“Joker”

It takes a certain commitment to go see Joker. Not because it’s a bad film but because viewers ask themselves a question: Do I want to spend two hours of my life watching a less good Joker than Heath Ledger? The answer is both yes, and no. Yes, because the film is like no comic book movie ever made, and No, because Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker is as unrecognizable from Ledger’s Joker, as Ledger’s was from Nicholson’s. (omission: let’s all try to forget Jared Letto’s).

Simply put, there is no “living up to” needed in this film because this film is so vastly removed from the comic-book-movie genre that there’s nothing to live up to.

Before I went, I’d heard the film was “polarizing,” in its acclaim. Either you liked it, or you didn’t. There weren’t many “it was fine” verdicts out there. When we look back on what made Ledger’s performance so great, it was his mannerisms, his witticism, his always having a plan–even if he said he didn’t. Every turn of The Dark Knigh, showcased a criminal mastermind one step ahead of. . . well, everyone. With this in mind, I couldn’t help but grin as was in the theater last night. I couldn’t help but imagine a bunch of moviegoers expecting and excited to see how Joker became said mastermind. If that is what you’re hoping for, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Joker is a film. It’s not a movie. It’s not a blockbuster. It’s a surprising artistic endeavor from a director who I had little faith in (The Hangover films were… never mind). Furthermore, to take the risk a produce a piece such as this is a risk, especially when viewers hear “Joker” and think Superhero, or at the very least Supervillain. There are no fast and cut action scenes. There’s not a great clip to the narrative in which things happen to keep the audience enthralled. There are no triumphs for the titular characters. There is nothing to overcome and or redeem. There are long slow shots of a lone figure in the rain, walking a dirty street, standing in an elevator, smoking a cigarette. Everything about this film is slow. Plodding. Painful. It is awkward and weighted. It is the life of the left-behinds.

In many ways, Joker feels like a film from another era. It’s all affected, of course, as all good films are, but beyond the obvious tributes to films in the later 70s and early 80s, just the long slowness of the movie is an existential exploration of what a comic-book movie can be. There’s a spectacular scene near the middle of the film right after a life-changing event, and looking back on it, it may be my favorite scene of all, when Joker finally comes out a bit and the audience is reminded that this isn’t just a devastating look into a depressing and bleak world, no. It’s about someone who’s insane but driven insane by a system that doesn’t and can’t acknowledge his experiences as valuable or even worth noting. There’s a great breakdown of the scene here. It’s something I thought I’d never see in a comic-book movie. A man broken so thoroughly that I wasn’t just waiting for the next plot twist or fight scene or quip. Instead, I was feeling broken. Beaten. Done. I wanted to move. To dance, like Joaquin Pheonix, because in a moment like that it made sense to dance or die–and obviously the Joker can’t die. So this slow sad dance is all that is, was, and can be of the Joker before Joker exists.

A special word should be noted on the score of this film. It’s one of the best, atmospheric scores I’ve ever heard. Akin to Annihilation’s score in terms of setting mood and tone, but I wager that Joker’s score is even more existential and nihilistic.

In the end, I really loved it. I did.

It’s the first comic-book movie that was also a film. It took risks. It didn’t dumb down anything. It was high brow art with pop-culture source material and I love that shit. It’s the first comic-inspired, superhero-inspired film that made me question my own life. That shines a light on our societal issues and asks, “Who are we listening to and why?” “Who matters and why?” “Who are we and why?”

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. Nobody does. The Joker certainly doesn’t, but he’ll ask the questions with a smile and a laugh.

Joker is in theaters now, and how it’s painful to watch–at times, or even often–I’d not deny yourself this viewing experience. It’s a surprise and a risk. One that’s touching and welcome.

Best of 2018: by Alex Clark-McGlenn

 

Comic Books

 

Series of the Year: Isola

Isola #1

Isola gets a ton of acclaim. It’s not an accident. Brendan Fletcher (creator, writer) and Karl Kerschl (creator, writer, artist) have struck a chord with a piece that is adventurous, ambiguous, and moving all at once. As seems to be protocol at Image Comics these days, they’ve found another fantastic story. The first chapter of the series, 1-5, is over, but Isola is slated for a much-anticipated return in mid-January 2019. Readers are hoping for some flesh on the bones of a fantastical world we’ve barely come to know. It will be exciting to see how expansive the world, plot, and cast of characters becomes when this hit series continues.

Read the full post here.

An Unhealthy Fascination With Masks

I’ve been obsessed with masks in the past. I mean, not obsessed. That’s taking it a bit far. But I remember the movie, The Mask, with Jim Carry when I was a kid. That was one of my favorites. I still remember Carry talking like Ben Stein in front of the mirror holding up the magical mask. “That’s right, Wendy, we all wear masks, metaphorically speaking.”

Of course it’s true in a way. But I think now our masks are more digital than metaphorical what with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, etc. But the obstruction of our most identifiable characteristics is something our society is obsessed with. The super hero thing is part of that. The concealment of identity by way of a hidden face is something we are fascinated with. I think it’s because lots of people, myself included, would love to leave ourselves behind sometimes. Be someone else.

How iconic is the mask, say, of Darth Vader, or now, Kylo Ren. Star Wars, there’s no doubt, has given us some wonderful masks. As has Marvel and DC Comics.

The construct of a mask, the meaning of a mask is much more ingrained in our society now than it once was. I mean, think of a tool you can use to make people see what YOU want them to see, rather than what you are. Social media is a constant mask or filter others perceive you through, it’s a self tailored image. But it isn’t you. It’s the you you want to be seen. Everyone has guilty pleasures. Mine are fantasy books. I just love a good adventure sometimes. One that’s a real page turner. But I like delving into a real literary tome as well. I usually set up my reading lists so it alternates one pulpy book with one literary, so I don’t get burned out on either.

But then my writing doesn’t reflect this guilty pleasure much. I like to think I’m more literary then fantasy novels. But I’m not, because, to be truly honest, a good fantasy or SF novel is just as literary as a non-genre piece of fiction.

What I’m trying to say is this: Why are we all so eager to convince people we’re someone we aren’t?