Posted in Anittha, Movie Review

Movie Review: Joker

I watched Joker a few nights ago.

*pauses for dramatic effect*

Personally, I’ve know that Joaquin Phoenix is got-damn incredible ever since I watched Walk the Line at the age of 17. The movie blew me away. The fact that the movie actually blew me away is in itself mind-boggling.

Walk the Line movie poster


Well, the movie is about a white, male country singer who battles with addiction. I am not white. I am not male. And my idea of a country singer is Miley Cyrus.

I did not know anything about Johnny Cash. I did not know any of the singers that were presented in the movie but I was thoroughly enthralled. The story got me good. But more than the storyline, his performance was compelling.

Where I gush about Joaquin Phoenix like a demented fan girl

It’s been 13 years and I still remember bits of Walk the Line. I remember the way Johnny Cash/Joaquin Phoenix passed out on stage during a performance. I remember the struggle in their marriage. I remember not feeling one second of restlessness during a movie that was 2-hours and 20-minutes long.

Most of all, I remember Joaquin Phoenix. I remember he became Johnny Cash. He was him. No one can tell me otherwise. Not even Johnny Cash’s ghost.

Looking away from Joaquin Phoenix when he’s on screen, even during parts that I found myself cringing (in fearful anticipation because there was a far bit of violence) at, particularly during the Joker, is impossible. He commands your attention and not because he’s your typical delicious-to-look-at-actor or because he’s a funny, benignly entertaining guy.

Joaquin Phoenix has simply mastered his craft. Watching anyone deliver a skillset that they’ve worked hard at and made their own is truly breath-taking. A lot of people claim to be actors. Quite a number are good actors. They deliver good performances and they sometimes make you forget that they’re an actor playing a role. But Phoenix is totally different. You know who he is. You know how good he is. But every time you watch him, he redefines the standards of an actor and he shows you what great acting is really capable of: empathy.

Any movie-goer would be able to easily recall a movie during which they felt sucked into the story. The plot took over and then they were simply an extension of the scenes, following along with the characters’ thoughts and actions. An almost out-of-body experience that ends in a couple of hours with you safely ensconced in your seat.

The Joker managed to very successfully, and a little creepily, do just that.

Where I muse on what the Joker is about

I watched the movie with my twenty-one-year-old sister. At the end of the movie, we both just sat in our seats and stared at the screen. I’ve watched plenty of movies with her and this is the first time a film has ever elicited that response from us. We just sat there, grappling with the story.

When the movie starts, you feel really sorry for Arthur Fleck (the Joker’s government name). He works as a clown to make a meagre living, supporting himself and his sickly mother. Arthur Fleck is presented as a weird guy.

As we all know, rich and strange makes you eccentric. But poor and strange makes you weird.

Life has dealt him a shitty hand and he’s trying his best to cope. But over the course of a few days, a number of occurrences take place that catapult him to his moniker and its accompanying legacy. He gets beaten up by kids. A less-than-well-intentioned colleague gives him a gun. His social worker tells him funding has been cut to his department and he stops getting his meds. The gun falls out at work and he gets fired. He almost gets beaten up on a train but uses the gun to defend himself and shoot the absolute shit out of three rich kids. He reads one of his mother’s letters that she has been riding to Thomas Wayne forever. He reads a file the local psychiatric hospital kept on his mother.

Add all this stress to a mental illness and subtract medication and you’re left with a man who can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality. His pills kept his delusions controlled but left him feeling miserable. To quote verbatim, ‘All I have are negative thoughts.” Without them, he is on one helluva trip.

When Arthur finds out some information about this childhood that his mother had intentionally kept from him (and for good reason) he realizes that his life is nothing but a comedy. That his trust and belief in all the forces that were in control of his life in one way or other – his mother, the system, society – had caused him pain and made him believe he was nothing. The truth about his childhood brings him revelation and freedom. He was free from the stories of his mother. Free from the drugs that the social service system insisted he take. Free from having to behave in a socially acceptable way.

His freedom gives him his choices back and takes away his fer of judgement and not fitting in. Arthur chooses revenge, to hurt everyone who had hurt him. Even his mother, a woman he had been taking care of for decades, gets suffocated by him in the hospital. Slowly, Arthur morphs into the Joker.

Probably the most disturbing thing about him is his uncontrollable laugh. In the beginning of the movie, during one of his outbursts, he hands a card a to a woman on the bus. The card explains that the laughter is a psychological and neurological condition and that he doesn’t mean any offense by it. You can see Arthur trying unsuccessfully to control his outbursts. They happen at the most inconvenient times. When he’s asked to stop bothering someone’s child. When he’s seeing his social service worker. When he’s about to get beaten up on a train by three guys.

But as the film progresses, it becomes clear or at least heavily implied that the laugh is not a condition but just simply how Arthur is. His medication, though unable to stop the laughing outbursts, allowed him to realize how inappropriate it was. Off his medication, he luxuriates in the laughter. Understanding that it was not about suppressing pain or fear but about mocking the ridiculous, biased behaviour of Gotham society.

The laughing goes from pathetic and sad to powerful and commanding. Laughing under the most unusual circumstances sets him apart from everyone else.

There’s so much more than can be discussed about this movie. The repetition of the question ‘What’s so funny?’ by several people whenever Arthur starts one of his laughing outbursts. The way the film is shot also makes you feel like you’re literally right there with Arthur. Close-up shots and angles that feel raw and intimate. Close enough that the timing of Arthur/Joker’s explosive behaviour always manages to catch you unawares. And it’s his unpredictability and his no-fucks-given-attitude that makes him truly frightening.

Anyway, if you’ve watched it, let us know what you think! And if you’ve watched it in Singapore, do you think the NC16 rating was fair?


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Posted in Anittha, Movie Review

Movie Review: Someone Great

There are few things I love more than a serendipitous movie moment.

Over the past couple weeks, Netflix has been continually recommending me Someone Great. I took one look at the poster, saw three chicks on it and wrote it off as the usual fun-wild-girls’-night thing that ends with them realizing they have issues with each other and they confront it and blah blah blah…

So, I swiped left.

Until today.

I decided to go ahead and watch it while getting my nails done. I would have preferred talking to the lady doing my nails but we communicated primarily through over-exaggerated head shakes or nods and thumbs up or down gestures. A prolonged conversation seemed unlikely. Anyway, I digress.

The movie is about Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) who gets dumped from a goddamn nine-year relationship – which in itself, felt like a slap in the face from the get. The whole premise just seemed rude and as a fellow female, I already felt a strong urge to resolutely hate her ex-boyfriend, Nate (Lakeith Stanfield).

Jenny then contacts Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise), tells them about the break-up and they proceed to skip work and have a drug/alcohol fuelled day leading up to a music festival, Neon Classic.

The kicker is this, Jenny has a series of flashbacks to her relationship throughout the 90-minute long movie, showing us how the relationship began and how they were when things were good and what happened that led to its end. It comes up randomly. Like in emotional conversations with her favourite drug dealer and while listening to a song in a convenience store. Even when looking at a bottle of coke.

You see all the important bits. You see the cute things they did when their relationship seemed to stretch on forever – like writing their names in a corny-ass heart bubble on the edge of a fountain.

You see the things they did that gave them their identity as “us”. Things like giving each other piggyback rides or answering “I love you” with “forever.” You witness the first time they see each other – really see each other. You’re there the first time they say I love you.

And it’s all done in the most authentic fashion. Jenny is your genuine real-deal average girl. She isn’t holding onto some ridiculous label that seems to completely define her. She isn’t the drunk college girl, the I-need-to-marry-someone-rich gold-digger, the can’t-get-her-life-together-because-she-can’t-stop-partying mess or the perpetually-chasing-the-wrong-guy chick that we’ve all probably been at some point. Jenny is a girl who fell in love in her early 20’s and showed up every day to build a real relationship with a guy and then found that she still had to be there every day as it crumbled around her.

The bits of their relationship coming to an end is heart-breaking. I mean, truly gut-wrenching, tear-jerking and whatever other hyphenated verbs you can think of.

It’s all the stuff that is sometimes impossible to talk about – the screaming fights that isolate you from each other and from everyone else in your life. The arguments that make you wonder when this person that you love changed so much. The anxiety of feeling the swell of your lives well up around you, pulling you in different directions. The shock that comes with realizing that not even the sex is good anymore. It’s frenzied and desperate, trying to hold on to each other a little longer but when the release comes, it falls flat, leaving you empty when you used to be so full after. And empty is just so much worse than feeling bad. Empty is an abyss. A vacant lot that was once taken up with something that you can no longer name.

Which is why I’ve always hated the term “break up.” It does zero justice to the absolute mind and heart fuckery that you go through to finally get to this point of separation. First, you break each other, then you break yourselves. Breaking up is only the final stage – the cancer started way before that.

So, yeah. I don’t know how they do it so perfectly. How they captured each moment and suspended it, making you feel the pain of what is about to come. And boy, do you feel it deep. You feel Jenny’s desperation in trying to hold on, in trying to draw things out. You implode with her when he pulls away from her kiss. You can’t help but empathize fully when she’s sobbing uncontrollably. This journey is now complete; this chapter has closed. And it’s clear that Jenny being unprepared for it didn’t matter.

The movie discloses the ending of two other relationships. Blair and her boyfriend have a mutual, completely unemotional break-up that only gives them a tsunami of relief. Erin divulges to her newly-minted girlfriend about a relationship she was in that ended because her partner decided to just “go back to dudes.”

The movie is about a lot of things. It’s about love, loss, growth, friendships, courage, strength, partying, fear and choices. But ultimately, it’s about endings that flow very messily into new beginnings. That messiness is wonderful to see on screen because that’s how life is after all. Few of us experience clean breaks from out pasts.

Jenny spends her final week in NYC with her two best friends before heading to San Francisco alone to begin a new job. Erin navigates a fully-committed adult relationship for the first time in her life. Blair is now in a friends-with-benefit-situation and is loving it. We leave these characters in the middle of their lives, which is exactly how it should be.

Watch this with your girls, you’ll love it. Don’t watch this if you’re fresh out of a break-up, trust me on this. If your recently single friend is ignoring all warnings and watching this anyway, go to her house now with ice-cream or alcohol. Or both.