of this picture.

Joker had breathtaking cinematography.

What’s really cool, is that the movie commits to the bit from the get go, as it uses the Warner Bros. logo from the late ’70s. It then immediately gives you the opening shots of Gotham City (really, New York City) shot in a way that looks like it is presented on actual celluloid with a bit of a grain to it. But it doesn’t look like some bullshit modern filter that doesn’t look authentic because you can tell it’s a digital effect. This looks like the real thing and frankly, it immediately makes your brain feel like it is watching a long, lost Scorsese picture.

Additionally, everything in this movie is lit like it is a film from that era. The world these characters live in, the interiors of Joker’s apartment to his place of employment feel like they are genuinely small pieces of the low income areas of ’70s New York City. In fact, the film doesn’t fully feel like it slips into true HD until the big finale that sees the Joker make his introduction to the world, live on television.

The musical score and the use of classic pop tunes is also well done. The music doesn’t solely create the film’s atmosphere, it is just one part of the bigger, well refined and fine tuned machine, but it is a really important part.

For some reason, this film is controversial. The media thinks it’s going to inspire incel white men to murder theatergoers. Never mind that violent horror movies come and go every month and the media has no problem with those films. Yet, the media is creating fake outrage and fear because they’re the ones who are actually evil. It’s as if they want a tragedy to happen, just so they can say, “I told you so!”

In fact, this film is a fitting one for them to attack and try to destroy because it puts the mainstream media on blast, as well as entertainment and society in general. But the media fears that this will allow people to sympathize with a psycho and in that, it will somehow flip a switch in the audience’s brain like they’re all sleeper agents waiting for this secret, coded message to activate their kill mode. Seriously, what fucking world do we live in in 2019?!

Anyway, when the media or the mainstream manufactures fear, people usually lash out against that and go to see what all the fucking fuss is about. In its first day, Joker already broke the one day October record. I’m sure it will get the weekend record and monthly record for October when it is all said and done.

There has been a lot of hype about this film by those who have seen it. I usually take that shit with a grain of salt. However, the hype isn’t just a response to the media hysteria. Joker is as good as people are saying. I actually plan on seeing it in theaters again and that’s something I rarely do because time is precious and I’m a busy bitch.

The last thing I’ll say though, is that if Joaquin Phoenix, Todd Phillips and this film aren’t nominated for Academy Awards in a few months, the Academy can go fuck itself. And if I’m being honest, I’ll be surprised if it is nominated for the marquee awards. Nowadays, those only go to movies about deaf chicks that fuck fish men and movies that act as fluffers for the politically decrepit film industry.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: early Martin Scorsese films, especially Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

Film Review: The King of Comedy (1982)

Release Date: December 18th, 1982 (Iceland)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul D. Zimmerman
Music by: Robbie Robertson (uncredited)
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, Ed Herlihy, Shelley Hack, Joyce Brothers (cameo), Martin Scorsese (cameo), Liza Minnelli (credit only)

Embassy International Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.” – Rupert Pupkin

From the opening scene and into the unique credits sequence, this movie kind of just sucks you in. You’re pulled into a zany world where your primary companions are two nutcases played by the legendary Robert De Niro and the vastly underrated Sandra Bernhard.

De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin a stand-up comic that wants the fame that his idol Jerry Langford has. He obsesses over the famous late night television host, tries to get him to listen to his material, stalks him incessantly and eventually, abducts him in exchange for an opening monologue spot on his show. Pupkin succeeds and even if you kind of know he will, to some extent, it’s the journey from point A to point B that makes the story so engaging.

In a lot of ways, this has some similarities to another Scorsese and De Niro collaboration: Taxi Driver. I guess that is why both movies are being heavily borrowed from for the upcoming Joker movie.

Both films follow a man losing himself within New York City. Both men also go to extremes by the end of the film. Neither are really good men but it’s hard not to cheer for them at the same time.

While this is not the near masterpiece that Taxi Driver was, it’s still a visually stunning and dramatic film that is boosted by its onscreen talent.

I’ve never been a fan of Jerry Lewis’ style of comedy but seeing him get to be dramatic and play his role more like a straight man than a buffoon was really damn cool. Also, Lewis is a talented guy, even if his comedy doesn’t resonate with me. The guy is a legend for a reason and seeing him basically play a fictionalized version of himself, here, was refreshing and he certainly impressed me.

I think the real scene stealer though is Sandra Bernhard. Man, she is so damn good in this and she plays crazy well. She’s mostly an obsessed groupie but you can sympathize with her. And a lot of that is due to the writing and the direction of Scorsese but I don’t know who else could’ve pulled her character off with the right sort of personality and tone that Bernhard has.

Initially, when this film came out, it bombed pretty hard. And even though it has built up a good reputation in the years since, it isn’t one of Scorsese’s best. It is still a very good film, though, and I don’t think that it should be overlooked for those trying to experience more of Scorsese’s older oeuvre. It has similarities to his other early works and feels like a natural extension of them. It certainly taps into the same sort of ’70s (and into the early ’80s) New York City vibe that his films from this era had.

Plus, the performances in this really make it worth your while.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Scorsese films starring Robert De Niro: Taxi DriverRaging Bull, etc.

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Also known as: C’era una volta in America (original Italian title)
Release Date: May 20th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone
Based on: The Hoods by Harry Grey
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Scott Tiler, Rusty Jacobs, Jennifer Connelly, Danny Aiello, William Forsythe, Adrian Curran, James Hayden, Brian Bloom, Darlanne Fluegel, Mario Brega, Estelle Harris, Louise Fletcher (only in 2012 restoration)

The Ladd Company, Embassy International Pictures, PSO Enterprises, Rafran Cinematografic, Warner Bros., Titanus, 229 Minutes (original), 139 Minutes (original US release)

Review:

“Age can wither me, Noodles. We’re both getting old. All that we have left now are our memories. If you go to that party on Saturday night, you won’t have those anymore. Tear up that invitation.” – Deborah Gelly

I tried watching this about fifteen years ago but if I’m being completely honest, it bored me to tears. And I’m speaking as a guy that has a deep love for the films of Sergio Leone, a man who sits among the best in my Holy Trinity of Motion Picture Directors. The other two being Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick, naturally.

So years later, I felt that I really needed to revisit this, as maybe I wasn’t in the right head space and because I generally have a hard time sitting through movies that feel like they could take up an entire day. Well, this took up an entire afternoon and I did have to take a halftime break and make a ribeye.

But regardless of that, I really enjoyed this picture and I can’t deny that it is one of Leone’s best. In fact, I may have to edit my rankings of his films, as I would now put this third behind The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon A Time In the West.

What’s interesting, is that this movie has more in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy than Leone’s own pictures, which were mostly top tier spaghetti westerns. But like his westerns, he also employs the talents of musical maestro Ennio Morricone, who gives real life to the motion picture full of mostly understated performances.

This movie is incredibly slow paced but it’s that kind of slow pace that is more like a slow simmering stew of perfection than the chef accidentally setting the burner too low and walking away.

As far as the acting goes, this is a superb film. Robert De Niro and James Woods own every scene that they’re in. However, the supporting cast is also stupendous, especially the child actors, who play the main characters in lengthy flashback sequences.

This is also compelling in that it is full of unlikable, despicable characters yet you are lured into their world and you do find yourself caring where this is all going and how life will play out for these characters. You never like them but that’s kind of what makes this story so intriguing. With The Godfather‘s Michael Corleone, there were things you could connect with and respect about the man, despite his crimes. In Once Upon A Time In America, you don’t really have moments with these characters that humanizes them all that much, in fact it does just the opposite of that. I can see where that might be bothersome to some people but we also live in a world where people saw Walter White from Breaking Bad as some sort of hero.

Once Upon A Time In America also shines in regard to its visual components. It’s a period piece that covers different periods, all of which come off as authentic, even if the city sometimes looks more like it was shot in Europe (some of it was) than truly being Depression Era New York City. But the sets and the location shooting all worked well and this picture boasts some incredible cinematography. It should be very apparent to fans of Leone that he’s taken what he’s learned making fabulous movies and found a way to perfect it, in a visual sense, even more with this, his final picture.

There’s not a whole lot I can pick apart about the movie, other than the pacing being slow. But again, it’s not a painful slow and it certainly isn’t full of pointless filler and exposition. Every frame of this movie needs to exist. But maybe take some breaks or just approach the film like you’re binge watching a short season of a TV show.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Sergio Leone’s other films but this has a lot in common with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather films.

Film Review: The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Release Date: December 12th, 1974 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg, Bruno Kirby, Joe Spinell, G.D. Spradlin, Frank Civero, Roman Coppola, Danny Aiello, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Richard Bright, Connie Mason (uncredited)

The Coppola Company, Paramount Pictures, 200 Minutes

Review:

It is hard saying which is the better movie between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. For me, both of them are as close to perfect as a movie can get. I like Part II the most overall but I like that Part isn’t broken up by a nonlinear plot and feels more cohesive. I also like the ensemble of the first movie better. That is actually magnified when you get to the end of Part II and see a flashback dinner scene of all the men in the family, excluding Marlon Brando’s Vito. After spending almost seven hours with this family, up to this point, they always seem to be at their best and their most dynamic when all the men are present.

Everything positive I said about the first film still holds true in the second. The acting, direction, cinematography, costumes, art and design are all absolutely top notch.

However, this chapter in the saga takes things to a new level. The world that the Corleone family lives in is even bigger and more opulent. The section of the film that sees Michael go to Cuba is mesmerizing. It adds an extra bit of grit to the picture, not that it needed anymore than it already had.

The highlight of this film is Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the younger Vito Corleone. He took a role that was very much Brando’s and made it his own without stepping on the toes of his elder. It was definitely a performance that deserved the Oscar De Niro got for it. It is also the only time two different actors have won an Oscar for playing the same character.

The film also contrasts the first movie in that you see the Corleone empire being run in different ways. While the family business is the bottom line, Michael goes further than his father in what he’s willing to do to keep the empire running. Michael went from a young man who didn’t want his family to define his legacy, in the first film, to a man that goes to extremes to keep the family together while he is battling the conflict within himself.

Godfather, Part II is a more dynamic and layered story overall and it is well-executed. While I mentioned preferring the linear plot to Part I, the plot is still managed perfectly. The scenes of Michael and then the flashbacks of Vito go hand-in-hand and they reflect off of each other, showing that despite the differences in the father and son characters, that they still travel the same path in a lot of ways.

In reality, The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II just feel like one really long movie that had to be broken into two parts. And the place where they decided to break them, at the end of the first movie, was the best spot. It flawlessly separates the legacies of the two men, out for the same thing but in very different ways.

Film Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

Release Date: February 8th, 1976
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd, Joe Spinell, Martin Scorsese

Bill/Phillips, Italo/Judeo Productions, Columbia Pictures, 113 Minutes

taxi_driverReview:

Martin Scorsese is one of my favorite directors. I was thinking about his work and then it dawned on me that I haven’t yet reviewed a Scorsese film for Cinespiria. Since I hadn’t seen Taxi Driver in a really long time, I decided to revisit it.

As great as Robert De Niro is, this is the film I most remember when thinking about his acting prowess. It is hard for me to envision how this film played for theatergoing audiences when it was released almost three years before I was born but when I discovered it as a teenager in the 90s, I was enchanted by De Niro’s Travis Bickle.

Taxi Driver is a film that is incredibly well-acted, and not just by De Niro, but by the entire cast all the way down to the smallest part. Even Scorsese’s small cameo in the film, as a taxi passenger admitting that he is going to kill his wife violently, is so chilling that it made me want to see more of Scorsese as an actor.

Martin Scorsese, as director, created a fabulous work of art and social commentary with Taxi Driver. Despite being modern for the mid 1970s, when it was released, the film doesn’t feel dated or ineffective. The picture is still very compelling and unsettling due to the harsh reality of its subject matter. No matter how many times I see this film, I will never be comfortable with Jodie Foster’s portrayal of a 12 year-old prostitute or Harvey Keitel’s sick obsession with her. But that’s the point, really.

Taxi Driver shows us the worst parts of American society and it deliberately makes us uneasy and angry at the world around us. Travis Bickle is our eyes, ears and an extension of how we feel. His fall into what some may deem is madness, isn’t completely implausible. There are reasons why the Bickle character is considered an anti-hero and why we, the American people, cheer for characters like this. He is a person with some emotional and social issues but isn’t that most people, to some degree? And don’t we accept him because he does what we all wish we could do in similar circumstances? He is a character that encapsulates justice in a world where none seems to exist. He takes the bull by the horns and runs with it.

Granted, I can’t get behind his attempt at assassinating a powerful political figure, which he fails to carry out, mind you. However, I can understand his reasoning, even if he has slipped into the realm of the mad and extreme.

Scorsese created a violent and dark world but it is really a reflection of our culture. He created an instrument of justice that was fitting for that world. The real magic, is looking back at it over 40 years later and seeing how it still reflects aspect of our current society and how it is still a film that works today.

Now there are things I didn’t like about the movie but they don’t detract from the overall package or the legacy of this being one of the greatest American movies ever made.

For one, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. Although, I understand that it shows America’s obsession with celebrity and that Old West mentality that will probably never go away. To be more specific, Bickle survives, he isn’t arrested and he is deemed a hero by the public, despite the violent way he took justice into his own hands. In a way, it seems to reward Bickle for what he did. But I also don’t think that such a situation is implausible.

Any other issue I have is just sort of nitpicky and isn’t that important to the overall experience.

Taxi Driver is a fine film. It is still an effective film. In the sea of great motion pictures that Martin Scorsese has directed, this is in the upper echelon and possibly his greatest.