No doubt you’ve seen my review of PARASITE, the most well-conceived, executed, and surprising movie out there now, but here’s my take on a few more–worthy in whole, in part, or not at all… These films represent my wide-ranging interest in all kinds of movies, even as fewer and fewer of them are now playing on the big screen.
JOKER– While comic book villains are usually the stuff of summer blockbusters and don’t interest me at all, this one has migrated to the fall and continues to top the box office, deservedly so. The script develops a really detailed, almost squeamishly close exploration of a comic book character’s persona and evolution. Joaquin Phoenix gives a mesmerizing, mind blowing, hallucinatory, hyper creepy yet vulnerable performance as the ultimate doomed super anti hero. His origin story piles on every conceivable assault and injustice; this kid was damned a million ways to Sunday from the get-go. Phoenix’s lunatic ballet of a performance– part mime, part method, part Travis Bickel part Charlie Chaplin–results in a gruesomely fleshed-out portrait of loneliness, rage, and alienation.
Director Todd Phillips co-wrote this tragi-comic book script in which nature and nurture have hellishly conspired to produce one of the most deformedly- adapted beings ever to walk the earth. Born Arthur Fleck, abandoned, abused, and betrayed, he works as a clown to salve his wounds, and of course aspires to stand up comedy. In a brilliant stroke of casting, the film features Robert De Niro in a reversal of his role as dangerously obsessive wannabe comic Rupert Pupkin in 1983’s “The King of Comedy.” Here De Niro plays late night talk show host Murray Franklin whose barely-concealed spite ignites Arthur’s darkest instincts. JOKER is my favorite socio/psychopathic alter ego this season, and Phoenix is sure to be nominated for an OSCAR this season.
JUDY–Renee Zellweger looks remarkably like the great and tragic Judy Garland and channels her mixture of anxiety and humanity with remarkable nuance. The film is ultimately a valentine to a talented young woman who came of age in the the golden age of movies and within the cruel confines of a studio system that turned her into a play-acting addict. Zellweger does her own singing, and though she doesn’t sound at all like Judy, she does capture the extremes of Garland’s nature, her wit and tenderness, sexiness and self loathing. Zellweger also sneaks up on the hold Judy could exert as a live performer when she’d spill her whole heart, soul, and guts on a stage for an audience who might turn on her as easily as fall in love. Zellweger also deserves an OSCAR nomination this season.
THE CURRENT WAR– I almost blew a fuse watching this disappointing, incoherent mess of a movie. It purports to be about the race to see whose version of electrical power would corner the market: Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) or George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). The real history involves a third inventor, the genius Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult) who knew that his alternating current was superior to Edison’s direct current. The movie turns him into a minor character, oversimplifies the story, amps up the editing, the music, and the fancy visuals, while short-circuiting the details, the characters, and the drama, shedding little light on what is actually an engrossing true tale of invention, personality, culture, competition and electricity near the dawn of the last century.